Three years ago, artist David Jelinek and his wife decided to get a divorce. That very weekend, a car slammed into him as he attempted to hail a cab. He flew ten feet into the air and spent ten days in a trauma unit at Bellevue Hospital. He lost all hearing in his right ear as well as a large amount of spinal fluid.
But trauma breeds recovery and recovery breeds hope. As Jelinek healed—as sound began to return to his ear and the breaks in his skull began to stitch themselves together—he latched onto the few joys he could find. He began to appreciate the shape of a cloud forming and the feel of water. As he explained in a recent e-mail interview with Daily Serving, “hope comes in many forms, and sometimes it appears on the cusp of losing it.”
For Jelinek it came in the form of lottery tickets. He noticed a discarded ticket on the ground and was struck by the juxtaposition of the scratched-off silver numbers with the neon cardstock. He picked it up, stuck it into his back pocket, and began a collection of lottery tickets that would eventually fill three suitcases.
This collection birthed Money Down, currently on view at the Andrew Edlin Gallery in Chelsea. The installation features tens of thousands of dollars in discarded tickets, scattered across the gallery floor. They pile upon themselves, a raucous mess of pinks, greens, blues, and yellows. Some promise wins of over $100 million, others as little as $20. In the front room of the gallery, a single television screen hangs above a multicolored pile of tickets. It plays a Quick Pick stream, a live lottery feed that bleats out in bodegas throughout New York City, siren-like and unrelenting.
The exhibition forces us to remember that the tickets are trash. As visitors walk down the gallery’s dim hallway, neutral-hued tickets crumple underfoot, mimicking the way pedestrians interact with these talismans every day. The hallway leads to a small, brightly lit room overflowing with tickets. They are arranged in a color wheel of sorts—pink tickets lead to blue, then yellow, then green. The words “luck,” “change,” and “cash” repeat themselves again and again like whispers.
The tickets simultaneously represent both hope and hope lost. A ticket that has yet to be played still holds a promise, but within seconds, after the flashy silver has been scratched off by fingernails or car keys, its value decreases a millionfold. It becomes a promise that’s been broken, a hope that’s been spent.
The simple act of moving these tickets from a dirty sidewalk into the rarified environment of a white-wall gallery reframes their history and infuses them with an entirely different kind of value. In this context, they morph from garbage into spectacle, into art. Jelinek explains that “discarded objects evinced a kind of lonely poetry and overlooked potential.” The show breathes hope back into the tickets, thus completing a cycle of recovery that began with just a scratch.
Money Down is on view at Andrew Edlin Gallery through August 17, 2013.