In one pass through Luis Salazar’s Fugue in Dark and Light at Modified Arts in Phoenix the initial reaction from any visitor is going to be a sense of repetition, if not redundancy. The gallery is not an enormous space, but it has multiple spaces within and Salazar’s photographs of whispy nude women dancing surrounded by darkness cover nearly every inch of the gallery. At first glance the images all look very similar, even though he changes up the presentation with some long, thin prints, some tall life-size, and some small framed. A second walkthrough leads to a bit more depth, one notices shifts in the poses of the women and the different sizes and formats stand out more. In many cases this would not be positive, but in this instance it is the intent.
Salazar formulated the concept for the series about four years ago while watching numerous dance performances. The contrast of the spot-lit performers with the surrounding darkness sparked the concept of a fugue, which in music is the compositional technique of introducing a melody or phrase at beginning of a song and then repeatedly imitating it at different pitches, even with different instruments throughout. In photography terms, he sought to weave a repetitive pattern of light and dark in different aspects throughout an entire space.
As for his concept, Salazar achieved his goal and the individual images are hauntingly beautiful. The challenge is getting the point across to the audience. To the general viewer the repetition won’t deserve a second look. Honestly I almost skipped part of the show until I read the artist’s statement. I had to Google the word “fugue” because I knew it as a psychology term meaning the loss of awareness of one’s identity, but the musical definition made it click so I viewed it again with more understanding. Each photograph has its own unique nuances and they are created well but again, in one glance they appear too similar. Although a fugue obviously takes time to resonate, it likely comes much easier to the recipient in music, whereas it is more difficult visually when many will only make one pass. More challenging is the fact that the whole exhibition is essentially one piece, purchasing one of the prints is like downloading a fraction of a song from iTunes.
Images courtesy of Modified Arts copyright of the artist