Ward Shelley at Pierogi

Unreliable Narrator
Gallery 1 & 2
17 February – 18 March, 2012
Opening reception: Friday, 17 February. 7-9pm

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Unreliable Narrator is about believers. In this exhibition of timeline paintings, Ward Shelley proposes that believers are people who depend on a collection of narratives to explain the world around them.

Facts are like dots on a graph. The narrative is the curve that connects them, that gives isolated data points meaning, and gives meaning shape. This graphical epistemology emerges naturally from the way Shelley creates timelines, which he considers pictures of narratives.

As actors in the world, according to Shelley, we need a world view, and a world view requires some construction. Narratives are what we construct — they are the basic building blocks for organizing our outlook and interpreting the world. Yet they are shaped more by belief than by fact.

We are all believers; it seems there is no way around it. But the voice in our head is that of an unreliable narrator.

To explore the structure of narrative, half of Shelley’s paintings are being shown naked, stripped of the text. Words are like magnets for the eyes and in Shelley’s text-laden images, they crowd to the front of the viewer’s attention to tell the story. Beneath is a structure — and this structure is also information, as well as informational architecture. Is there a necessary structure to narrative?

We use different parts of our brains for reading and looking. Is it possible that legible graphics, which utilize very conventional forms, rely on some pre-existing structure for thought, a pre-existing structure not unlike the innate cognitive structures in the brain that linguists believe precedes language and make it possible? This exhibition suggests that the shapes of information carry messages.

The subjects of the works included in this exhibition range from teenagers and the history of science fiction, to a diagram of the fluxus movement, among others. This will be Shelley’s fifth one-person exhibition at Pierogi. His performance, installation, and timeline works have been shown widely in Europe and the US. He is the recipient of numerous prizes and residency fellowships including the Priz de Rome and a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award.