Jason Lazarus

Photograph: Jason Foumberg

Jason Lazarus and I both groaned a little when we realized that the best time to get a drink was this past Sunday—St. Patrick’s Day. Luckily, though, the Rainbo at 10 p.m. was like anti-St. Paddy’s bar. Our need to order drinks seemed an afterthought for the bartender, who was fiddling with some knobs and dials on the bar’s sound system. Lazarus and I settled in to a red, circular booth with a couple of vodka and sodas to catch up on the progress of some major art events in his life.

Lazarus had just come off a long editing session of his 96-minute film that features nearly 3,000 animated GIFs, a project he’s poured an estimated 500 hours of “microsurgery” into with collaborator Eric Fleischauer. They were putting the finishing touches on the film for its April premiere at the Gene Siskel Film Center, topping it off with a couple of Pope Francis references. Lazarus loves the GIF format because it feels so “right now.” He calls it part of our zeitgeist, and a type of “deep, smart, bratty culture-fucking.”

Finishing the multi-year film project this week seemed nearly insane, as Lazarus has also been installing his second solo exhibition at the MCA, which opens tomorrow. In recent years Lazarus has moved away from making photographs, for which he gained art-world prominence, to producing audience-activated events in art settings. “I want every show to be productive and risky,” says Lazarus. He says he wants his shows to ask, “What’s possible in the museum?” and his new one definitely pushes those boundaries. One element of his Chicago Works show is offering visitors Occupy Wall Street signs that they can carry through the galleries and effectively protest the art on view.

I ask Lazarus how he’s able to find the mental energy and stamina to take on so many projects at once, while also teaching at the School of the Art Institute. “It’s like cooking a big meal,” he says, which takes coordination and a keen sense of timing. And he adds: “Don’t say no!” to any new endeavor.

“I’m feeling sentimental and meta,” says Lazarus, about the culmination of the GIF film and the opening of the MCA show, which is accompanied by a new monograph, all about Lazarus. It’s clearly Lazarus’ moment, and he’s at the helm, leading the way.

Jason Foumberg is Chicago magazine’s contributing art critic