horizons/structures is painter John Vokoun’s response to a month-long National Parks Art residency in 2016 at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. This series is inspired by his reflection on the architecture, mark making, and symbolism of ancient Chacoans in contrast to our contemporary, technology-driven lives.
With a background in color field painting, Vokoun uses digital tools to explore the effects of the Information Age on society. Influenced by the ideas of Carl Jung and mathematicians Henri Poincaré and Benoit Mandlebrot, he seeks universal patterns between systems. He believes shared modes of communication, symbols, gestures, and geometries can help us understand our evolution in a data saturated–world.
“Over the years working with corrupted computer data and elements of technology, I’ve thought a lot about the structures that make up our lives,” says Vokoun, noting that a couple hundred years from now, people may not even understand what life was like before computers—just as researchers strive to understand Chacoan culture now. “We’re kind of rebuilding our minds,” says Vokoun. “Computers are changing how our brains work.”
Vokoun designs on the computer, playing with corrupted data, and then he paints on canvases that are often laser-cut to line precision. “The horizons I see in this work are the New Mexico vistas I’ve been living with for a long time,” he says. “At Chaco I was influenced by the way the Earth comes up and meets the sky. It seems their whole structure and civilization was built that way, reflecting geography and topography, like those buildings were meant to reach the sky.”
horizons/structures is part of Vokoun’s continued work reinterpreting data and its significance in our lives, as if translating line by line from one language to another, abstract one. “When I was at Chaco, I thought about ancient cultures, their rituals and structures, and I thought about how our lives are constructed now,” he says. Vokoun’s works communicate by decomposing information to its basic units: data point, pixel, byte, and language—hinting at a source and rebuilding this into simple forms.