Art from code - Generator.x
Generator.x is a conference and exhibition examining the current role of software and generative strategies in art and design. [Read more...]

Jason Salavon’s work has been popping up all over the place lately. This week Infosthetics posted about his Playboy Centerfold piece, with several other blogs picking up the link. At the Generator.x conference Golan Levin showed his Form Study #1 as an example of how generative work could tap into richer conceptual dimensions.

Salavon’s project is a kind of anti-visualization. He hints at profound hidden meaning, but ultimately obscures or ridicules it. This is particularly true of his series of what he calls amalgamations, which includes the Playboy Centerfolds, 76 Blowjobs, 100 Special Moments etc. In these and works like Everything, All at Once the strategy of data averaging is an ironic device, ultimately reducing signal to noise. Not coincidentally, the resulting images tends to be pleasing to the eye, composed of pastel colors and soft shapes. In this way Salavon succeeds at creating visually interesting abstract images, while imbuing them with a suggestive content.

As attractive as the amalgamations are, Salavon’s Golem is a better comment on generative art. Golem is a series of 100 000 abstract paintings, created by software designed by Savalon to “relentlessly generate an infinite variety of such paintings”. This is a conceptual piece disguising itself as a visual work. Salavon claims that Golem “might be said to pass a Turing Test for abstract painting”, but in reality it is an ironic (if not nihilistic) comment on generic abstract painting and the use of software to create infinite variations.

Golem cuts to the heart of an issue meticulously avoided by most generative artists: What is the value of a single image produced by a process that generates infinite series? What constitutes the art object, the singular output or the process as a whole? For artists that are trying to operate in a commercial art reality (as Salavon is), these are dangerous questions, potentially undermining the value of software-based work. Artists like C.E.B. Reas have circumvented this problem by selling software works as unique one-off objects with no editions, or as single large-scale prints presenting snapshots of the work. The difference is that Reas is genuinely interested in the single image, whereas Salavonseems intent on demonstrating the meaningless of the same.

3 Responses to “Salavon’s Golem”
1. Neal, December 5th, 2005 at 17:12

The problem is no worse than it is for printmaking. Just document what you’re doing and sign things in pencil.

But even Golem makes artifacts. There might be 100k images available, but they won’t all be printed, in color, on archival paper, signed, and framed. So, he’ll do a run of 5000 and sell them unframed for $50 or a run of 20 and sell them for $500. Then the printer will break, the OS will change, something, and the program won’t work anymore, and most of the prints won’t be stored properly, and then suddenly what remains is making a completely different point.

I like the paintings– they’re pretty. But the whole “series of a jillion” thing has been done and redone. I made “snowflakes” in 1998, which was 10000 postScript prints, and it was a riff on a traditional theme. I bet Chuck Csuri made a plotter series in the 60’s (Matt, I know you’re reading this–would you go ask him?)

The point about the ease of abstraction has been done a lot, too. I remember a “Science News” article about Mondrian generators in the mid-80’s. Google “painting generator” and you’ll see 1000 iterations of this point.

Perversely, the thing about “Golem” that distinguishes it from most earlier work is that it doesn’t look like crap– production values. But in 10 years it will look like crap, because imagine what Flash version 45 will be doing.

There’s also a class-consciousness analysis to be done– what’s at play when one uses office equipment to make artifacts? I’m sure this thread is in progress somewhere on Rhizome.

2. watz, December 5th, 2005 at 18:12

Good points, Neal.

From Salavon’s project description I get the feeling that the printer is mostly a prop, and not an actual attempt to print 100k paintings. I read the project as a conceptual gesture, “I could if I wanted to”, a threatened act of multiplication which renders the “original” meaningless. I wanted to bring it up because this possible multiplication inherent in software-based work is pointedly ignored by many artists trying to make their work gallery-friendly. I’m undecided on it as far as my own work goes.

Tom Moody comes to mind apropos office equipment.

3. Neal, December 6th, 2005 at 16:12

It’s definitely a professionalism issue. Salvador Dali was infamous for making “limited edition” print runs of 10,000 that were all numbered 1-200. Those prints were not worth what the numbers claimed; that was fraud, and it made everyone who had ever sold a print for him liable.

Salvalon is not committing fraud. He’s already announced a huge upper limit on the run, so the value of, say, “Golem #200″ is already set low.

Now, about his pots and bottles…


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