Throughout the 1990's, Florence Lazar (born 1966, Paris) worked primarily within the genre of photographic portraiture; by the end of the decade, however, she had begun to incorporate video into her practice. Her choice of a new medium coincided with her desire to respond, as an artist, to the on-going crisis in Yugoslavia. Family and social ties to the former Yugoslavia had seen her follow the crisis intensely since it had broken out a decade earlier.
The earliest work presented in the exhibition, Les Paysans (2000), is part of a cycle of documentary video and film works that chronicle attempts to establish individual and collective responsibility for the ensuing armed conflict. Since then documentary has remained at the forefront of her practice. In 2014, the cycle culminated in her third full-length film, Kamen (Les Pierres), also shown here, which reveals recent attempts–both religious and cultural–to rewrite the past in order to reinforce rather than combat the denial of collective responsibility.
In 2008, she returned to her previous work in portraiture, which she combined with an innovative renewal of documentary photography. The resulting series documents printed ephemera from her father's political trajectory. Her young son serves in the series as both model and generational conduit; he likewise appears in the video Confessions d'un jeune militant, in which he assists his grandfather as he comments on the books that helped shape his intellectual formation.
By shifting from one primary source of subject formation to another–from family to school, Florence Lazar produced a major series of 35 photographs inaugurated as a public work in 2016 for the Collège Aimé Césaire, a junior high school in Paris's eighteenth arrondissement. A tribute to the school's celebrated namesake in collaboration with the school's pupils, the series shows that an objective engagement with France's colonial past, far from perpetuating social and racial divisions or a sense of national guilt, can lead to a shared acknowledgement of history.
Co-produced by the Jeu de Paume and shown here for the first time, Florence Lazar's most recent work, 125 hectares (2019), returns to the pastoral theme of Les Paysans. The video stems from a larger investigation begun in Martinique, Césaire's birthplace, into the long-term ecological and health effects of chlordecone (Kepone), a carcinogenic insecticide used for more than 20 years on the island's banana plantations. Taken from Césaire's play Une tempête–a postcolonial adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest–the title of the exhibition evokes not only the ecological ravages of colonialism, but equally the emancipatory potential of history.
Sandra Cattini and Dean Inkster