Speak Speak: Jason Varone and Michael Konrad
- This conversation was conducted online via web chat on May 17 while Jason was in his New York City office and Michael was in transit from Philadelphia to NYC. It was originally published on the Grizzly Grizzly 'Speak Speak' blog: http://www.grizzlygrizzly.wordpress.com
- Michael Konrad: I've known you and your work since 2000 and have seen it progress over the years. Let's start with your installation at Grizzly right now - "It Isn't Always Going to Be This Great" - you merge various elements that you've used in previous pieces to create an entirely new installation: smoke plumes, falling/dying animals, appropriated war video, streaming news headlines, and the soundtrack.
- Jason Varone: Yes, this installation is consistent with several of my recent site-specific works, with a couple of key differences: I used sound, more specifically music, for the first time in almost a decade. And I've introduced color in the cartoon-like plumes of smoke that I have been painting on walls for a few years now.
- MK: I immediately noticed the addition of fluorescent pink smoke plumes in addition the black-outline-on-white-wall smoke that you usually draw. How could you miss it really? -- that color, POW!
- JV: The use of pink is essentially symbolic. I went through an orange period years ago. Orange is the “least likely color to be found in nature”, according to Jean Des Esseintes, a character in a late 19th Century French novel "À rebours," by Joris-Karl Huysmans. There was an entire chapter in that book about why the main character decided to paint his living room orange. I began using orange as a symbol to represent technology. I am introducing pink in a similar way. I am thinking about what color would the ether be if you could see it, or what color would ooze out of computers if they bled.
- MK: I love that thought, color representing the guts of technology. Tron used neon green.
- JV: I have a jar of some beautiful neon green in my studio now.
- MK: There's something kind of chemical or nuclear about the pink as well. Then again, dirty bombs are sooo early 2000s (haha).
- JV: Yeah, but Kim Jong Sun just detonated a nuclear weapon underground.
- MK: For real? Probably a media stunt, faked. But speaking of color, you also introduced washes of colorful splotches over the otherwise dry and detached b&w aerial drone bombing footage…
- JV: Yes, the drone footage is something I've been collecting and wanting to work with for some time now. The colorful splatters of paint and the Henry Mancini cocktail music are strategies to this violent footage out of context.
- MK: Yes! the music! I want to talk about that some more...(sings: Jimmy rolls jimmy rolls jimmy rolls)
- JV: These elements create a safe viewing distance to the drone attacks, psychologically at least. The colors are beautiful, and move to the music and have a rhythm of their own…so its a bit mesmerizing, and the music has a blissful quality….but before long, the viewer begins to internalize what s/he is looking at and is confronted with Power , exercised in their name by the their own government.
- MK: It's so absurd & really darkens the mood in a way. It brings a Kubrick-like humor to the violence: I'm thinking of A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove. It simultaneously lightens the gravity of the footage, but also draws the viewer in to actually consider the carnage that is otherwise so easy to dismiss -- it looks like a video game.
- JV: Yes, perhaps I'm emulating Kubrick a bit here.
- MK: Yeah, it's really a major feature in all of his movies actually.
- JV: He used music to add content to his scenes, and sometimes not even obvious choices of music, but they always seem to be playing an active role in the film. The video game analogy is right on. This is not war footage. There are people in offices that are operating this technology in Washington or Virginia. For all we know, the drone operators are drinking Martini's while doing surveillance...That's not actually fair...
- MK: True, very true. but there is still a realness to it and the drone operators know it. They even suffer from PTSD and they are awarded medals of honor.
- JV: Medals of honor, that is insane.
- MK: It's an insane world. Would it really be that shocking if animals actually fell from the sky? I think it may have actually happened with cane toads in Australia.
- JV: Yes, I think it’s insane that joystick operators are getting Medals of Honor. It's insane that I can download all of this footage of a supposed secret drone campaign to my personal laptop. It's insane that I can buy an actual drone on the Apple website, complete with a HD surveillance camera and I can fly it with my iPhone. It's insane that bees, and all sorts of animals, are dying in large numbers (and in some cases falling from the sky). 'What isn't insane?' is really the question. Years back I made a piece entitled "The Long and Continuous Emergency" and in a way I think I've been making work about this same idea ever since.
- MK: Actually, to clarify my previous statement, crows were killing the cane toads and dropping them from the sky.
- JV: There's this too: 2,000 red-winged blackbirds fell dead from the sky in a central Arkansas town (2011) | 2,000,000 Dead Fish Wash Up in Chesapeake (2011) | 100,000 fish were reported dead in an Arkansas river, and then 100 miles away, thousands of birds fell from the sky just days later on New Year's Eve
- MK: Great title btw, we don't think of emergencies as "long" or "continuous..." but the urgency of the situation is real and ongoing = emergency.
- JV: An emergency is not something we normally think about as lasting forever. How could it? How could we possibly endure that? But I think that is exactly what we are living through, and we're just getting used to the speed of it. As of now, we're living in a kind of slow motion emergency…I predict events will begin to overwhelm us more as time goes on. Hence the title of my show "It Isn't Always Going to Be This Great."
- MK: But it doesn't really seem like its all that great now, does it? Certainly not as presented in your work... I am really depressed for the future of my 4-month old twins, but at the same time I sort of wish I could be my son.
- JV: I worry more about the environment than anything else, and that is where the animals come from in my work. That's what the kids will have to deal with more than anything else, a climate that can't really support humans anymore. But how bad could it be if I'll be drinking Manhattans later today discussing the art world with a friend, then I'll go home and watch Basketball on TV. I mean, that is sort of what I'm getting at with the drone footage and the Henry Mancini music - we are all living large as the world burns.
- MK: There actually isn't much of those "good times" evident in your installation, besides the Mancini "jimmy rolls" cocktail music -- and that is used in a very different way as we discussed before (absurdity, darkness, & irony). It all looks pretty bleak (although you make that terrible landscape seem really engaging to be in).
- JV: There are some entertainment related headlines in the text scroll. And I think the music is functioning on two levels. But, the fact that we can even have an opening, drink beers together and talk about the world is very "good times" in my book. So that's inherent in the work isn't it?There's the pink too...it's pretty. Yes, It's bleak. I have a bleak view of the world, but I don't think things seem so bleak to the average American.
- MK: So these are the good times: sit back, watch some color splashed video, listen to the cocktail music, and 'oh, what an interesting arrangement of painted & moving images on the walls? Would you like another drink while the world as we know it crumbles around us?'
- JV: Exactly. But we are kind of responsible for the crumbling, that's the dark side. Maybe not us personally so much, but our society, our government.
- MK: We ARE our society, our government. We choose to not participate, to ignore, bury our heads in the sand, and hold imaginary beliefs & ideology as our reality.
- JV: It's going to be hard for me to enjoy a drink tonight.
- MK: Sometimes you don't need to enjoy it, you just need to drink it.
ro-quintana asked: Hello michael, this is Rocío. I like your work :) i would like to ask you somethings, like if you studied art ? in case you did, where? Its because i would like to move to study to america or europe and i need some advice.
Hey Rocío, thanks. I studied art at New York University, where I earned both my baccalaureate and master’s degrees. Since it was a university and not an art school, I had many other general classes in English, math, science, etc. besides my art classes. The studio art program at NYU was more conceptual than technical, so with the exception of foundation level drawing, I had to teach myself how to make stuff.
Jason Varone at Grizzly Grizzly May 2013
Grizzly Grizzly is pleased to present ”It Isn’t Always Going to Be This Great” featuring a new, site-specific installation by Jason Varone for May 2013. In this multi-media project for Grizzly Grizzly, the Brooklyn-based artist combines wall drawings of smoke plumes with a projected animation of animals falling from the sky. Simultaneously, a black & white video of explosions from aerial drone attacks is intermittently decorated with washes of color over a sublime, melodramatic soundtrack.
Varone refers to his work as ‘videopainting’ – an intersection of static drawing with moving images as a new way of painting for the Information Age. His work is rooted in both landscape and technology, treating the landscape not as a vista to be rendered by the artist, but rather as a physical representation of the unseen data flowing through it. Appropriated video from news footage and electronic communications are projected through space and merged with symbols of the landscape rendered in paint, making associations between the complexity of technological advancement and the destruction of the natural landscape. The invisible data of the ethereal landscape, brought to light through Varone’s video projections, reveal an underlying narrative of malevolence quickly escalating towards disaster.
About the Artist: A graduate of New York University, Varone lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. His artwork has been exhibited in many venues including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Boston Center for the Arts, The British Film Institute, The International Center of Photography and Art in General in New York City.
“It Isn’t Always Going to Be This Great” — Jason Varone
Curated by Michael Konrad
Opens: Friday, May 3rd and runs through June 1, 2013
Grizzly Grizzly, 319 North 11th Street, 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA
Hours: Saturday and Sundays, 2-6PM
Grizzly Grizzly is a project space in Philadelphia, PA. Since 2009, Grizzly Grizzly has programmed monthly exhibitions, screenings and performances. The gallery is currently under the direction of artists Michael Konrad, Jacque Liu, Ruth Scott, Mary Smull, Cindy Stockton-Moore and Josh Weiss.