La Casa Encendida presents Drawing on a Revolution, by Marcel Dzama (Winnipeg, Canada, 1974). The work of this Canadian artist is characterised by an immediately recognisable visual language that stems from a wide spectrum of references and artistic influences ranging from Marcel Duchamp to Goya, from the Dadaists to Francis Picabia or Hieronymus Bosch, producing as a result a universe of manifold interpretations. His prolific output of drawings, video and sculpting make him one of the most prominent artists of the current world scene. In recent years Dzama has in fact expanded his reach, and embarked upon collaboration projects with artists from other fields: bands Arcade Fire and Department of Eagles; music video and commercial director Patrick Daughters; singer-songwriter Beck – for whom he designed two important albums; José Noé Suro’s ceramic workshop in Guadalajara, Mexico; and artist Raymond Pettibon, with whom Dzama worked last year to produce the joint exhibition Let Us Compare Mythologies, presented for the first time at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York.
Drawing on a Revolution proposes a deep dive into the artist’s universe through a trip to three different spaces, each of which corresponds to one of the different techniques employed by Dzama in recent years. In Room A we find his drawings, ranging from the earliest productions – which include animals and humans, and make use of Dzama’s famous range of subdued colours, and hues of ochre and green – to the most recent, focusing on the theme of ‘revolution’, on a double plane: on the one hand, drawing as revolution; on the other, the viewpoint of a period that understands revolution and believes in it, as pointed out in works like Revolution (2016), The Revolution will be Female (2017) or Political to Poetical (2017).
Within the above room we find an area, presented in the form of a study, exhibiting a significant portion of the artist’s early drawings together with some of the many sketches that were made together with choreographer Justin Peck for the costume design of the New York Ballet in 2016. Also included are the preparatory drawings for his video Une danse des bouffons (A Jester’s Dance) and a mural painted by Dzama specifically for this exhibition, which displays the most significant elements of his imaginary.
These ink and watercolour drawings portray dark creatures that emerge from a singular inner world: figures taken from popular tales and stories, comic books and television appear next to XIXth-century soldiers, XXth-century terrorists, invented animals, ballet dancers and opera singers. Many of them reflect a kind of 1920s aesthetic, mixed in with a sense of the erotic and airs of cabaret, where sex, violence and a Dada atmosphere permeate the different scenes. Many of these compositions are drawn on pianola paper, which features small perforations allowing for songs to be played when the roll of paper is placed inside a mechanical piano. In addition, many of these designs are packed with texts written in pencil – some of them in Spanish, as in the case of Bury Him and Keep Quiet!, Resist or The Revolution will be Female – since Dzama has always composed poems and incorporated words and phases into his works of art. Once again, elements taken from the theatre and the world of carnival and war are mixed in with mythological references, as part of a vision that does not exclude humour or violence.
In the same room we also find four dioramas in which the artist puts many of his characters on display, thus going from the plane of drawing to the world of volume. Some years ago, in one such work, Dzama recreated the death of many of the characters in his early Canadian drawings, in a ceremony of farewell before his move to New York.
The second space on the journey through Dzama’s work, Room B, is devoted to sculpture, and returns to many of the main themes of the artist’s production. The walls in this room are covered with the piece The Cast and Crew of the Old Revolutions (2017), a stretch of unbroken paper displaying the sketches of some of his costume designs, and characters in many of his films and drawings. We also come across his installation Death Disco Dance (2011) a video screened on several different monitors recreating a ballet performed by some of the characters in his drawings. The piece Turning into Puppets (2011) consists of aluminium figures and reminds us of German artist Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet of 1922.
Finally, in Room C, the video Une danse des bouffons (A Jester’s Dance) (2013) is screened. This work, premiered at the International Film Festival of Toronto, shows ballet dancers performing on a chessboard. Of great expressive power and surrealistic in nature, it reminds the viewer of Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés (Dice, 1940-1968). Dzama makes use of this burlesque ballet to fix his attention on the figure of Brazilian artist Maria Martins, the lover of Duchamp, now played by Sonic Youth singer, Kim Gordon. The artist has also expressly created, for this exhibition at La Casa Encendida, the storyboard of the film in Spanish, Une danse des bouffons, a series of graphite drawings showing all the characters and scenes in the video.
This piece may also be linked to the work Even the Ghost of the Past (2008), in which spectators are invited to peep through a hole and find violence and death, as was the case in Marcel Duchamp’s mythical piece.
Masquerade, irony, the use of costumes and characterisation fill Marcel Dzama’s world with life and death, music, calm and violence. A cosmos in which opera singers and even nature mingle with Donald Trump himself in The Love of All Things Golden (2017). Drawing on a Revolution is an invitation to reflect upon our present world through the constant cross-references included in the work of Marcel Dzama.