Today we’re featuring the work of Jon Springs, specifically his installation titled “Smooth Lagoon”. Springs is originally from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma but currently lives in Savannah, where he’s earning a BFA in Film & Television from SCAD. You can see more of his work at http://videotreasures.online/.
On his website, Springs describes “Smooth Lagoon”: “Smooth Lagoon is a soothing, guided tour of a virtual beach. In it, a CRT television rests upon a monolithic pedestal. Its screen displays a video loop of a simulated beach-scape—a 3D, low polygon environment reminiscent of ’90s video game worlds. A harmonic soundscape, played through headphones, features melodic hints of the tropical and narration that delineates the imagery. Opposite the television is a sandbox in which a chair has been placed for viewing. Above, a quartz lamp is positioned just outside the viewer’s periphery to simulate the presence of a hot, lush sun. The video signal is occasionally disrupted, causing the video feed to glitch and remind the viewer of their absurd relaxation.”
SAI: Tell me about the title of this work and its significance/correlation to the overall theme…
Jon Springs: I collaborated on “Smooth Lagoon” with two other artists: Andreas LaTourette, who created the 3D world, and Chris Heinze, who created the soundscape. The name was Andreas’ idea; we wanted something that sold the relaxing, but humorous, nature of the installation. The environment is a virtual lagoon. It’s soothing. So, it’s a Smooth Lagoon.
SAI: What is the difference between experiencing your work in a gallery vs. viewing it online? Why is experiencing video in a physical realm so important?
Springs: It’d be fragmentary to watch Smooth Lagoon’s video separately. It’s a physical installation—an altered perception of space—and it’s meant to be participatory. You sit on sand in a darkened room, with a warm lamp simulating the tropical sun on your back, and you experience a meditative tour through a virtual beach. It’s a virtual environment framed by a constructed one and it becomes this manifestation of an ironically lush hyperreality. Part of that humor is being engulfed in it only to be reminded you’re being watched by other gallery-goers.
I like seeing video in a gallery because it cultivates an open discussion of the pieces. People are there to experience art and support the artist(s). You can’t pause video, check how much time is left, or browse other websites at the same time. If you choose to engage, you’re going to be held hostage. The video display also has a significant physical presence; it’s more than a means of conveying video to the viewer. Screens have their own sculptural appearance, size, resolution, color space, and historical connotation. By exhibiting in a gallery, a video artist has control over the presentational qualities of the work and what dialog those qualities may stir. Concessions should not be made simply because video can be easily distributed on the internet. Exhibiting on the internet is awesome too. It just depends on the work and its intention.
SAI: What inspired you to start working in analog/outdated technology?
Springs: I’m attracted to analog video because it’s playfully arcane. Sometimes I feel like a wizard… the technical manuals for the gear I use being no different than dusty tomes full of forgotten spells. It’s not secretive or inaccessible by any means, but I’ve talked to people who don’t know what CRT TVs are. This stuff just isn’t around anymore. Resurfacing it and showing it to others feels very rewarding; it is a sort of technological archaeology. I also feel more connected to my work using the older video equipment. It has a physicality and indeterminacy that modern, purely digital setups lack.
SAI: Can you explain your concept of “discarded aesthetics” and how that idea relates to the viewer’s physical experience of this installation?
Springs: It’s the use of inert technology and outmoded visual styles. Interaction with technology is very pragmatic. Not much is considered beyond function. However, an object seen as functionally obsolete is given new meaning through the awareness of its implications. For example: analog video is a rarefied experience. Seeing it disrupts the the typicality of human–machine interaction. The use of outdated imagery forces a dissociation from the total immersion and connection of modern technology. Attention is suddenly drawn to the holistic and aesthetic experience of it all.
Discarded aesthetics in Smooth Lagoon help create a spatial separation from everyday familiarity, creating a stronger sense of place. Physically, cathode ray tubes have a warm phosphorescent glow and a soft texture which do better jobs of reinforcing Smooth Lagoon’s imagery. It wouldn’t be remotely the same on an LCD monitor incapable of achieving the same visual quality. The simulated beach-scape is also specifically rendered to emulate the low-detail design of old video game worlds. It uses low-res polygons to evoke a perceived simplicity and joy from the past.
SAI: What are you currently working on?
Springs: I’m working towards building a larger, cohesive body of work so I can present a solo exhibition. I’ve been looking at a lot of Mark Dion‘s work and it has been very inspiring. Wyschnegradsky’s quarter-tone piano compositions have also been driving me to think about alternate systems of communication. Right now I’m interested in virtual environments and discussing their cultural value, so I’m designing an interactive piece that allows people to explore the vast ruins of abandoned cyber-cities. I certainly want to continue exploring installation art—particularly with anthropological and archaeological concepts.
SAI: I’ve noticed a seemingly prominent theme of ‘nostalgia’ in your work… could you expand upon your interest and focus on that theme in particular?
Springs: I wouldn’t call myself sentimental. Maybe regretful. Recurrent nostalgic themes are probably from my morose dissatisfaction with modernity. It’s not that I want to emulate the past; I don’t necessarily miss CRT TVs, VHS tapes, fax machines, or dial-up internet. I miss, instead, the things these signified. A genuine excitement to watch movies at home, or to gain access to a vast wealth of networked computers. By refracting the past I can ask people to slow down, take a breather, and appreciate the experience of technology. It is a solemn attempt at the restoration of experiences we’ve moved on from.