Analog, secrets and Lucas Michael at Cosmo’s P3Studio

Lucas Michael’s interactive exhibit includes an area where visitors have two portraits taken. One stays, the other they keep.
Photo: Steve Marcus

“Hi. Would you like to make a collage?” asks artist Lucas Michael from behind tidy piles of magazines stacked on a wooden table. It’s a greeting so sincere that not participating would seem an affront to humanity. Evidence of those who’ve taken him up on the offer hangs nearby, an artistic mishmash of found images.

The Argentine-born multimedia artist, living in New York City, is the most recent artist in residence at Cosmopolitan’s P3Studio, where he’s conducting his interactive art project, Camera Obscura, and working with whomever wanders into the space.

Using a Polaroid Big Shot camera, he photographs visitors, taking one picture to hang on the wall and another for the guest. In exchange, they write a secret on paper affixed to the wall, which Michael quickly scribbles out with dense graphite. When there are so many secrets—shared, hidden and protected—that the “drawing” is complete, he removes the tape along the borders so the resulting drawing resembles a black monochromatic Polaroid picture.

For every “drawing of secrets” there’s a matching drawing made of scribbled-out hashtags. “One hashtag. One secret,” he says. “So there is exposure and anonymity.”

Though he works in various media, Michael is mostly known for his Polaroid work—including his backstage celebrity portraits at the Golden Globes award show for New York Magazine.

Camera Obscura was designed as a site-specific project, one that would help his own practice grow and connect his Polaroid work (he likes the analog and the pathos of the images) with his studio work, some of which taps into the illusion of covered-up graffiti or bathroom scrawls.

“In my own personal work I feel like I’m recording my own secrets and layers,” he says. “There’s a lot of repressed wishes, yearning and anger. I think a lot of artists keep a lot of secrets in their work.”

Regarding P3 participants, Michael says: “For some, it’s easy. For others, they think hard about what they’re going to write. The hashtags are as revealing as the secrets.”

Almost as revealing are the visitors’ collages (many of them autobiographical) that include participants alongside strangers. Pointing to one that reads, “96 percent not a pussy,” Michael explains that it’s unfinished. The woman asked if she could leave her materials there and return later, to which he replied, “Of course you can leave your materials here. It’s our studio now.”

Camera Obscura Through April 13, Wednesday-Sunday, 6-11 p.m. Cosmopolitan’s P3Studio, 698-7000.

Photo of Kristen Peterson

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