May 2007, WM issue #3: Peter Belyi, DANGER ZONE @ Daneyal Mahmood Gallery

May 2007, WM issue #3: Peter Belyi, DANGER ZONE @ Daneyal Mahmood Gallery
Peter Belyi's DANGER ZONE: The Ubiquitous Inverse, Installation View, Daneyal Mahmood Gallery, images courtesy Daneyal Mahmood Gallery

Peter Belyi’s DANGER ZONE: The Ubiquitous Inverse

By Hans Michaud 

DANGER ZONE is the embodiment of piercing beauty. Also death.

Being in the Daneyal Mahmood Gallery and absorbing Peter Belyi’s work, a line from Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” slaps me and the sting lingers:

War is built into cities.

In its original context, this line brings up the notion that in the world—sans human consciousness—there is no “destruction” or “tragedy”. Things don’t get terrorized or ripped apart, per se, if human consciousness is absent. Instead, things are merely rearranged, due to the lack of a value system of judgment in place. As soon as something is constructed due to human consciousness, that something’s inverse becomes just as real as the thing itself: its destruction or absence (not its rearrangement). We humans possess value systems (usually hierarchical); hence, our projects, the objects we build and imbue with, in the least, utilitarian worth, contain within them (in our eyes) their own destruction, their own absence.

DANGER ZONE is a vision of apocalypse. By apocalypse I’m not alluding to the constantly-referred-to definition: the end of the world. I’m referring to its primary meaning, springing from the original Greek “Apokalypsis”: the lifting of the veil. The Hellenistic Jews specifically used it to denote the unveiling of God. In that era the word never signified the destruction of the world, only our preconceptions.

Peter Belyi’s DANGER ZONE approximates this prototypal rendition. The structures nearing eight feet tall, they overwhelm the Daneyal Mahmood Gallery in a way that is both obtrusive and silent at the same time. Obtrusive simply due to their size, silent simply because at first glance these structures represent a downed city, a city which has fallen into an eternity of quiet.

This hushed municipality exists only within our consciousness. It already exists there, among our destroyed preconceptions, and it has existed there for most of our lives. It’s the awareness, however deeply buried, of our civilization’s inverse, its destruction, its absence. The more interesting topical question might be: when?

When does this imaginary construct (or destruct) exist? Is there even a perceptible timestamp on it? If this is the veil, lifted and dissolving our preconceptions, is this something that exists all the time, everywhere, right now? When I gazed at Mr. Belyi’s objects, I was absolutely certain that I recognized something in there, a living, breathing existent (desistant?). In this light, the first query that presents itself to me (in the context of being present among Mr. Belyi’s structures) is the issue of a timestamp. What this means is one of two things: either the past or the future. I don’t think it’s the past, at least not the recent past (we’re still here, aren’t we?). Therefore it must be the future.

But, since the future doesn’t exist (or exists only in our imaginations, or, rather, is unwritten), Peter Belyi’s staggering work must be referencing our inverse, our destruction, our absence, at this moment and constantly, all the time, our ubiquitous annihilation. Just like the polar caps and the deserts exist alongside the more habitable lands (sometimes one and the same…and besides, who am I to say which is the more habitable and desirable?), the opposite of our cities exist at the same time as our vast dwellings of steel, glass and cement We live with it, inside of ourselves, the possibility (certainty?) of our own absence, our own dissolution. And therein lies the desert, the ice caps of consciousness, embodied in Mr. Belyi’s stupefying constructs.

The veil is lifted, the apocalypse is at hand, and we are witness to our own end.  

“Confronted by the immensity and power of desert and ice, one cannot simply stand to the side and evaluate as though one were standing before a landscape garden and other works of art. Conflicting emotions, including fear, are aroused and simultaneously absorbed or taken over by the overmastering presence of nature…explorers of desert and ice may be said to be half in love with piercing beauty and half in love with death.”

-Yi-fu Tuan

Desert and Ice: Ambivalent Aesthetics


DANGER ZONE is at Daneyal Mahmood Gallery through June 2, 2007.

Daneyal Mahmood Gallery

511 West 25th Street, 3rd floor

New York, NY 10001


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Hans Michaud

Hans Michaud is a freelance journalist in New York.

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