Stefan Gec, Crossing Heaven, 2012, 3-D animation on 40" monitor.

Stefan Gec, Crossing Heaven, 2012, 3-D animation on 40" monitor.

Stefan Gec


Stefan Gec, Crossing Heaven, 2012, 3-D animation on 40" monitor.

Despite Duchamp’s declared intentions, it took only weeks (or maybe even days) for his “indifferent” Fountain, 1917, to acquire aesthetic value, expressive content, and metaphorical significance, thereby becoming what one might label dead avant-garde technology. Duchamp’s preoccupation with the redeployment of manufactured materials is echoed, nearly a century on, in Stefan Gec’s sculptural practice. But Gec’s readymades invoke technological aging and obsolescence to deliberate elegiac effect. This is true of the three works (all 2012) in Gec’s exhibition “Crossing Heaven”—a project that, at one level, reflected how thoroughly contemporary art has sidelined “indifference” and naturalized a deeply subjective, metaphorical, aestheticizing language around readymade objects.

Displayed alone in the gallery’s front space, Gentle Circuit consists of a salvaged pair of giant tires, originally from a South African DC-10 cargo plane. Raised on simple, low metal frames fitted with motorized steel rollers, the tires slowly, gently rotate, belying their considerable weight. However, thanks to the huge stresses sustained during hundreds of takeoffs and landings, they are warped out of alignment, and constantly try to veer sideways off their parallel rollers. This in turn stains the motors: They periodically stutter and stop until the tires’ resistance is overcome and the rolling motion resumes. The distortion of the tires, which are worn down to a texture that oddly resembles old wood more than rubber—combined with the chalked graffiti they’ve acquired as scrap—testifies both to their “working lives” and their subsequent redundancy. This is the antithesis of the indifferent spinning of Duchamp’s bicycle wheel: Gec’s tires evoke strongly anthropocentric metaphors, invoking the workers who made or used them, and their halting but persistent motion seems to stand as a tribute or memorial. They also, obviously, conjure ideas of global travel; Gec cites as inspiration for the piece a news story about the death of a would-be emigrant who attempted to stow away in a plane’s wheel housing.

At the rear of the gallery, Long Distance-Short Time is made from an unopened 1952 US Air Force parachute. It is pinned against the gallery wall, about six feet up, with five thin timber laths, in an arrangement that suggests both technological disaster (the descending parachute has failed to open) and a sculptural gesture of reparation: Gec’s laths have arrested the parachute (and by implication the airman’s body) a split second before impact with the ground. Nearby, Crossing Heaven recycles a wire-frame diagram of the twenty-three-year-old, now partially superseded Hubble Space Telescope, and brings it to life again through digital animation: a mesmerizing, spidery geometry of white lines on an empty black background on a wall-mounted screen. Unlike the real Hubble, though, Gec’s satellite has lost its course. It tumbles through space, moving in and out of the screen’s frame in an infinitely changing sequence of configurations. A prosthetic eye built to scan the universe’s past life is itself represented as adrift in time and space: The metaphorical association of the limited life span of technological objects and human existential concerns is inescapable.

To plot this practice of melancholic, anthropocentric salvage and reparation back onto its origins in Duchamp’s experiments is to reveal a near-total inversion of the readymade’s original purposes. Not an absolute one, though: A subtle claim to objectivity persists, via the readymade’s quasi-forensic status. However slight the physical evidence, it’s proposed that the object can tell its own true (and potentially moving) story. All too often, that claim feels spurious, but not in the case of Gec’s work. Here, the artist’s subjective strategies and choices and the objective properties of the items chosen mesh together to powerful and convincing effect.

—Rachel Withers