Photo of Jason Salavon retrieved from artist’s website, jasonsalavon.com
By: Meghan Thoreau
Tech Artist Jason Salavon has embraced technology to create art, developing a new way of looking at the familiar. Through his own software programming designs, Salavon creates codes and algorithms that manipulate data into new shapes and forms to study and consider. His final compositions are exhibited as photographic prints, video installations, and interactive software engagement stations. Salavon’s art is comprised of true STEAM; science, technology, engineering, art, and math. This intermingling of art and technology could breathe new life into our high school art classes, art education curriculums, and career advancement.
I was recently introduced to Salavon’s work through an exhibit at the Columbus Art Museum in Columbus, Ohio. The final compositions on display belong to a broader series of portraits that started in 1997 and was explored through 2011. The three images displayed have a ghost-like atmospheric essences that require several minutes of closer inspection and thought to really appreciate. I was especially drawn to the Anthony van Dyck Portrait, the middle piece depicted above, which Salavon created (through a software code) by merging the bulk portraiture works of van Dyck into a single image. I thought the final composition had a over arching feminine buttressing quality, despite the mixed nature of his portrait inputs that went into the algorithm. It is the subtleties of images, the colors, light, composition, etc. that reveal patterns in the data through Salavon’s averaging imagery technique that is fascinating to contemplate.
A portion of Salavon’s Portraits Series that spans from 1997 to 2011, on display at the Columbus Art Museum. Photo by Meghan Thoreau.
Salavon’s computing technique compels his audience to observe traces of the input of what was, while simultaneously understanding the output image of what now is. Data is powerful and despite manipulation, still leaves a trace of the original essence, but aggregates itself into a new computation.(1) Salavon stated, “Data has a story to tell and its very hard to silence.”
High Tech En Masse Portraiture
Another famous Salavon averaging series is Every Playboy Centerfold, The Decades (normalized) 2002. The series divides the Playboy magazine centerfolds from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s into four respective en masse portraitures through his mean averaging software processing technique. Salavon is drawn to qualities of response that reinforces clichés, especially over the power of the individual and its uniformity to the masses. Patterns of images and data often reveal themselves with averaging, such as, how the 1960’s centerfolds models had less lighting effects to enhance body features then the 1980s and 90s centerfolds. The models of the 1960s and 70s also appear to have more sideways turned models then later decades. Art creates a visual forum to observe and discuss important nuances, themes, and variations about society and how we evolve over time that may otherwise go unnoticed. Salavon’s innovative decision to infuse his art with technology keeps art relevant in a technology driven world.
Every Playboy Centerfold, The Decades (normalized) 2002
Other powerful installations by Salavon include the American Varietal (Atlas) 2013, permanently installed at the headquarters of the US Census Bureau in Washington, D.C.. The installation was created by the compiling of US population data by county from 1790 to 2011. Colors were determined by states’ flag colors.
Permanent installation, American Varietal (Atlas) 2013, US Census Bureau Headquarters.
Real-time interactive system, structural steel, multi-touch screen of American Varietal (Atlas).
He then processed the database into a 3D graphical image that Salavon chose to rotate and freeze into the final image pictured above. He later included a real-time interactive multi-touch screen that allows people to explore the graphic and population data more thoroughly. Again, Salavon re-establishes the importance of both art and technology into our daily lives, education systems, and workplaces.
Salavon’s, Shoes, Domestic Production, 1960-1998 video installation in 2001, took domestic shoe sales from the US and coded the database into a 3D visual graphic representation. The base of the image is wide and over the years the datum points narrow to the top representing the outsourcing overtime of shoe manufacturing to outside the US. His work requires closer inspection and understanding than a first glance suggests.
Shoes, Domestic Production, 1960-1998, 2001 from Jason Salavon Studio on Vimeo.
Salavon’s work requires more of his audience then a traditional artist. Onlookers must not only observe the final product, but the technology driven process behind its methodology: part human selection, part human programming, and part autonomy of running a software program to create #techart.
Salavon has been compared to J.M.W. Turner and later Impressionists, but where those artists relentlessly tried to explore the style of space by brush and paint, Salavon unremittingly chooses technology as his medium to artistically explore data.
Graphic design, the process of visual communication and problem-solving via the use of typography, photography and illustration, has brought computers into art classrooms, but Salavon’s work demonstrates that more technology, such as software programming, has place in art education and STEAM career pathways.
Jason Salavon has a large collection of work worth exploring, visit jasonsalavon.com.
(1) Data is used in this post as a singular mass noun to describe information.