Jon Kessler Celebrates the Blue People


Jon Kessler’s current exhibition at Salon 94 Bowery, “The Blue Period,” was inspired by the artist’s trips on the subway in New York. “I realized that half of the people riding were operating some kind of handheld device,” Kessler told Interview. “They were physically there, but not actually there.” The experience, for him, read like a chapter in the sequel to Guy Debord’s The Society Of the Spectacle, which critiqued consumer society in 1967, and the passivity and isolation it engenders. “We’re not only on the path,” Kessler noted. “We’ve exploded the curve.”

“The Blue Period” is thus an attempt to recreate a world mediated by mobile technology within the space of a gallery. Consisting of wide variety of works that reference themes of alienation, captivity, confusion, and—given the presence of clips from Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou (1965)—ennui, the installation includes large-scale collaged portraits made by the artist, flat-screen televisions that replay strings of anonymously attractive faces culled from media, along with footage of viewers captured by whirring cameras as they walk around the exhibition, a wall of monitors that replay scenes in which characters have blue faces (Tobias Fünke from Arrested Development makes an appearance, as well as the savages from Apocalypto), and a small camera in the center of the room, which displays a taped version of the gallery… within the gallery. “You are physically in the space, but everything is destabilized,” Kessler explains of the effect of the installation. “Even the gallery is questioned. You are forced to re-think the reality of the space itself.”

Spread amongst all of the mechanics are cardboard cutouts of 15 of Kessler’s graduate students, which look so jarringly realistic that at first, it appears as though the exhibition is packed with visitors. “You think you’re with a crowd. But then, when you realize the cutouts are not people, you question who is actually with you in the space. In the process, you lose yourself.”

Kessler named the exhibition less after Picasso’s blue period, and more because of Chroma Key, a technique used in films that is more colloquially known as “Blue Screen.” “The images are processed live, and then they are keyed out,” Kessler explained of the technique. “The same effect is happening in the show.”

Even though Kessler’s show critiques our captivity by modern technology, he nevertheless checks his email first thing in the morning, like most successful people. “Something is being replaced by exceptional degrees of multitasking,” he notes. “I fight against it.  But it’s really hard to avoid.”