A wooden house in a Canadian forest inhabited with maples and polar bears, isolated from the world except for the macabre news that broadcast a radio as stringing fragments of cruel tales. Howls of wolf and shots of hunters interrupt sometimes the announcer voice. A teenage boy in his pajamas, wrapped in his bed, gazes at the snowy meadows through the fogged glass of the window.
He gets up at midnight, takes a piece of paper and begins to draw. It was always in unearthly hours when Marcel Dzama refined hearing and awaked his imagination, almost being able to hear the sound of bats, who began to fill his drawings with hunters disguised of their prey and, at the same time, bears disguised as hunters starring scenes of refined violence.
He was creating a personal mythology and even made his own pigments, whose utility discovered accidentally pouring syrup to make homemade beer on a paper. This ochre color extracted from the root beer would add a vintage patina that would suit well with the extemporaneous appearance of his iconographies.
Then he would move to New York, and his characters began to dance, and even came to life in performances. His collaborations with choreographers, making costumes for the New York City Ballet, had an effect on his drawings, videos and sculptures, enhanced with intertextual references, as signs to Dadaist ballets (dancers with polka dots of Death Disco Dance pay homage to Picabia’s Reläche), the Bauhaus (see the influence of Oscar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet in Turning into Puppets), Duchamp and his fascination with chess …
For Dzama everything begins with a drawing, although later it takes the form of film, diorama or ballet. This fact can be seen in the exhibition Drawing a Revolution in La Casa Encendida, Madrid. Here, along with the aforementioned crossing of references to avant-garde ballets, we find a more politicized artist, who focus on women a revolutionary potential.
With his peculiar way of absorbing his environment, channeling it and transfiguring it into fable, he could not ignore xenophobia and sexism attitudes intensifying in the Trump era. The Ku Klux Klan, the FBI and the KGB welcome the American president, while in another drawing a naked woman peeing on his head.
The feminine revolution greets us from the bats land (Greetings from the land of the bat), nocturnal bug that already fluttered in childhood dreams of Dzama and that now make alliances with women, both intuitive creatures, linked to the mystery and the rebirth, able to develop alternative senses, to see in the dark.
Sexual power, amour fou, imagination … are on their side, which guarantees survival in a world of puppets driven by false prophets and bureaucrats conspiracies.
Roadblocks, bandits, guerrilla fighters, gangsters … crooks and revolutionaries of all time submit to each other in scenes where even the maples carry a pistol in each horn.
Disguises and masks prevail in this human circus, wether they are dancers, hooded Nazis or bigheaded of village festivals, the latter displaying sometimes three faces reminding us the disturbing Hecate.
Many of these bigheadeds are drawing versions of ceramic pieces that the artist made in Mexico, so that local folklore, international terrorism, the evocation of musical theater, archaic myths, and even Soviet cartelism come together in his macabre dances.
The film Una danse des bouffons is also shown in the Madrid exhibition, with a crazy plot as liked the Dadaists, where peepholes of Etant donnés (that door behind which Duchamp had placed a naked woman) now witness another scene: the reencounter of Duchamp and his lover, the sculptor Maria Martins (who is said was the model for the representation of that sprawling woman on a bed of branches). In Dzama history, Duchamp has been kidnapped and forced to recite chess movements relentlessly. She tries to rescue him, but is also misled.
The buffoon characters dance on a chess board, this being a repeated motive in Dzama’s graphic stories to illustrate the relentless exchange of roles between pawns and kings, the strategic plays of one another, and the death as only one winner.
Fallen fables engravings introduce a change of tone. They are imbibed from the critical sense of Caprichos, and even the images go together with legends extracted from Goya engravings (Enterrar y callar, Se repulen…), texts that denounce political corruption and social hypocrisy, applicable to all times and places. Among the failed fables, we find a reference to Joseph Beuys and his mythical performance in which he isolated himself with a wild coyote trying to “exchange roles with him” (I like America and Amerika likes me). In Dzama’s version, coyote seems astonished seeing the transformation of the shaman artist into a vedette dancing the can-can.
Dzama also adds slogans or locutions to other drawings, not so much to constrain the interpretation but to open other floodgates. For example, a Leonard Cohen poem comes to our mind by reading the footnote Like a bat agaist a barn, that in turn alluded to intolerance and fanaticism, to lies that are used as hegemony stories to rewrite the history of a nation, denying the truth of other faiths, legends that exclude each other justifying mutual extermination.
Some drawings are made on perforated paper of pianola, like inviting us to add a soundtrack to those dances. Theirs would be sampler rhythms that, matching with the illustrations, would appropriate sound fragments from here and there, yesterday and today, tragic waltz with cabaret beats, ethnic rhythms among minimalist textures.
Marcel Dzama, Drawing a revolution
Solo exhibition in La Casa Encendida, Madrid
until 7th January 2018