For The Blue Period at Salon 94 Bowery, Jon Kessler furthers his interest in the psychology of isolationism with exquisitely crafted multi-media components from collaged works on paper to large-scale, interactive kinetic video and sound-sculptures.
In creating this truly immersive environment buried in Salon94’s space on the Bowery, Kessler violates the sanctity of the white cube splattering blue paint across the walls. The installation features a series of large collages—portraits—with faces obscured by the same blue pigment that circle a series of monitors, life-size cardboard cut outs, and video cameras that jerk back and forth, abrasively disrupting and disconcerting the audience snaking through.
The Lacanian notion of the gaze, however over-evoked in the canon of contemporary art criticism, factors into Kessler’s exhibition in a very tangible and purposefully obvious manner. With Kessler, the work is complex but frank. The figures in the collaged portraits serve as a launching point according to the artist: “If you subtract the blue paint, the monitors, cut-outs, and mechanics, what you have is a traditional gallery show.” The figures in each portrait appear imprisoned, constrained by Plexiglas and framing mechanisms on top of their blue-painted masks. Kessler himself viewed the constraint as subjects caught in the artist’s gaze, no longer free but rather property of another.
The show germinated, in part, from a moment on the subway during which Kessler noticed a multitude of people on their phones or otherwise staring downward, purposefully avoiding any physical interaction yet, by virtue of their phones they remained “connected.” The question of fear and isolationism became increasingly pertinent as these people refused to be “alone” despite being surrounded by others.
“I set out to create an atmosphere within which a viewer is forced to interact with either fellow viewers or cut-outs that are life size or the figures visible on screen,” says Kessler. For those willing to take a leap of faith, there remains no escape. Visions of self will be immortalized on camera and perception of self-suffering distortion at the hand of a camera lens. Post 9/11, Kessler’s interest in surveillance has always been present in his sculptural work as he fabricated these controlled environments using security cameras and reflective surfaces to alter his subjects.
While a multitude of contemporary artists rely on modern philosophy as a means to justify the physical manifestation of their work, Kessler’s intellectuality and awareness of previous practices allow him to create art, nuanced and distanced enough from even predecessors like Nam June Paik and his Neo-Dada/ Fluxus practice of invoking and intervention, that it sparks great curiosity and ignites the senses.