Jason Salavon’s ongoing solo show at Tony Wight Gallery finds the artist probing his signature conceptual territory but in subtly different ways. Mr. Salavon uses imaging programs and computing power to statistically analyze large volumes of images looking for characteristic patterns. For instance, one series of digital prints from 2010 presents volumes of Old Master portraiture superimposed atop each other. The result for Rembrandt [Portrait (Rembrandt), 2010] is a luminous cloud that is only vaguely human yet strangely characteristic of Rembrandt’s body of work. Similarly, the digital print Impressionist Painting abstracts the colors of the Impressionist palette into a pattern of concentric pastel squares.
All of this averaging betrays Mr. Salavon’s confidence in statistics to reveal deeper truths through comprehensiveness than individual instances can allow. These hidden structures, or “Old Codes,” (the name of the show) are revealed by mathematics and then presented as art. This emphasis on statistical analysis echoes contemporary American life, from Congressional decisions swayed by political polls, to wagering on the strength of mortgage-backed securities. In these two instances the belief in statistical accuracy was and is misplaced though in many other instances it is not.
Part of what happens in Mr. Salavon’s work is trivial. So what if Impressionist paintings are green and pink and Dutch Old Master paintings are brown and tan? “Old Codes” provides two possible ways forward because there is little else Mr. Salavon could conceivably average.
First, Mr. Salavon has placed himself in the artworks with a digital projection piece titled Spigot (Babbling Self-Portrait) (2010, seen at left). Using his Google searches from the past two years he cobbles together a real-time portrait of his interests. Custom software then visits each site and reads off any introductory text. Conceived of as a way to view himself as a stream of data, it instead answers many questions asked by the statistics in the rest of the work, namely Who gets to choose this stuff to average? Now Mr. Salavon himself is a part of the collection. Several searches hint at the some of Mr. Salavon’s particular interests, like a search related to a fantasy role-playing game: “Elder Scrolls Four Birthsign Class Race.” Other searches reveal his place within a larger structure, like his search for the “Case Schiller,” a statistical survey of real estate across the nation that yields the financial index of home prices. In both cases Mr. Salavon is navigating between the individual and the mass using his own data.
Secondly, through works like Still Life (Vanitas) Salavon opts out of the kind of averaging that destroys information for a kind that preserves it (seen at right). In this computer-generated video work a range of mammal skulls, from human to wild boar, morph into each other over several hours. Set in the tradition of Dutch still life painting, the video work imagines places in between existing data points instead of totalizing them together. These manifest themselves in digital prints of “Generic Mammal Skulls” each named with the percentage of their component animals. These two newer directions, the implication of the artist within his own work and the non-destructive editing of information, mark a deepening of Mr. Salavon’s practice and fruitful grounds for future works.
(all images courtesy of the artist and Tony Wight Gallery.)