Piers Secunda: ISIS Bullet Holes Paintings
April 6 – May 6, 2017
There is a horror and a fascination in something as apparently permanent as a building, something that one expects to last many a human span, meeting an untimely end.
—Robert Bevan, The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War
All the shot works originate from the idea that the most valuable thing an artist can do is to record the world around them. —Piers Secunda
Gathered together and displayed to potent effect at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel, Piers Secunda’s ISIS Bullet Hole Paintings are the latest iteration of an ongoing project in which casts of bullet holes gathered from war-torn or heavily militarized places are arranged into compositions that serve as both an indexical record of real-world damage and a haunting reminder of the threat that contemporary armed conflict presents to our collective history. These works were created through a painstaking and sometimes risky process. In late 2015 while under the protection of Peshmerga (Kurdish) soldiers, Secunda visited Iraqi villages recently liberated from ISIS and made direct casts of the damage inflicted on walls and other structures by gunfire. On returning to the studio, he arranged these within flat molds derived from ancient Greek and Assyrian artworks, poured in white industrial floor paint, and left it to set. The resulting objects are stark and compelling evocations of the barbaric violation of cultural heritage that is all too common in contemporary wartime. The violent erasure of noble classical imagery—gods, kings, elegant warhorses—beneath Secunda’s constellations of bullet-hole disfigurement elicits an acute feeling of loss and decay. In Assyrian Horse and a relief from the Pergamon: Temple of Zeus (both 2016), the annihilation unfolds as a sequence of discrete moments frozen in time, with each succeeding panel rendered more fragmentary than the last until there is little to nothing of the original image discernable. Temple of Zeus is particularly pointed, for its use of a slick and absurdly faultless nineteenth-century restoration of the Pergamon Altar seems to hint at the futility of the age-old human desire to reverse the course of time in search of Eden.
Despite the obvious sculptural quality of these works, Secunda considers them to be a natural outgrowth of his continuing evolution as a painter, and has sometimes described them in terms that evoke the centuries-old tradition of arresting time’s passage in paint and freezing fleeting moments before they’re gone forever. Although the ISIS Bullet Hole Paintings were not conceived as political statements per se, their emergence from his desire to capture the texture of geopolitics in paint has resulted in a body of works that succeeds as both a record of the ravages of time—aided in this case by far much human brutality—and as a meditation on how fleeting and fragile even our greatest cultural achievements really are. Recent exhibitions include: ‘Pergamon Alterations’ New York University, Faculty of Fine Arts. 2016. “Perfectionism III” Griffin Gallery, London, England 2016 “Piers Secunda, Circling Skies” Art Bermondsey Project Space, London, England 2016. “Missing, Rebuilding The Past” John Jay College, CUNY 2016. “Raw: Word And Image” Space 776, Brooklyn, New York 2015. “Community Hospital” WhyWhyArt, Shanghai, 2015.