Criminal Artist Alix Lambert Chronicles Hartford's Underbelly
Photographer-Writer-Filmmaker Exhibits At Real Art Ways
By SUSAN DUNNE
February 09, 2012
Many months ago, New York-based artist Alix Lambert came to Hartford intending to interview residents on the subject of crime.
She interviewed one person. And that led to another. And then another.
"Everywhere I went, people would say 'why not talk to this person' and 'why not talk to that person'," Lambert said in a phone interview.
The result is "Crime USA: Hartford," a performance piece that Lambert will present at Real Art Ways, in conjunction with an exhibit and film series opening next week, "Alix Lambert: Crime."
The focus on crime and Hartford isn't meant to be sensational or critical," said Lambert, 43, a native of Washington, D.C. "I intended it to be a portrait of one city, and when you want to get a sense of what is going on in a city — any city, anywhere — crime is a good place to start.
"Crime is heightened drama. You want drama, not just a factual history of Hartford. You can get that at the library," she said. "It's really about how people talk and interact. It's about human beings. Not just the people committing crimes, but the observers, the people who've been there for 30 years and have seen a lot."
So Lambert interviewed scores of Hartford residents: drug-savvy teenagers, high-school teachers, owners of tattoo parlors and boxing gyms, a drug addict, a nurse who has treated kids with bullet wounds, Occupy Hartford protesters who sat at that corner for weeks watching the city from a unique perch.
"Crime USA: Hartford" is just the latest step in Lambert's artistic exploration of the subject of crime. The Real Art Ways exhibit embrace several facets of that focus. The Hartford arts venue will open a series on Sunday, Feb. 12, of crime-related films chosen by Lambert. On Thursday, March 8, two documentaries made by Lambert — "Bayou Blue," about a Louisiana serial killer, and "The Mark of Cain," about Russian prison tattoos — will be shown. An exhibit of her photographs will run from Sunday, Feb. 12, to Sunday, April 8.
"The Mark of Cain" was the point in Lambert's career when she, artistically, turned to crime. Before that, she was fascinated by forms of nonverbal communication.
"I read an article about Russian prison tattoos. They were a whole visual language that was disappearing, going away," she said. "Tattoos are a very elaborate form of communications between prisoners. They say a lot about a person."
That project — which was used as research by director David Cronenberg for his movie "Eastern Promises" — led to a book about murdered Russian journalists, then a book, Crime, which includes interviews with and photographs of people involved in criminal situations, from many different perspectives.
"Crime is a wonderul lens to see human behavior. It is a kind of heightened everything," she said.
Lambert's latest film is "Bayou Blue," about a serial killer in Louisiana who killed 23 people. Lambert said she was interested in that crime primarily because she had never heard of it.
"I wanted to know why no one was watching this story. It turned out to be very complex," she said. "The victims were men. That's something that's difficult for a lot of peole to deal with. They were not all homeless, and they were not all gay or drug addicts, but there was the factor of poverty, socioeconomics, race, homosexuality, drug addiction all played a role.
"Additionally, that area of the county just went through Hurrican Katrina, Hurricane Rita. They have these enormous problems," she said. "I think that that part of Louisiana is overwhelmed with a long list of difficult-to-deal-with things."
Real Art Ways' focus on crime extends to a five-film series of movies, chosen by Lambert, about crime. They are "Diabolique," Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1955 thriller about two women who plot a murder; "Taxi Driver," Martin Scorsese's 1976 story of a deranged cabbie; "High and Low," Akira Kurosawa's 1963 story of a kidnapping; "Silence of the Lambs," the 1991 horror film about a serial killer and a cop; and "Peeping Tom," Michael Powell's 1960 drama about a murderer who films his vicitms dying.
Calendar of Events
>> Feb. 12, 2 p.m.: Screening of "Diabolique."
>> Feb. 16: Exhibit opening, at Creative Cocktail Hour
>> Feb. 19, 2 p.m.: Screening of "Taxi Driver"
>>March 8, 2 to 10 p.m.: Screening of "The Mark of Cain," in the Video Room
>> March 8, 8 p.m.: Screening of "Bayou Blue," in the cinema, with Lambert in attendance
>>Sunday, March 11, 2 p.m.: Screening of "High and Low."
>>March 18, 2 p.m.: Screening of "Silence of The Lambs"
>>March 23, 8 p.m.: Presentation of "Crime, USA: Hartford" by Alix Lambert
>>March 24, 8 p.m.: Presentation of "Crime, USA: Hartford" by Alix Lambert
>>March 25, 2 p.m.: Screening of "Peeping Tom"
>>April 8: Exhibit closes
ALIX LAMBERT: CRIME is a series of events beginning Sunday, Feb. 12, and ending Sunday, April 8, at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St. in Hartford. Details: http://www.realartways.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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