PARTICIPANT INC presents UNDEAD, a solo exhibition
consisting of two recent bodies of work by John Jurayj. Untitled (Family Baggage) is a
series of sculptures that addresses emotional loss and public anxiety, taking as its
starting point luggage that the artist’s parents used when traveling through the Middle
East in the 1960s. Cast in black plaster and gunpowder, the process of fabrication
leaves flaws suggesting passage and disruption, while the choice of material implies
aggressive potential, reflective of current concerns. These ‘ghost objects,’ in their
evocation of tombstones or memorials, maintain an aura that belies the optimism implicit
in their original era, a time when international travel held the promise of
sophistication, sex appeal, and mobility for the aspirant middle class of the ‘60s.
The accompanying series of paintings, Untitled (Undead), maintains a very simple aim: to
restore images of those killed in the Lebanese Civil War into an afterlife of painting.
These works incorporate gunpowder and ink, silk-screened on polished stainless steel
panels. Taking material cues from Jurayj’s earlier works that utilized mirrors,
charring, and gunpowder, the character and scale of these works also make reference to
Michelangelo Pistelleto’s mirror pieces of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, of which
Pistelleto stated, “the physical invasion of the picture in the real environment gives
me the chance to introduce myself among the broken-down elements of figuration.”
Painting, declared dead enumerable times over the last century, has repeatedly returned
as spectral presence inhabiting various afterlives.
The bodies inhabiting Jurayj’s paintings, suspended in mirrors with our reflection, are
modified by a number of actions taken in relation to the original source photographs,
appropriated from journalistic sources. Images depicting the body sundered, unconscious,
lost in deep sleep, horizontal, are returned to upright positions, re-establishing
agency. Confronting viewers with a self-image in the unfettered space of the mirror,
they relate back to the world of verticality: our world. They are also inverted into
photographic negatives and isolated from their original context. The transformed image
is otherworldly, yet the metal ground and combustible potential of gunpowder intimates
violence and profound transformation.
John Jurayj lives and works in Brooklyn and teaches at The School of Visual Arts and
Cornell University. He received his MFA from Bard College in 2005 and a BFA in
architecture from Washington University. Recent solo exhibitions include Untitled
Lebanon (Fragments), The Third Line, Dubai, UAE (2011); Untitled (Undead), Walter Maciel
Gallery, Los Angeles (2010); as well as Alberto Peola Gallery, Turin and Massimo
Audiello Gallery, New York. Recent group exhibitions include Translation/Tarjama,
Herbert Johnson Museum, Cornell University and Queens Museum of Art; Noise, Sfeir-Semler
Gallery, Beirut; and Exposure 2009, Beirut Art Center. Jurayj is represented in public
and private collections including the Hirshhorn Museum of Art; British Museum of Art;
and Harvard’s Schwartz Collection. Jurayj’s work will be featured in the upcoming solo
exhibition, No Paradises, Alberto Peola Gallery, Turin.