What does Jason Akira Somma’s installation “Phosphene Variations” recently on exhibit at Soho’s Location One have in common with Snoop Dogg’s performance with Tupac this last April in Coachella? Both are take-offs of Pepper’s Ghost, a centuries old illusion popularized by John Henry Pepper in 1862 in which an image is bounced off the floor onto an invisible screen.
Beyond that, the similarity ends. The music producer Dr. Dre sprinkled his gold dust on the California digital effects company Digital Domain to make possible Snoop Dogg’s appearance with the prolific rapper who was killed in 1995. The acclaimed event added little to an old trick other than context, where as Jason Akira Somma created a new chapter for dance presentation and preservation. Supported in part by the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, his liquid wall created with a start-up company, a horizontal flow of mist in which images can dance, is, as Le Figaro wrote, “a true revolution…stupefying poetry, humanity and invention.”
When he was ten, Somma saw a floating head, engineered with the method behind Pepper’s Ghost, in a “haunted house.” Little did he know that encounter would determine the direction of his artistic life. He re-created the effect while a dance student at Virginia Commonwealth University, which has a fertile dance film program led by Martha Curtis. After much back and forthing between dance and visual arts, Somma realized dance is a visual art. His approach gelled; his career zoomed, winning him accolades in both US and Europe and the coveted Rolex Mentorship with Dutch choreographer Jiri Kylian.
Somma has the instincts of a magician inclined to play with dual realities and those of an engineer who solves problems. Somma used 5 infra-red cameras for his multi-media show commissioned by Lyon Opera Ballet. Why infra-red, I asked him. He replied, "I like to incorporate science into my work that exposes other realities around us that we (can't) perceive. The one in which our naked eye can see and the one in which technology can see. I want to remind the world of all the possibilities and things that surround us at all points and time."
Dance legends Mikhail Baryshnikov, Carmen DeLavallade, Robert Wilson, Bill Shannon, and Jiri Kylian, among others, appear in the liquid walls, moving in a space no wider than the wings of your arms.
Imagine the chance to prepare your own ghost. Who can resist that? Sporting a waxed moustache, Somma (seen levitating left) set up with “Phosphene Variations” a vertical playground in which the viewer can reach out to touch a ghost who vanishes, only to be immediately replaced by another.
Location One, 26 Green Street, NYC presented “Phosphene Variations” September 12-October 3, 2012.
Closed earlier than schedule due to technical difficulties.