Amongst the many works of Marcel Dzama’s show Puppets, Pawns, and Prophets at David Zwirner is the premier of the video installation Sister Squares (2013). The work is named after Marcel Duchamp’s Opposition and Sister Squares Are Reconciled (1932), a chess handbook with a focus on pawn and king endgames.
A disco drumbeat invites viewers into the gallery. It is an accompaniment to Death Disco Dance (2011) a video shown on two-stacks of monitors facing-out into the street, filling the gallery’s windows. Dancers clothed head-to-toe in black and white, polka-dot leotards perform a choreographed game of musical statues; dancing simple disco routines in unison, halting with the rhythm of the drum.
|Death Disco Dance, 2011|
The first room of the show is filled with Dzama’s watercolours. Drawn in the vernacular of theatrical diagram, the palette of the images is limited to rich midnight blue, crimson red and chocolate brown. Scenes depict surreal backstage and onstage scenarios; costumed mobsters chat idly with Batman and Robin; strange multi-headed monsters take part in a frothy dance number and a rather macabre hanging scene forms the backdrop to a salacious revolution.
Further compositions take the form of costume schematics and diagrammatic images. Linear sequences of dots running across the surface of the watercolours create the impression of a score for a play or dance. Across all of the images there are some unusual recurring characters; strange, black and white costumed, faceless creatures, just like those from Death Disco Dance. They are chess pieces, and they are brought to life in Sister Squares.
|The Renowned Union Jackoff, 2013|
Four monochromatic projections are arranged as a grid on the gallery wall, and are musically accompanied by dramatic flamenco, which drifts in to the surrounding gallery spaces. The video contains more than just a hint of silent-movie aesthetics.
Two gentlemen sit down to a chessboard on a deserted, rubble-strewn street and a game commences. The act takes place in the bottom left projection, and aside from the occasional cutaway, from this point on the projection rests mainly upon an animated birds-eye-view of the chessboard, a diagram of the battle.
The three remaining projections cut between the flamenco musicians at work, an audience of rattle-wielding, white-masked spectators, their features oversized and frozen in state of voyeuristic pleasure, and a dramatic dance battle with much posturing, and eventually much spurting blood.
|Sister Squares, 2012|
The black and white chequered dance-floor is provides the perfect board for the chess-piece dancers. The pawns (who we have met before) are spry, spotted ballerinas, the rooks are relentlessly spinning circular robots and the queen is a sharp-edged monster with triangular eyes and spiky hands.
As the game heads towards its conclusion a black pawn is queened in a ritualistic coronation and the white ballerinas advance towards her, side-on and on-point, to begin a formidably elegant final fray. The match ends, however, with a macabre twist. An unknown sniper-wielding gunwoman (who suspiciously, might be one of the black pawns) assassinates one of the gentleman players before the game can be concluded. A black pawn dances amongst the rubble of white pieces and takes a bow, and the vacuous spectators wave their rattles triumphantly.
|The Queen’s Head, 2012|
Though the chess match will never reach its endgame, the video succeeds as an ecstatic and eccentric dramatisation of an on-board battle, pushing and pulling seamlessly between the connotations of war, the internal dance of the chess match and the placid players moving the pieces.
Upstairs in the gallery are multi-coloured tin masks and hanging tin puppets, many more opulent watercolours and a set of beautifully intricate, small-scale dioramas. Despite the illustrative quality of the drawings, and the prop-like attributes of the sculptures, they are quite evidently not just preparatory works for the video. In their complexity and richness they provide a labyrinthine, theatrical mythology that surrounds and buoys the video work, only adding to the sense of an inexplicably cohesive yet completely unfathomable allegory at work in the space.
Sister Squares, part of Puppets, Pawns, and Prophets
David Zwirmer, London W1
6 April – 11 May 2013
The Renowned Union Jackoff, 2013. Ink, gouache, and graphite on paper. 17 x 14 inches (43.2 x 35.6 cm). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.