Jason Salavon: Emblem
Surprisingly, Jason Salavon’s recent, computer-generated work at Inman Gallery pays homage to art history. Both projects included in this exhibition—digital C-prints derived by abstracting Hollywood films and a projection of a computer-generated still life—immediately recall some of Modern Art’s most recognizable motifs: the concentric circle made famous by Kenneth Noland and the quiet compositions of Giorgio Morandi.
Jason Salavon, Emblem (Apocalypse Now) detail, 2004
48 x 48 inches
Two 1970s films that the artist describes as iconic, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apocalypse Now, serve as points of departure in Salavon’s Emblem series. The artist authored custom software to create these prints—an involved, mathematical algorithm that reduces each frame of a film to its average color. He then transformed the linear sequence of each film into a circle, radiating outwards. Each circle’s circumference, in other words, was determined by the film’s length: one ring equals a half second of film. This algorithmic approach creates an abstract composition that is wildly antithetical to the genre of narrative film’s mass appeal.
Jason Salavon, Emblem (Apocalypse Now), 2004
48 x 48 inches
Salavon’s genuinely hopeful marriage of technology and tradition is refreshing, defined by an aversion to anything that would mar the purity of the picture plane, including the potentially ersatz culture of Hollywood. Many artists working in new media address obsolescent technology but do so by either reshuffling forgotten fragments—like Christian Marclay’s video assemblages—or digging up dusty bits and celebrating their outmoded charm (Cory Archangel’s nostalgic resurrection of Super Mario Brothers and Mac Paint graphics certainly come to mind). Emblem, however, does not use appropriation or irony despite elements that are ripe for hipster intervention, such as the retro appeal of two major cult film classics and the finished works’ uncanny likeness to a vinyl record. That is, even if you don’t get or appreciate Salavon’s technical process, the remarkable presence of the finished works—undulating layers of colors in radiating, concentric circles—hold their own.
The relationship of Salavon’s work to Kenneth Noland’s post-painterly compositions from the late 1950s is obvious, but I feel like this art historical reference manifests itself in a shared and earnest delight in optical effects, not in the sardonic appropriation of a strand of modern art notorious for its critical contempt. Salavon’s work threatens to verge on the purely optical, à la the modernist criticism of Michael Fried. The mesmerizing seduction of the Emblems maintains a faith in a pure, formal beauty, which is quite unlike the artist’s better-known body of work, 100 Special Moments (2004). In this project, Salavon used a mathematical process to create composites of commemorative photographs culled from the Internet, distilling hilariously familiar images of hand-holding newlyweds, graduation photos and kids on Santa’s lap into a dreamy haze. While 100 Special Moments references its construction via the layering of like images, the visual allure of the Emblems outweighs the artist’s conceptual and even mechanical processes.
Jason Salavon, Still Life at the Speed of Sunrise, 2005
Custom software and industrial LCD panel
Continuous loop; 1 hr 20 min.
Similar formal interests guide Still Life at the Speed of Sunrise, which recalls the work of Giorgio Morandi, the Italian painter best known for subtle variation in the presentation of domestic objects. Salavon adopts the quiet quality of Morandi’s work but takes it a step further. In a continuous, eighty-minute LCD projection, a classical still-life composition goes through gradual transformations; the colors and positioning of generic vessels—a pitcher and two tumblers—shift. Despite the piece’s reliance on time, the rate of change is indiscernible. The work forces the viewer to stay still, glued to the screen waiting for something to happen.
Salavon’s interest in time is crucial in both Emblem and Still Life; both are dendrochronological presentations that express an urgent plea to be contemplated—and slow us down in the process. As if taking a cue from Kenneth Noland’s “one shot” painting technique, Salavon effectively pins down time. By distilling technologically driven mediums like film and video (both inextricably linked with the attention span of an MTV-raised generation) and returning to the speed of natural phenomena like a sunrise and the accumulation of tree rings, he uses modern art’s dictums as a comforting antidote—a brief pause in a moment of unrelenting technological progress.