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(1) "Conduit", mixed media, 56 x 36 x 24", 1994.
(2) "Red Ladders", bronze/mixed media, 47 x 42", 1993.
(3) "Safe Passage", cast bronze.

by Judith Christensen

(Galleria Spagnolo, San Diego) The unifying aspect in Shauna Peck's sculptures is not immediately discernable. What first strikes the eye is the variety of materials, forms, size and presentation. But, after careful consideration, even this--their apparent diversity--seems consistent with the work's premise: That things are not as they appear. In Conduit a stairway, with a giant bronze chain on it, ascends to nowhere. Constructed from a concrete-like material, the stairs appear solid, substantial, evoking confidence in their capacity to transport people from one level to the next--just as stairs normally do. Yet siting them against the surface of the flat wall strips them of their purpose. The presence of a chain--usually used to prevent movement--also suggests that the stairs not be taken at face value. Perhaps, with these two forms, Peck is implying that we deceive ourselves with the idea of progress, for both individuals and societies. Although we may characterize change as advancement from one level to another, the peak to which we aspire is illusionary.

Red Ladders reinforces this perspective of an ascent to nowhere. Mounted side-by-side on the wall, the two ladders appear as relics, whose meaning we understand only in the context of a previous culture. Yet we use ladders, as well as the metaphor of climbing the ladder, all the time; the meaning of both in contemporary society is clear. It is possible that Peck regards the concept, "ladder," as a relic, and that by questioning it is inviting us to reconsider how we understand achievement. Also displayed as artifacts are the two long (116") pipes in Separate Corridors. Again the pieces' presentation belies the object's functionality. Although perforated pipes like these do serve a function--as drain line--that is not their connotation here. Mounted five feet in the air on steel stands emphasizes their incapacity for transporting anything.

Safe Passage is unusual in its use of the figure, yet it, too, reflects Peck's pessimism about the human condition. Three figures on stands face the wall and, in front of them, at their feet, is an indentation that could be interpreted as their own grave. The cross on the wall is consistent with this explanation. While this piece could be taken to suggest that contemporary society is facing a dead end, some of Peck's other pieces are less dogmatic in their questioning of our notions about how we conduct ourselves.