Thursday, April 29, 2010

Resurrecting Civilian Casualties of War // John Jurayj at Walter Maciel Gallery

In his latest show at Walter Maciel Gallery, John Jurayj enacts a resurrection of sorts. His larger-than-life silkscreens of dead bodies from the Lebanese civil war are at once undeniably weighty and ineffably haunting. Executed in gunpowder-tinted ink on slabs of stainless steel, the works lean against the walls like tombstones that have yet to find their graves.

Taken from newspapers and other archival sources, the images depict isolated men, women and children — all civilians — photographed where they fell. Jurayj has turned the bodies upright as if willing them back to life, but they resist, appearing to float inertly in midair. He has also printed them in negative, which gives them an otherworldly glow.

The works are further activated by the viewer's presence — the steel is polished to a mirror finish so you can see your distorted reflection alongside each victim. It’s a discomfiting experience to see yourself so sheepishly alive among ghosts.

The silkscreens are accompanied by a few small sculptures of luggage and a digital video. Cast in a mix of gunpowder and plaster, the luggage provides a mute physicality that the evanescent images cannot. In comparison, the video — images of war "heroes" that slowly dissolve in rays of harsh light — is more expected. It's the only animated thing in the room but somehow feels less vital.

Sharon Mizota


There's definitely something to say here about war, death and the resurrection...but I am most struck by the aspect of this exhibit that allows the viewer to see himself or herself reflected next to each body. I can hear 1 Corinthians 12:26 now: "If one member suffers, all suffer together with it." Silkscreens of dead bodies may be a disturbing, perhaps even offensive, medium of art, but shouldn't our acknowledgment of the shared suffering of humanity be equally discomfiting? -- Sarah

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