A little something about MJ

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The following article was published on the Art21 blog last week:

Centerfield | Reenactment and Mourning: Old Roads to Gary Indiana

Jason Lazarus, “Michael Jackson Memorial Procession,” documentation by MJMP participant, 2010. Courtesy the artist.

Jason Lazarus, “Michael Jackson Memorial Procession,” documentation by MJMP participant, 2010. Courtesy the artist.

Elvis made regular appearances in the periphery of my youth by way of Reno casinos, Las Vegas performances, and supermarket tabloids. The proliferation of professional Elvis impersonators, alongside a constant assortment of sightings and speculations that his death was a hoax, led me to understand the pop star’s influence before knowing anything about his music. Culturally, it would seem the country was not ready to let go of their musical icon; feigning and practiced denial of his death became a collective, immaterial game at remembrance. The same could not be said of Michael Jackson. While arguably surpassing Elvis’s field of influence, Jackson’s end was never a question. Immediately following his death Chicago’s regular soundscape transformed into an ad hoc and unchoreographed musical tribute, or what Chicago-based artist Jason Lazarus calls “a constantly changing” and “fascinating urban sonic memorial.” Lazarus attended to the sound of Jackson’s aftermath. “MJ blasted from cars, shops, house, and apartment windows. It was MJ’s massive following across age, race, sex, ethnicity that allowed [this] to occur.”

One year later, Lazarus reenacted the pop star’s unofficial funereal soundscape in Michael Jackson Memorial Procession (2010). For this work, he organized a multi-car procession where artists, friends, and fans met at Jackson’s boyhood home in Gary, Indiana. The city had already organized a street fair. “There was a festival with a stage featuring MJ impersonators, a choir, various speakers, extended family, all surrounded by DIY MJ merchandise hustlers, BBQ, decorated fans, and tourists. We met in the parking lot; the mood was exciting.” After Lazarus gave a speech through a megaphone, about one hundred attendees climbed into some thirty cars and drove en masse to Chicago. Over the course of the procession, Lazarus broadcast a pirate radio station that traveled with the caravan, linking each discrete car with the same Jackson playlist. The cars were decorated like vehicles going to a sports rally, except in this case decorative window paint read “Gone 2 Soon,” “Listen for MJ on 87.9 FM,” “Thriller Mobile,” and “R.I.P Michael.” In some instances, paper printed portraits of Jackson from various stages of his life were fixed to car exteriors. All participants were given disposable cameras to document their experience.

“Getting on the highway [in Gary] was particularly wonderful,” says Lazarus. “Our MJ funeral flags were waving and it was early sunset. We started to get our first looks, honks, and screams of approval. There was such high energy! We ended after five to six hours at the Aldi parking lot on Milwaukee Ave [in Chicago], just north of North Ave. We danced in the parking lot, blasted more music, and lit sparklers. Everyone was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.” The resulting interactive event—part performance, part reenactment, part reflection—mirrors Jackson’s peculiar and profound relationship to the public, while highlighting the physical and ideological infrastructure that supported him.

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