The Los Angeles Times
Exploring the Dawn of Digital Expression
By Holly Myers
DAVID ASKEVOLD’S COLLAGES SHOW A RIPE IMAGINATION STRUGGLING TO EMBRACE THE EMERGING TECHNOLOGY
A particular strain of naivete characterizes works made in the early days of a new medium- whether in digital media today, video in the late 1970s, film in the teens and 20s, or photography ion the late 19th century. However experienced or sophisticated a given artist may be in traditional techniques, the promise of unexplored territory- of an instrument, like the camera or the computer, whose artistic essence has yet to be determined- seems to evoke a very basic, even childish delight.
These pioneering workds tend to be clumsy but enthusiastic, imperfect but spirited. They don’t necessarily foretell the destiny of a particular medium- indeed, they’re often forgotten once the medium begins to mature- but they embody a sense of expansive possibiolity and a refreshing degree of optimism.
Such is the case with the large scale digital collages of David Askevold, on view at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. Digitally layering found cultural iconography over landscape photographs that he takes himself, Askevold creates dense, dreamlike compositions that clearly emerge from a genuine fascination with new imaging technologies.
Very little of the creative work produced so far in the digital arena has lived up to the revolutionary rhetoric that has preceded it. Askevold’s work doesn’t transcend this state of affairs, but it falls on the more promising end of the spectrum.
The works are not particularly innovative from a technical standpoint; they adhere to the traditional format of collage without offering much insight into the specific nature of digital imagery. As a result, the works are somewhat limited, lacking the visual depth and precision that a more established technique like paper collage have providided. At the same time, however, they feature an exciting array of colors and a high-quality printing job (several are printed directly onto canvas) that create a surprisingly lush texture.
More importantly, however, the technology seems to have stimulated Askevold’s imagination, allowing him to create fantastical worlds not bound to by material reality. Askevold’s imagery is dense and gothic, as though for each work he split open the mind of a 17-year-old Dungeons and Dragons buff and scattered the contents across a chilling science-fiction landscape. All of the works explore an interplay between natural and cultural environments, often involving unusual thematic juxtapositions and contrasting textures. In “Pilescape” (1999), for example he overlays a black-and-white photograph of glacial terrain with two clusters of color images arranged to look like natural rock formations. One cluster, placed to the side and low to the ground to look like a clump of moss, includes images of animals, snakes, anime warriors and pornograpgy; the other, near the center of the canvas and shaped like a tower is composed of religious icons from around the world. The images in both are densely compacted, as though fodolized remnants of an abandoned world. The work, like others in the show, raises interesting questions about the place of human beings in the natural world and our adaptation to that world.
Also available for viewing at LACE are 17 film and video works by Askevold dating from 1969 to 1994. While they are presumably intended to provide a background for the newer works, the connections between the two are unfortunately not elaborated on within the context of the exhibition, nor are they self-evident. Becasue more than three hours of unqualified video is bound to inspire trepidationin even the most seasoned viewer, a more condensed program- or at least an indication of the highlights- would have been preferable. As it is, the videos seem an obscure afterthought.
Once the digital revolution has settled into a definable art form, for better or for worse, Askeold’s current works will probabaly come to seem dated, but that might not be such a bad thing. They have a transitory air, as though poised at a temporary stopping point. The restlessness that results is infectious, making it lkess crucial to evaluate the current work than to speculate- optimisitically- about where it might lead.