The following is an excerpt from an essay, “A Constant State of Becoming” by Steven Bridges, Associate Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 2013:
The project “Untitled” was born out of Lazarus’s desire to activate what he refers to as a “public parable of learning” within the content of the exhibition. Largely inspired by his experiences as an artist-educator—and reflecting how his own processes of learning, failing, and persevering that often play out in the public spaces of museums, galleries, and classrooms—the premise of “Untitled” is relatively simple and straightforward: to have someone learn Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne in F Minor, op. 55, no. 1, over the course of the exhibition. Yet, as with Lazarus’s works in general, the initial sense of candor that one experiences upon first encounter slowly gives way to deep and meaningful complexities. Aside from being one of the most well known composers of all time, Chopin was a dedicated teacher of piano and is credited with having transformed the nocturne from an educational tool to a concert hall staple. Also of interest here: Chopin dedicated this particular nocturne to his student, Jane Stirling. The respect embodied in this gesture points to the value Chopin placed on learning—specifically reciprocal education, as the channels of learning are always multidirectional—and this is quite meaningful for Lazarus, who invests much of his time in this reciprocal process.
It is also important to note that the selection of the composer and the particular composition are tinged with personal nuance and contribute to the conceptual depth of the project. It is quite meaningful that the initial spark of the idea was triggered when a former student of the artist emailed him a link to a YouTube video of composer Jorge Bolet performing Chopin’s piece. The video is mesmerizing—Bolet’s hands firm and flutter in a choreographed dance across the keys, not simply reciting the haunting beauty of the nocturne but interpreting the composition—and in watching this rendition, Lazarus intuited the many laborious hours of practice, the frustration and perseverance that is rarely (if ever) staged in front of an audience. This recognition—that knowledge is not a given and the skill and deep understanding are strived for, not predetermined or preexistent—led Lazarus to present exactly what others go to great lengths to conceal. By making public and visible the personal process of learning, viewers witness the very act of learning as it happens in real time.
It was important for Lazarus to identify a suitable collaborator who would not only entertain his rather unorthodox proposal but also imbue the project with his or her own personal meaning. Through his undergraduate alma mater, DePaul University, Lazarus connected with a student of classical piano, Anthony Zediker, who was intrigued by the artist’s idea. The selection of Zediker as the project collaborator shifted the nature of the piece in a significant way. Zediker’s skill level and experience mean that, while he has never played Chopin’s Nocturne in F Minor, op. 55 no.1, he can easily read the composition and begin to feel and sound it out without as much struggle as a novice would. This led to a recalibration of the project, since initially Lazarus had imagined a bit more turbulence throughout the learning process. Instead, the piece will focus on the later stages of learning, when intense, immersive study and experimentation will (hopefully) lead to personal inflection. Toward the end of the project, we may not in fact be listening to Chopin, but rather to Zediker’s Chopin.