Home Magazine Preludio: The Digital Decay of Sacred Symbols

Gabriel O’Shea's Exhibition Explores the Erosion of Spirituality and the Rise of Virtual Worship in the Contemporary Age

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Galería Hilario Galguera is pleased to showcase the exhibition Preludio by Gabriel O’Shea, a talented artist hailing from Metepec, Mexico, born in 1998. O’Shea's exhibition delves into the intricate complexities of the contemporary digital age, shedding light on the diminishing role of spirituality in society and its substitution by the reverence of virtual spaces. Through his exploration and experimentation with both classical and contemporary media, O’Shea unveils the decay of the body as a sacred symbol.

As one steps into the gallery, a melody permeates the air. It is distant, ever-changing, and heterogeneous. The series titled Requiem, inspired by the traditional Catholic hymn dedicated to the deceased, features wax sculptures portraying fragments of religious scenes. These sculptures reduce the once-powerful symbols to lonely torsos, remnants of a grand past. In the piece Tan Poco, 2022, an eighteenth-century sacred painting hangs lifeless within a rusty structure, its image blurred beyond recognition. In the central gallery space, the series Elegias presents sculptural plaster casts of mummified bodies, reminiscent of archaeological relics. These casts encapsulate earthly remains, ashes, human hair, and dirt. O’Shea discloses the contours of an art history redirected by digital innovation, mirroring the disruption of traditional worship, idolatry, and devotion.

Gabriel O'Shea. Preludio. Courtesy of Hilario Galguera

O’Shea's paintings feature brushstrokes within dystopian scenes, not only marking a shift in art historical practice but also fostering a deeper connection with the artist's representational themes. Dreamlike faces appear hazy, devoid of defining features, fading into memories. In this transitional period towards a digital future, subjects seem trapped in a purgatory of lost identity and subjectivity, confined within gray rooms, protective masks, and emotionless embraces. O’Shea repurposes chiaroscuro techniques, emphasizing the interplay of light and shadows in his portraits. However, this only serves to further abstract the faces, with some remaining blurred even when illuminated, while others are rendered devoid of visual contrast by a consistent subdued atmosphere. The vivid optimism of religious scenes contrasts sharply with the blurred and achromatic nihilism of the contemporary world, leaving us uncertain about our ability to find purpose and individuality in the present.

Gabriel O'Shea. Preludio. Courtesy of Hilario Galguera

O’Shea's artistic journey has been influenced by his extensive study of Goya and Caravaggio, as well as his upbringing in a religious environment surrounded by Catholic iconography. Through his Nietzschean contemplation of the decline of religion, O’Shea provides a necessary entry point into an agnostic and digital contemporaneity. His work explores the loss of traditional spiritual identity, exemplified through depictions of concrete heads adorned with masks that symbolize the submissive nature of humanity. This unquestioning submission, once directed towards religion, has now transformed into a complete dependence on technology. The images of faces painted with gas masks or virtual reality visors reflect our discomfort towards the uncanny valley, a characteristic often associated with artificial intelligence.

Challenging the traditional status of artistic forms and their "auratic" nature, O’Shea's video piece Polifonía (QUO VADIS), 2023, is a compilation of images created using various software. These computer-generated interpretations stem from carefully crafted textual prompts written by the artist, enabling him to employ digital media as a tool for crafting uncanny scenes. This process of reimagining results in a surreal visual array, featuring faceless groups dressed in religious garb, monks donning suffocating virtual reality headsets, and misty settings intertwined with post-apocalyptic fires. Within this digital dystopia, the pictures exude a captivating lifelessness, their strangely inhuman qualities serving as a metaphor for our increasingly online existence.

 

Cover image: Gabriel O'Shea. Preludio. Courtesy of Hilario Galguera

Written by Kooness

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