John Salvest: The Finished Consumo Ergo Sum

This time equipped with kneepads (a quick fix to the many hours spent on the floor assembling his art), John Salvest arrived at the Brooks last Thursday to complete his installation of Consumo Ergo Sum.

I, once more, came armed with a camera and questions for the artist. As a follow up to curiosities triggered during our previous meeting, I asked, “Does your art prompt the collection of objects like bottle caps, or do you accumulate the items first and afterward conceive the art?” Mr. Salvest explained that it goes both ways.

He amassed business cards for 8 to 9 years before picturing their artistic design, the result being Nothing Endures (1998). Smoke-Free (2004) proved the exact opposite; he collected cigarette butts with the preconceived idea to shape them into a likeness of the American flag. Consequently, his creative process seems a combination of waiting, deliberation, persistence, and chance.

Smoke-Free and his latest composition Seize the Day (2010), a medicine cabinet filled with pain pills patterned to spell the title, flank Consumo Ergo Sum in the Kraft Gallery at the Brooks. The effect proves a visually and conceptually stunning success. Together, the three works fluently articulate heedless consumption as well as fated transience, and they probe the use and meaning of repetitive, iconic imagery. Mr. Salvest’s artworks also cast back to the Tunisians mosaics just hosted at the Brooks. This reference reveals the influence of an age-old technique on contemporary artistic productions.

Posted casually in front of his accomplished work, Mr. Salvest presented a gallery talk Thursday evening, which proved the perfect capstone to his installation. What began with an engaging narration of the artist’s aesthetic progression and journeys to Tunisia and Turkey led to a fantastic roundtable discussion with the audience. Topics included the conversion of found objects into art objects, the process and psychology of collectors, the use of patriotic symbols in art, and the conservation of contemporary art and material heritage. One theme, above all, resonated: time. Acknowledging a desire to express time in tangible form, Mr. Salvest transforms everyday, seemingly expendable items into unexpected relics. By continuing to accumulate these objects, I believe he demonstrates that time is not meant to be static but rather to move, evolve, and expand—much like his art.

This striking installation will be showcased at the Brooks only through this September. For that reason, carpe diem—seize the day—and come see and consider Consumo Ergo Sum, a work unquestionably worth both the artist and the viewer’s time.

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