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untitled, 2005 (detail)
marcel dzama interview
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Postmodern fairy tales at the Ikon Gallery.

War, dismemberment, bats, monsters, blood. How can such violent imagery be so enticing? In the hands of Marcel Dzama the mental detritus of living during wartime, the background of all our everyday lives, appears to be transformed into an innocent children’s fantasy.

Right: Untitled, 2005 (detail).

His delicate line drawings are filled in with a subtle palette of reds, greys and pale browns – the latter made from concentrated root beer used like paint. At first they seem like pages from an Art Deco children’s book until the very (post)modern violence in the images begins to make itself known. There is nothing twee here. The Canadian artist explains nothing in his work. There is no clear narrative – though often characters resurface and repeat themselves or die off throughout the prolific images. We repeatedly notice people dressed in tree costumes; large bears; little girls with scout-like uniforms and guns. Together the work tells some obtuse tale of war, revolution and reprisal. Like a fairy-tale Goya.

This large show at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, devoted to Dzama’s work, focuses on the past three years – bringing together his signature single-page ink drawings and watercolours as well as larger graphic pieces (made of single pages put together like mosaics). There are also furry, human-sized costumes of Dzama’s characters displayed like sculptures, and the unusual short films (including a collaboration with Spike Jonze) they were created for.

Left: World Gone Wrong, 2005 (detail).

This body of work resonates so much in a modern climate. The violence of contemporary media and experience is distilled into such quiet fantastical forms. Here the war in Iraq, totalitarian Communist posters, comic strips, Enid Blyton and the outsider art of Harry Darger all meet. And, despite the delicate approach and violent content, there’s a lot of humour in these bites of stories. Who knew the futility of human experience could be such a delight to observe?

Francesca Gavin 01 June 06
Marcel Dzama - Tree with Roots is at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, until 16 July 06.
Read members' comments related to this interview.
marcel dzama interview post 3
comment by flyingtwinkle    Sep 1, 2006
Good to share, good fodder for sweet dreams, imaginative and inspiring to be soft
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marcel dzama interview post 2
comment by Futurilla    Jul 9, 2006
Hi; if anyone's interested, I have a review of this Dzama show on my weblog...
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marcel dzama interview post 1
comment by Maartne    Jun 14, 2006
Seeing Marcel Dzama moving is the best thing ever.
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