In this video interview, artist Deana Lawson talks about her photography-based work, including her thought-provoking piece in the Greater New York 2010 exhibition—Assemblage (2010), an installation consisting of hundreds of four-by-six-inch glossy photographs T-pinned to the walls of one of MoMA PS1’s third-floor galleries.
The work includes a diverse collection of images, ranging from early twentieth-century ethnographic studies to iconic photographs of celebrities and historical figures, as well as the artist’s own family photos. They include pictures of Haile Selassie appealing to the League of Nations in 1936, Jack Johnson’s 1915 loss by knockout in Cuba, Kurt Cobain, anonymous Congolese dancers, and the wedding of Lawson’s Aunt Karen. Branching out from one corner of the gallery, the photographs create what the artist describes as a “biological mass,” reflecting “a visual regeneration of human histories and futures.”
Lawson makes use of photography and photographic imagery to examine the relationship between personal and social histories. Employing various photographic modes, her work incorporates carefully composed large-format and medium-format images taken by the artist, found images appropriated from public libraries, and snapshots made by friends and family members. Interested in photography’s ability to address both life and death, Lawson is interested in making “pictures of beauty and sacred sexuality [that are] juxtaposed with vessels of injury, violence, and familial loss.”