Marcel Dzama – Puppets, Pawns and Prophets at David Zwirner
A hullabaloo of themes, ideas and techniques erupts behind the heavy black doors at Marcel Dzama’s new solo show Puppets, Pawns and Prophets.
In a range of mediums, themes of power and role play are explored. Dzama’s paintings echo the shameless eroticism and pretence akin to scenes from the movie Eyes Wide Shut. Here lies a world where the line between fantasy and reality blurs with potent consequences: motifs of war and torture mingle snugly with carnival masquerade, iconic fictional characters and scenes of copulation.
Dzama’s depiction of the human form is limbless. His putty-like figures are no more than motifs acting out a highly choreographed piece of theatre of violence and pleasure. There is a clear reference to power-play and submission in all of the works, but it is hard to immediately decipher one overriding theme through the visual and conceptual noise.
Dzama’s focus and exploration of the game chess helps to collate the show, providing some coherent direction. Death Disco Dance, which loops on a small tower of TV monitors facing outward from the gallery windows does well to glue the split ends of the exhibition together in one abstract and absorbing piece. This simple video uses dancers to represent chess pieces moving in an expressive yet monotonous routine to the minimal beat of an electronic drum machine. While these “pawns” robotically perform the set moves, the other chess pieces watch closely from nearby: a unique and creative illustration of voyeurism and performance.
Puppets, Pawns and Prophets is tricky viewing. Though there are clever undercurrents of a theme, the experience it provides is one of overwhelming confusion. One may take from the show some reference to the bombardment of media imagery – the disturbing pictures of war and terror dissolving into page 3 gratification and how we are all consumed by a drive to be “in control” rather than being a manipulated piece on a board game, but ultimately the message leaves itself wide open for interpretation. There is much great space for exploration and thought and the use of multiple formats is impressive. This show will undoubtedly puzzle and beguile for hours on end.