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Jeph Gurecka, Shiny Broight Souvenir

31 Grand
143 Ludlow Street, between Rivington and Stanton, 212-228-0901
East Village / Lower East Side
September 4 - October 5, 2008
Reception: Thursday, September 4, 7 - 9 PM
Web Site

31GRAND is pleased to present SHINY BRIGHT SOUVENIR. Roughly based on Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life painting series and 18th century Romanticism, SHINY BRIGHT SOUVENIR is a nautical passageway from the past, both in an art historical context and from feelings and expectations associated with the romantic period. Cole’s Voyage of Life (1840) series of paintings is the allegorical story of a voyager who travels in a boat on the river of life with an angel. This combination of the sublime with religious, philosophical, and contemporary socio-political themes is prevalent in Gurecka’s SHINY BRIGHT SOUVENIR.

Brought home by the traveler, souvenirs and tchotchkes function as physical manifestations of the memories associated with the journey. Likewise, history itself is a souvenir of the past that is glamorized and glossed over by indulgent radiance in the present. Gurecka finds humor and absurdity in how easily memory devolves into nostalgia, which in turn degrades into consumerism. For Gurecka, the souvenir is a hopeless projection and a representation of fear; in this, his vision accords with Nietzsche’s description of nostalgia as the longing for the past, the contempt for the present, and the fear of the future.

“The Voyage of the Crystal Symphony” shows the Crystal Symphony cruise ship retreating from the constellation Aquarius at its rear and entering the eye of a fantastic, sublime storm. Immanuel Kant talks about the sublime and how the safest way to the sublime is through the idea of the subsidiary venues, which for the contemporary traveler translates into our present day cruise lines, amusement parks, casinos, and video games.

In the wall relief, “Sleeper,” a siren floats along on a similar journey. Romanticism was loaded with mythic stories of the mystic relationships between men, women, and water. In their desperate loneliness, seamen believed that lighthouses were kept by sirens, who lived on rocky islands where they lured ships to their destruction. Similarly, the goddess of beauty herself, Venus, was born of vengeance: the severed genitals of Uranus, who was castrated by his son, Cronus, fell into the sea and fertilized the water from which Venus arose. As an amalgamation of beauty and destructiveness, perhaps the danger of Gurecka’s siren is her somnolent, latent wrath.

In the illuminated sculpture, “My Fathers House,” biblical, mythological and personal attributes contrasted with the artist’s homage to his birth father and their struggles for individuality. The softly illuminated cast Lincoln log house atop a rough, sinewy, trunk-like pedestal is both welcoming and subtly menacing. Here Gurecka melds the iconographically powerful image of the lighthouse—with its references to solitude, the sea, sirens, and the Christian symbol of divine guidance—with the struggle for autonomy.

Personal memory flattens into a collective and anonymous past: consumer culture takes advantage of a lack of awareness through mythologizing and fetishizing experience. In Gurecka’s cast sculpture of an SUV tire sinking into the gallery floor (“We Will Never”), this type of patriotic consumerism creates a falsely empathetic slogan.

In past work, Gurecka relied on the organic material and its relevance to the idea, a heterogeneous entity where the material was actually the host to the idea. In much the same way, Gurecka now deals with a very organic material in our natural world: plastic. Arguably, what once was nature/natural persists in the contemporary world, equally present in the dyad of city and country or in the contrived in-between; the simulacrum of suburbia is as manifestly “real” as other experiences.
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