Video installation has progressed greatly since the days of the chattering box in the darkened room. Jason Varone’s It Isn’t Always Going to Be This Great seamlessly integrates moving and still images in ways that might not have been possible only a few years ago. Curated by Grizzly Grizzly member Michael Konrad, the installation cleverly combines painted textures, words and some rather disturbing footage of aerial bombardment.
Varone has designed a diverse yet unified show
Though it comprises very different elements, Varone’s installation is singular in its unity. A pair of large snake-like forms undulates floor to ceiling and wraps around corners, carrying the eye with it. Projected words and images flow amidst the in-and-out of these hand-painted coils, disappearing precisely at their boundaries. One projection has a news feed looping around the corner of the gallery, while a second shows flocks of birds (and inexplicably, the occasional land animal) flying in an endless and hypnotic fashion. Painstaking digital masking techniques and high quality projectors have allowed Varone to crop the video to fit precisely into the irregular shapes of his wall paintings.
Just what do the two painted whiplash forms represent? Their surface is suggestive of many things, including scales, bark, or feathers. Another possibility, smoke, arises when you watch the rectangular video projection in the opposite corner of the gallery.
In a blurry montage which Varone pieced together from actual military footage, a drone locks its sights on a series of targets—cars, buildings, and people—then blam! They explode in flames. In this moment, the snake-like coils are transformed into smoke trailing behind a missile as it winds toward its prey, or a plume rising from a demolished target.
Varone uses irony to create unsettling associations
A key element of Varone’s gun-sight montage is the soundtrack. The artist plays the footage against a sequence of 1960s Henry Mancini recordings whose cheerfulness adds more than a bit of irony to the work. Colored splotches the artist has inserted into the video reinforce that irony by referencing old-time celluloid film. Alternating between inane gossip about celebrities and news headlines about drone attacks, the text feed on the opposite wall has a similar disconnect. One story line with the title “So Romantic” even tells of a man who proposed to his future wife using a drone. Against this backdrop of insanity, flying land animals begin to seem normal.
Varone excels at making linkages in both form and subject matter between the installation’s disparate elements. He designs for the entire room, drawing the eye up and down with the serpentine forms and side-to-side with the scrolling projections.
While the drone video is on the surface very different in appearance and tone from the other elements, small details to tie them together. The painting on the walls resembles the form of the smoke in the video, and the splotches in the drone video resemble the color and feel of the painting on the walls.
The most effective part of Varone’s approach is its subtlety. The work rewards slow, careful observation of its many connections and divergences. It Isn’t Always Going to Be This Great doesn’t seem so great to begin with—then blam! It hits with a punch line that is both well-crafted and frightening.
It Isn’t Always Going to be This Great is on view at Grizzly Grizzly, 319 N. 11th St., Philadelphia, May 3 – June 1, 2013.