Con/Text: The Souvenir Series

By Gregor Turk
A Review from Atlanta Constitution


Preview Section: Visual Arts - Friday, January 8, 1999
©1999 The Atlanta Journal / The Atlanta Constitution

by Catherine Fox, Visual Arts Critic


Lessons from Home

Using his city as his subject, Atlanta artist Gregor Turk
probes relationships between history and fact



REVIEW

"Con/Text: The Souvenir Series" Through Jan. 23. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Swan Coach House Gallery, 3130 Slaton Drive N.W. 404-266-2636.
The verdict: Gregor Turk continues to chart a provocative and visually edifying course.


Gregor Turk is a postmodern cartographer. Or maybe he's a latter-day landscape artist.

Call him what you will. The Atlanta artist has devoted much of his career to exploring, in a variety of mediums, maps as symbol and fiction --- an arbitrary work of man --- and their relationship to the land they purport to describe. In 1992, for instance, he walked and bicycled the length of the 49th parallel, and, in a 1995 multimedia installation, he showed how the imaginary line had become a real space.

In his exhibition at the Swan Coach House Gallery, Turk explores similar issues but has shifted his focus from cartography to history. The subject is his hometown, and the vehicle is nostalgic views of buildings and places and the historical markers that accompany them. The result is aesthetically pleasing, illuminating and sometimes quite funny.

Many of the pieces are blown-up postcard images of historic or demolished buildings. These images are layered, under and over, with silk-screens of rubbings that Turk has made of the historical markers found at the sites. Sometimes the words are legible, sometimes not. Some are printed in a ghostly white on white; more often, they are soft rainbows of color.

The pieces work together to show the continuum of history's relationship to fact. In the category of straightforward information, we learn, for example, that the Muse's building downtown is located where a Civil War arsenal once stood. Then there is the totally fictitious history of the new apartment complex Riverside by Post, manufactured as a marketing tool to give it the appropriate patina.

Turk presents this history on yellow Post-it Notes shaped like one of the Civil War plaques seen around town. The "Post" pun is obvious, but the modern medium is appropriate.

Such "history" throws all histories into question. The postcard views of the city do likewise for photography. Turk explains in his artist's statement that the postcards were frequently manufactured in Germany and the photos were often altered with images of German street life.

The artist has also created two vertical scrolls, which are maps of major north-south and east-west axes of the city composed solely of words, names of important buildings, places and events. He uses company logos and other script. The works are effective both as maps and abstractions.

The least interesting series is a group of tiny, awfully stiff landscape paintings combined with a single word from a marker. Neither the word nor the image comes alive or enhances the other. Perhaps that's the point: Both are out of context.

Though the arbitrariness of history and the fictions of photography are not virgin territory, Turk's work makes for a thoughtful reminder.


I-50

Symbol and reality: "Con/Text: The Souvenir Series" by Gregor Turk, at the Swan Coach House Gallery through Jan. 23, combines postcard images with rubbings from historical markers. Above, Atlanta's main street; at left, the historic Muse's building, where a Civil War arsenal once stood.

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All images © 1998 Gregor Turk