The Salon: A Night at the Signet

February 24, 2010

Trevor Martin's Salon at the Signet (Photo Credit: Trevor Martin)

Pedestrians walking by the Signet Society building last Saturday night might have paused briefly as they glimpsed a neon green glow seeping out through the windows.  Perhaps images of time portals and supernatural phenomena might have even flitted through their minds; the event that took place that night, however, was an evening devoted to art.  The night was a combination of a dinner, art exhibit, and play that expanded these three forms into an experience that was a first for Harvard.

Orchestrating this evening was senior VES concentrator, Trevor Martin.  His concept in organizing The Salon, as the evening was called, was to create a space and a situation in which art could be discussed freely between students involved in the arts.  Most importantly, the evening would be conducive to artistic discourse in its very form.  Two pieces of Martin’s conceptual art were featured in the dining space.  One was an antique picture frame, stripped of its paint and laying horizontally on the dinner table, the pale knuckles of the ornate designs protruding.  The second piece was a frame made of a thin neon green tube of light.  It was placed on the mantel in front of a mirror, with its green rays saturating the entire room.  Both these pieces seemed to emphasize the empty spaces that they framed and brought a three-dimensional quality to objects that usually hold what is flat.   Guests were encouraged to embody eccentric personalities, in both dress and character.  Southern belles and French artists entered the room, and there was something exciting about taking on a new persona that allowed the conversation to develop in a fearless and limitless way.  The food that was served throughout the evening, designed and prepared by student chef Kate Farley ’10, complemented the artwork in both form and content.  Caramelized chicken “lollipops”, which were pieces of chicken coated in a crystallized glaze and served on skewers, were Farley’s interpretation of the neon artwork.  Just as neon is a gas encased in glass, the chicken was encased in its own delicate coating.  The pale green avocado soup reflected the light in the room, and the flavors, like the art, were combined in unexpected ways.  Delicious!

Historically, “salons” were informal gatherings of intellectuals and artists in the home of a gracious host during the 19th century.  The salon was a forum for exchanging ideas and culture that has no exact analog in contemporary times.   Perhaps the conversations students have in their dorms or dining halls are our modern day versions of the salons of French antiquity, but Martin’s concept of The Salon, as a more unconventional and theatrical experience, is an intriguing one.

There are two aspects of The Salon that are very striking.  The first is that an evening such as this (one that combines art, discussion, and performance) opens up the categories of art and critical discourse by creating an opportunity to encounter art from a new perspective, to be in and surrounded by the art.  Secondly, The Salon’s student focus sought to uniquely provide a service to the undergraduate community. The event was largely about affording students the opportunity to enjoy a creative experience and to engage in thought-provoking, if not peculiar, dialog.

Sure, Harvard has guest artist lectures, film screenings, VES classes, theatre and dance productions, and more, for those of us who need a little creativity in our lives.  But sometimes the little things are just as important.  Evenings like The Salon are ways to invigorate peer-to-peer artistic discussion by situating it in a strange and exciting context that is far from the lecture hall.

- Leah Schecter, Harvard Art Review Visual Arts Board


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