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LES Printshop Catalog Essay
From the Lower East Side Printshop’s Special Edition Residency 2010 Catalog Essay by Sarah Hanley.
Many artists aspire to be revolutionary, but Steve Lambert is truly original and radical. To begin, it takes more than a few seconds of preemptory scanning of his webpage – the main hub for his action and web-based work – to fully understand what he is about. Second, his intended audience is much larger than the art world. Though he possesses traditional degrees in art from respected institutions, he has managed to escape the solipsistic trap that often results from such training to create work that anyone, anywhere, can connect with and understand. Finally, though the final product is frequently something that cannot be owned or possessed as an investment in a traditional sense, this is not his sole intention or driving concept. Instead, Steve Lambert has dedicated his career to creating pubic signs, freeware, websites, and publications that will truly cause anyone who is lucky to witness them to stop and think, or to just improve their lives in a simple but meaningful way.
Take for example his freeware Firefox application titled ADD-ART, which replaces all ads on the browser with artwork. Or his special mock edition of the New York Times (http://nytimes-se.com), which unlike its sarcastic relation The Onion, envisions a truly guileless and utopian alternate reality in which all public universities are free and Condoleezza Rice holds a press conference to frankly confess that the Bush Administration knew all along that there were no WMDs.
Lambert brought this spirit of enjoyable subversion to his residency at the Printshop with a series of three prints that challenge basic ideas behind ownership of art. He was guided by one of two (or a combination of both) of the following self-determined principles. First, he wanted people who buy the work to have to come to terms with the fact that “you can’t get a perfect one.” This concept sprang from Lambert’s interest in Buddhist ideas, specifically, that one must accept things as they are, because that is how they should be. OUT OF IDEAS is a screenprint in Lambert’s signature brushwork lettering style (downloadable on Lambert’s website) and each impression is either torn in two, splashed with coffee, or both, depending on the artist’s whim. Likewise, each impression of the variable edition screenprint This is Perfect is uniquely off register. No two are alike, but also – none are perfect. Lambert’s choice of palette for this print was inspired by the color scheme for a palace he visited during a trip to Turkey with a friend, who noticed that one of its tiles had a mistake in the pattern. They later learned that this was intentional and all Islamic art incorporates a flaw, as Muslims believe that nothing can be perfect but Allah.
Lambert was also interested in overturning the expectation that a collector can buy his work and simply look at it. This was the guiding principle for In BLANK days… , an interactive print that requires the owner to fill in the chalkboard-painted blanks. Depending on the choice of words, the resulting statement can become a directive/goal, a means of stress release, or a source of humor. “If you own the work, you have to do something. It’s not just…I own it, and that’s the end. “