Marcel Dzama's Puppets, Pawns, and Prophets

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Bring me home, please

I've managed to keep it under control so far but i've got quite an obsession with the work of Marcel Dzama. The world he creates mixes childhood nostalgia, violence, sex and history (without necessarily knocking you down with historical references) in the most sinister and seducing way.

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Let me be cruel, not unnatural, 2013

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Infidels, 2009

Luckily for Londoners, the David Zwirner gallery has just opened a show about Dzama's latest work: Puppets, Pawns, and Prophets. The main protagonists are helpfully listed in the title.

Part of the exhibition centers on his 2011 film A Game of Chess, with props, preparatory drawings and the final short film. The characters dance across the checkered board, wearing papier-mâché costumes and masks.

The works is influenced by Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer whose Triadic Ballet from 1922 included puppet-like costumes, and mask-wearing figures dancing across a checkered surface. More generally, the inspiration for the work is the early twentieth-century avant-garde who drew analogies between chess (with its balance between improvisation and predetermination) and artistic practice.

The video shown at David Zwirner, however, restages some of the footage of A Game of Chess and turns it into Sister Squares, splitting the screen in four. The result is even more confusing and fascinating than the original film.

The filming and the creation of the costumes took place in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the influence of local culture (cue to splendid Mariachi trumpeting and sombrero-ing the video) infiltrate the work.

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Sister Squares, 2012. Video on monitor

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Sister Squares, 2012


A Game of Chess, 2011

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A Game of Chess, 2011

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A Game of Chess, 2011

But the video i couldn't get my eyes off is The Infidels. This time the puppet-like chess figures go to war against stockinged female "terrorists," AK-47 in hand. It's violent, joyful, enigmatic and sexy.

I don't want to sound overly enthusiastic but this is probably the most sublime video i've ever seen.... (The quality of the video is not great but i think it should give you an idea.)


Marcel Dzama, The Infidels, 2009

It's not in the gallery but check out the music video that Dzama directed together with Patrick Daughters for the band Department of Eagles:

Screened on monitors facing the street:

Marcel Dzama, Death Disco Dance

And since we're on a video roll, check out this short interview that TateShots did with the artist 4 years ago:

Back to what's on view in the gallery. With no comment:

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View of the work installed at David Zwirner

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View of the work installed at David Zwirner

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The Death Disco Dance Steps, 2013

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The Renowned Union Jackoff

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Descending Pawns, 2012. Courtesy David Zwirner

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Malala Will Have Her Revenge, 2013

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The Factious Feast, 2013

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Waiting to Be Anointed, 2013

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Kings have been his fellows, 2012

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Opportunists mingling with combatants, 2012

I really loved that video. Please, go and see the show.

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The Infidels, 2009

Marcel Dzama. Puppets, Pawns, and Prophets is open until 11 May at David Zwirner gallery in London.

Previously: Even the Ghost of the Past.

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