Inside The HERO Winter Annual 2022

Dada, punk, erotica, spectral rabbits, masked assassins, cults – visionary artist Marcel Dzama peels back the layers of his rich compositions
By Hans Ulrich Obrist | Art | 16 December 2022

‘The Most Incredible Thing’ by Marcel Dzama, 2015

Marcel Dzama’s artistic vocabulary is as rich as it is personal. Across epochs, mediums and meanings, recurring characters and worlds co-exist: folk art, Dada, DIY punk, erotica, the artist’s own dreams and the snowy landscape of his youth in Winnipeg, Canada. Bosch, Goya, comic books, cartoons, and war imagery. Bears, bats, trees, spectral rabbits, masked assassins, military officers, chess games and acrobatic performers. Within his signature compositions and video work, real world context and counter-culture iconography become twisted in childlike fantasy and blurred fiction.

He’s created costume and stage design for the New York City Ballet, designed album artwork for Beck, worked with Bob Dylan, inspired films – Deco Dawson’s FILM(dzama) – and has work featured in some of the most lauded art collections worldwide. Speaking to renowned curator, critic, and historian Hans Ulrich Obrist, Dzama peels back the layers that form his world of surrealism and sinisterism, joy and wonder.

‘Out on the banks of the Red River’ by Marcel Dzama, 2008

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Hi Marcel, it’s a great pleasure to see you, thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
Marcel Dzama: Thank you for doing it, it’s great talking with you.

HUO: I thought we could start at the beginning. You were born in Winnipeg and I was wondering how it all began, how did you come to art, how did art come to you? Was there an epiphany or a revelation?
MD: I was always drawing as a kid and I also had dyslexia so my grades were quite poor. My only encouragement in school was for my drawings, so I had to do something with them; it was the one thing I was getting praise for. I was doing a lot of children’s illustration-type drawings. As a very young kid, I used to draw monsters, comic books and things like that. For art school, I went to the University of Manitoba and in my thesis year I had a house fire, and all my artwork and possessions were destroyed.

HUO: You lost all your early work?
MD: Yes. Some pieces my grandma had saved, and some that my parents have in photo albums survived, but all the art school and high school stuff was destroyed, which, in some ways, I didn’t mind [laughs]. It was like a clean palette. Then I started doing these drawings on hotel stationery, I was still living with my parents – at the time I was just an undergraduate – and the insurance company put us in a hotel. So for my thesis year I had hundreds of drawings on hotel paper and my professor Alison Norlen brought in a curator from the Plug In ICA named Wayne Baerwaldt because she really liked the work I was doing. He asked me to be in a group show in Santa Monica at Richard Heller Gallery, and from that show I think I got a good review in the LA Times. The work was very affordable too, I think they were only twenty or forty dollars.

HUO: It was the beginning of you starting to exhibit and the work becoming public in a way. I didn’t know all your early work was lost – so your résumé begins with the work after the fire I suppose, can you tell me about those drawings? Did you continue to work immediately or was there a hiatus?
MD: After the fire I just got lost. I was working maybe twice as hard, it was the thesis year of university. Drawing was an escape from having to deal with losing everything, but in some ways the fire was freeing, because it was such a big event I think I lost my anxiety. I was never very good with social skills, but because of that lesson I knew time was fleeting; if I had an opportunity I would take it. It was almost like a phoenix situation, a renewal of the past person. I mean, this is all in retrospect, but it felt like an entire change. I was very prolific, doing small artworks with watercolour and paper. I would just sit on my hotel bed and do these drawings all night, sometimes I’d make 80 works in a day, they weren’t very dense; they were very minimal with just one or two figures in some kind of surreal situation.

‘So they say, everything gonna be alright’ by Marcel Dzama, 2021

HUO: You made drawings on stationery of ghost rabbits, which are recurring characters.
MD: I lost a pet rabbit in my parents’ home, it died in the fire, so I did a whole series of houses on fire with ghost rabbits appearing. The rabbit still appears in drawings to this day. It was actually my sister’s rabbit but it liked me the most in the family. [laughs]

HUO: A lot of the stories in your work seem to come from your childhood in Canada, there is a strong presence of memory.
MD: Living in Canada, I would go to my grandparents’ farm on my mother’s side – my grandfather had cows and horses – and in the forest you would see deer, bears, porcupines, foxes… even moose. If you went to the garbage dump you’d be guaranteed to see bears, they populated my drawings from an early time, just from seeing them in person and being fascinated by them. The early work was very minimal on this white sheet of paper with just a few characters. After moving to New York from Winnipeg I realised it was the landscape of Winnipeg, especially in winter where the snow in the sky would just disappear, it was almost like an infinity wall. Also, Winnipeg peaked in the 1920s, it was like the Chicago of the North back then, so I used to go to Goodwill and flea markets, a lot of the stuff for sale was from the 20s and 30s, there was this kind of ghost of the city that existed in my work of that time period. Weird nostalgia, but also like it was a haunting of that time period, it had that feel. I drew a lot of flapper girls.

HUO: I read a conversation you had with Laila Pedro in your book Crossing the Line [2019], you say your son has been a huge influence because you read him Felix the Cat and you also have your own memories of Pinocchio. There is this idea of the trickster character in your work too, it’s another recurrence.
MD: Yes, I read a book called Trickster Makes This World every now and then.

HUO: Is it Lewis Hyde?
MD: Yes.

HUO: I interviewed him some years ago and the book revisits the stories of Coyote, Eshu and Hermes.
MD: Yes, he talks about [Allen] Ginsberg, [Marcel] Duchamp, and Picasso all playing the trickster roles in the art world and music. It came out in 1998 but I think I got it in 2003 or 2004. I was always into mythology. My wife is First Nation, there is a lot of mythology in her culture and we had a lot of books on First Nation mythology and her grandmother had some books too. Also, being in Winnipeg, there was a lot of Inuit art on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and that had a lot to do with the early mythology of the Inuit artists. The Iraq War was also happening at that time and it kind of felt like this huge trick on the American people – to fight this war – and the fact it was a President that wasn’t even properly elected, with the Florida recount and all that stuff. I still like the trickster figure and still use it in art, I feel like I had a much more sinister outlook about the world at that time, it felt like it was going downhill and everything was becoming terrible… Now it feels like that has happened and everything is terrible. [laughs] I’m trying to look at a more positive outlet to get out of this negativity.

‘The flowers have horns and devil has thorns’ by Marcel Dzama, 2014

HUO: A lot of your early drawings are very violent or macabre, there are wars, battles and slaughter. They remind me a lot of [Francisco] Goya. I wondered if Goya was an inspiration?
MD: I think, growing up in the 1980s, the glorification of violence on television and in movies was present even more so than now. I think the real Goya influence came in around the time of the Iraq War, I started to think of the disaster of war as a reference point, especially when they were torturing prisoners. I did a series of prints with a printmaker in Paris, I think that is when I directly referenced the disasters of war, but it was always kind of in the work, it almost had a war photography sort of feel.

HUO: Almost like a reportage.
MD: Yes, I wasn’t doing it exactly, but I would read the news and then needed that outlet. I still did it in the Trump years, where you’d hear about a terrible event and I just had to do a drawing based around it to get it out of my system because I was so enraged or upset by it.

HUO: You also talk about Futurism and Dada being heavily referenced in your work. The future is often invented with fragments from the past and so you bring in visual and text quotes, can you talk a little bit about that?
MD: Dada was also disgusted with World War I, they formed after being disgusted with humanity. I always appreciate seeing people from the past trying to describe the future, I always like the version of the future that is almost an epic vision. Oskar Schlemmer’s [German painter, sculptor, designer and choreographer] costumes for his ballet [Triadisches Ballett, 1922] were also very influential, they had that future feel, but a future decided in the past.

HUO: Raymond Pettibon has a beautiful drawing of yours in his place, you’ve also collaborated and have said Raymond has been a big inspiration. You talk about it in this specific show, because you went to the horse races together, but much more than that, you say he had an impact on the way you draw. Before Raymond, drawing was taken as just a sketch for a painting or a sculpture.
MD: If it wasn’t for Raymond, I don’t think I would exist in the art world. Like you say, before a drawing was a sketch or just a quick idea, whereas after that it became its own art form, especially in contemporary art. He just opened that door for art like mine to be accepted. The whole reason I started showing at David Zwirner was because David was buying Raymond Pettibon drawings from Richard Heller – the LA gallery I showed with – and Richard said, “Oh, if you like Raymond’s drawings you might like these.” He showed David some of mine, so I owe every ounce of gratitude to Raymond and his influence on me. When we worked together, he gave me almost a lesson in how to draw with your arm for larger works, before that I never really did larger works. Well, I did, but they were very dense and thin-lined and from far away they didn’t look great, you would have to walk up to it to really see what it was. Also the acceptance of mistakes, he would just let the paint drip and, after that, it kind of loosened up my style. He was hugely influential.

HUO: Raymond Pettibon did all these little books for one or two dollars, it was this possibility to make art more accessible. Not only books but also prints. I curated a show a couple of months ago for Michael Armitage at Real Academia, so we worked a lot with Real Academia in Madrid where Goya did all his prints, they still print them today. Prints also play a role for you and you once said some of your favourite artworks in art history are prints. I think that is another connection to Raymond, the idea of finding other ways of disseminating art, the gallery is just one possibility… there are album covers, fanzines and little books…
MD: Raymond made so much art for music, album covers and things like that. When I lived in Winnipeg I was in a lot of bands, and I was friends with a lot of other bands, so I would draw album covers for them, but they were just photocopied onto cassette tapes and CDs. [laughs] It was very much a do-it-yourself kind of situation, the same way Raymond came out of that early LA punk scene. I made a few zines, I was in this group called The Royal Art Lodge, we met in art school, one of them was my uncle who is a year younger than me, so he’s more like a brother or a cousin, and my sister who is ten years younger than me, we would get together and draw a lot. It just felt like that early stage of making art for ourselves and a few other people who would be interested in it.

‘Late nights and no more mornings’ by Marcel Dzama, 2022

“When I was in art school I almost felt like the whole reason I was drawing was a reaction to the future of everything becoming digital…”

‘Untitled’ by Marcel Dzama, 2001

HUO: Do you listen to music while you work?
MD: I usually listen to music while I’m drawing, I’m kind of going backwards in my music tastes – maybe I’m getting a little nostalgic for my early twenties. [laughs] I’m listening to a lot of Public Image Ltd and Can, that was the kind of stuff I really grew up with in high school and university. But before that I was deep into old folk music like Lead Belly and Bunk Johnson and some jazz, I was listening to a lot of Nina Simone and Max Roach during the Covid time period.

HUO: You also have a connection to literature and you bring all the art forms together, poetry enters through [Federico García] Lorca and [William] Blake. I wanted to ask you about your connection to poetry and also if there are any contemporary poets you like, I’m very interested in collaborations between artists and poets of our age.
MD: I read a lot more Lorca. I kind of go back into the past more with poetry, my wife has bought me a few books on new poetry, but the ones I go back to always seem to be Lorca or Blake, those are my default poets.

HUO: Have you ever collaborated with a contemporary poet?
MD: I’ve done drawings for Paris Review and things like that, they would let me read a few of the poems in there, but usually I would just take a sentence or two to do the drawing from, but I guess there is still an influence. A lot of authors, not so many poets. Dave Eggers is an American writer who has written quite a few books, I’ve done some covers for him, and illustrations for some of his short stories. He actually saw a drawing in one of my books and wrote a story based on it to extend the life of the art, he made a story around the drawing, so almost the reverse of what illustrators normally do. I recently did A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare with David Zwirner; Shakespeare has always been part of my vocabulary in art. Like you said, Blake has also been hugely influential, both in poetry and the prints.

HUO: There is also dance, another important art form for you, and your work connects to Loie Fuller [American pioneer of modern dance] and also your interest in [Francis] Picabia [French artist, poet and typographer].
MD: The connection to dance came up in a weird way, my drawings were very minimal in Canada and when I first moved to New York they became very dense with a lot of characters. They were very claustrophobic, and to put some order to the chaos of those drawings I started putting the characters into dance positions. I was cat-sitting for someone in Williamsburg and someone had a stoop sale, I bought all these old dance magazines from the 1960s and I just kind of got into it. But that wasn’t where I saw Oskar Schlemmer for the first time; I’d seen something at the MoMA which was a 1970s version of the Triadisches Bellett with these really bright colours based on Schlemmer’s costumes – that really captured my imagination. From there I also got into dance from that time period, which was also connected to Winnipeg, it had a 1920s feel.

HUO: The costumes also appear in your films, if I think about Death Disco Dance from 2011.
MD: The polka dot costumes from Picabia’s ballet [Relâche, 1924] became hugely influential for me, Death Disco Dance was around the time of the Iraq War and the September 11 attacks, so I had these terrorist- looking figures with balaclavas, but I was kind of sick of drawing that. So I ended up drawing Picabia’s polka dots on top of them and made them more like harlequins – I just like that look. Any time I can reference Picabia I want to, he was such an important figure to my work, there are a few paintings I’ve almost recreated entirely. In live-action too, I did a film Une danse des bouffons – that was the one with Kim Gordon in – and it’s kind of explaining Duchamp’s love affair with Maria Martins, but Picabia is in it as well. Kim Gordon plays Maria Martins and, at some point, Picabia is the trickster figure that saves Duchamp from just being a chess player. [laughs]

‘Winnipeg map’ by Marcel Dzama, 2007

HUO: You did several films about chess, there is also Sister Squares from 2011. Duchamp is omnipresent, I just went to see the beautiful retrospective in Frankfurt full of Duchamp, it made me think of your work with chess. Duchamp was even on the cover of a chess magazine at some point.
MD: I tried to recreate one of the chess magazines he was in for the film I did, A Game of Chess [2011]. Most of those costumes were slightly based on Bauhaus costumes, or Oskar Schlemmer costumes. Opposition and Sister Squares was a chess magazine Duchamp put out.

HUO: There is also another Duchamp chess situation in your film starring Amy Sedaris playing you performing a chess game, and there is the character of Raymond Pettibon, then the real Raymond is playing David Zwirner.
MD: I haven’t fully finished that version yet, I’ve released pieces of it. There is a point where Raymond Pettibon is playing David Zwirner. Amy Sedaris is a vampire and bites David Zwirner and makes him a vampire, which interrupts the whole game of chess that’s happening. The competition between myself and Raymond Pettibon is played by Jason Grisell, which sounds kind of crazy, and then it becomes this Dracula karaoke song that Raymond is singing. I was doing costumes and set design for the New York City Ballet, I also had a show happening at the same time that was getting a lot of press. I was being interviewed almost every day, I became close friends with Amy Sedaris and I thought it would be funny to have Amy dress up as a man and do my interviews, because a lot of the people didn’t even know what I looked like and she’s amazing with improvisation. So from that idea I thought I would make a film about Amy being me in my life at that moment, so she is kind of preparing a ballet for the New York City Ballet with [choreographer] Justin Peck who is played by another comedian Paul Dinello. Amy and Paul had worked with on a show called Strangers with Candy. I was also working with Raymond on a show at David Zwirner that was our second collaboration, I think we’d just shown at a book fair in LA, so from that book fair there was a lot of interest in the work. We were really enjoying collaborating, so we did a full show around that time too. I just mixed everything that was happening in my life at that time, and also mixed in the Duchamp influence of chess. I can’t remember why the vampire thing happened; I think I was always obsessed with Dracula as a little kid. [laughs]

HUO: Had you ever designed costumes for ballet before?
MD: Only that one time with the New York City Ballet, before that I just made costumes for films I made in art school. The actors were my father and sister and they would always laugh if I was filming them, so I would make papier-mâché masks to cover their faces. Then I’d have to sew a cape or something to make it look more interesting. I was always interested in costume, but that was the main reason to start. Before that I was just using make-up and stuff. It was a necessary thing for those early films, but then I just got really interested in the whole idea of covering up the entire character. Even with the New York City Ballet, I asked which dancers danced the least in the ballet so I could make crazier and heavier costumes for them, the ones that had to dance a lot had the more minimal costumes.

HUO: The costumes take you from 2D to 3D, you also work with sculpture which is slightly less known. I saw these sculptures in your catalogue, how do you go from 2D into 3D?
MD: It really came from making costumes. For those films, a lot of the time I would have a papier-mâché head, and when I was living in SoHo there were a lot of mannequins being thrown out in the garbage, so I used to fish them out. At some point, I just started putting the costumes together with plaster cast and papier-mâché so I made a few costumes out of that, then I had the opportunity to collaborate in Guadalajara with José Noé Suro who has a ceramics factory. He’d done stuff with Jason Rhodes and a few other artists, I was invited there and was making small ceramic sculptures based on the saints they had all over Guadalajara. If someone passed away they would mark the spot where they died with a saint. I just liked the way they looked, they were about two feet tall and detailed; they kind of had a minimal feel. It reminded me of my drawings in some ways, I would make plasticine versions of them and then they’d make plaster casts of that for the smaller ones. I also started making recycled tin sculptures as well, that idea was influenced by being in Mexico where, in the market place, they had toy aeroplanes and trucks made out of Coke cans. I thought it would be interesting to work with recycled tin to make giant chess pieces. I was trying to recreate a life-size chess piece. [laughs] For the film I made in Guadalajara, A Game of Chess [2011], the costumes were made out of fiberglass and papier-mâché, so first they were papier-mâché then we put fiberglass over to preserve them. After we filmed it, we turned the main four costumes into sculptures on rotators, I like Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs, so I always wanted to make some kind of rotating sculpture.

‘Like the flowers of romance’ by Marcel Dzama, 2021

HUO: There are also these terrorist-style paintings, there is a lot of painting in your practice.
MD: Those early paintings kind of had that feeling of endless landscape because I was still living in Winnipeg at that time, it was a very prairie-looking landscape that’s usually pretty flat, almost like early surrealist landscapes. That was also around the time of the Iraq War and September 11 attacks, so the whole terrorist theme was happening throughout those.

HUO: You have a very close relationship with Spike Jonze and that got you into cinema. He also did an interview with you, can you talk a bit about that?
MD: I made a lot of films in Winnipeg just because it was easy, there were a lot of people that had free time. [laughs] Then when I came to New York, everyone was very busy and I didn’t know anyone who would want to be in a film. Spike and I became very close when he was working on Where the Wild Things Are and then we got to hang out with Maurice Sendak too before he passed away, he was one of my early heroes as well.

HUO: What did you learn from him?
MD: So much, we actually did drawings together, Spike, Maurice and I. It was a competition of who could do the most grotesque drawing, usually overly sexual, we were trying to outdo each other but we collaborated on each one. I still have all of them, we did probably about 80 or so drawings and that was a really special moment for me.

HUO: But they’ve never published, these drawings?
MD: No, I don’t know if the Sendak estate would want them out there because they’re so filthy. [both laugh]

HUO: I’ve never heard about that!
MD: I think I kind of kept it quiet because I wasn’t sure if they would want them back or what I was supposed to do with them! Spike wants to publish it still, so maybe someday. When I came to New York I found it too difficult to make any films but then Spike came to my studio and he had just gotten one of those early iPhones with the camera built in, this was early 2004, so he just started filming these costumes I was making and we started making a film based on what costumes I had at the studio. We made this really quick film called Sad Ghosts, I think we released it on a DVD with one of the books. That renewed my interest in making films because I realised how you could do it with one or two people again, it just made it more fun. He really gave me the tools to redo film in New York, and from that I met people he had worked with in choreography, I met this filmmaker called Patrick Daughters and we collaborated on a music video for a band called Department of Eagles. I said I would do it if I could also film footage to make a short film, so I did this film called The Infidels [2009]. That was around the time of the Iraq War too, so it’s about these two warring parties, one has kind of a stereotypical terrorist look and the other are these bumbling Queen’s Guard-looking figures with big tall hats. He made a short film for the band Arcade Fire called Scenes From The Suburbs and I did the costumes for that, I actually star in it a little bit too – I get shot in the forehead. [laughs]

‘Pink Moon’ by Marcel Dzama, 2020

HUO: The only recurring question in all my conversations is about unrealised projects. We know about architects’ unrealised projects, but we don’t know a lot about visual artists’ unrealised projects. I was curious if you have any projects which are too big to be realised? Sometimes they are also projects one just hasn’t dared to do for various reasons… There are always so many reasons why.
MD: Definitely a feature film, just because of the budget restraints and the time it would take. For a little while, I was thinking I could turn the project I was doing with Amy Sedaris and Raymond Pettibon into a feature because I had enough footage, but I find in a gallery space it just makes much more sense to just have shorter little bits so you can walk in and out of the space. I never was someone that could watch anything longer than 15–30 minutes in a gallery space.

HUO: There are also your notebooks and your travel; you travel a lot and when I was in New York I saw an amazing book called Pink Moon. It relates to your journeys through Mexico and Morocco, can you talk a little bit about that?
MD: That whole series came out right after the ballet, I was entirely burnt out. I had done the film project, then the ballet, then the collaboration with Raymond, and then I had a solo show in Düsseldorf. I was drained, I hadn’t seen my family very much because I was going back and forth. Louis Vuitton does these travel catalogues and they offered to pay for me to travel somewhere for a whole month. My wife and I had wanted to go to Morocco for quite a while before our son was born, but then after he was born we felt it was probably too chaotic. But he was around five at the time, I probably normally wouldn’t have done the project but I just needed to get away and so we ended up doing it and it really changed a lot of things. It opened up my palette to colour much more, if you look at my drawings of the Pink Moon from the show before this Pink Moon show, the colour palette is a lot more blue and turquoise, gold and yellow, so that all really came from spending time in Morocco and just taking it all in. I got to collaborate with some Berber carpet-makers on a carpet to raise money for them during Covid, so that was really exciting to do. There were no tourists, and they weren’t able to sell any carpets, so we did a limited series they sold to raise money. I did those travels and then Covid happened afterwards, from that I just wanted to do a series of travelling in my mind since I was stuck in New York. It was pretty bleak, there were no cars on the street, just ambulances. And then later with Black Lives Matter we were in a lot of protests, stores were becoming boarded up, not only because of the protests, but Covid happening and stores closing down. It was just a bleak time period, I really felt that I needed to escape in my art, so there is a little bit of uneasiness in the drawings; there’s a possible apocalypse on the horizon. [laughs] On the other hand, it was very political at the time with Trump and all the terrible things he was doing, so either I did political drawings or I did escapist tropical travel drawings, I had these two kinds of outlets. I did these political ones to get them out of my system and then I did these escapist tropical drawings to find some hope for the future.

HUO: You’ve mentioned before about the relationship between the conscious and the subconscious.
MD: Yes. My best work is done late at night. When my son is in school I sleep, then when he comes home that’s when I get up. So I’ll stay up all night, take him to school in the morning and then when he is in school I go to sleep – it’s basically vampire hours. [laughs] You have this feeling of having one foot in the subconscious and one in reality; you’re a lot closer to that at those hours because there are no interruptions, the feeling of so many people being asleep makes you more in that zone. Definitely at around three or four am is when my best ideas come out, in that witching hour.

HUO: Do you dream?
MD: Yes, I definitely take influences from dreams. For most of my films, or more epic-looking drawings, I usually think of them just before I’m about to fall asleep, my mind at the end of the day kind of runs through everything and then it also has this more creative look on things, maybe because it’s one foot in the subconscious.

Drawings by Marcel Dzama from 1990s

“For most of my films, or more epic-looking drawings, I usually think of them just before I’m about to fall asleep…”

Drawings by Marcel Dzama from 1990s

HUO: What would be your advice to a young artist who reads our interview?
MD: I would really say make art for yourself and people will see the joy in it. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, the passion translates even if you can’t really explain it, you can see it in the artwork.

HUO: You also say it’s important to have fun while drawing.
MD: You can see if someone had a good time doing it. If you see a work of art and you know they enjoyed making it – even if it’s a simple work it still translates somehow.

HUO: One thing we haven’t spoken about is your connection to Bollywood, I wanted to ask you about that because Bollywood has inspired your films and your drawings. You also had an exhibition in India.
MD: In Winnipeg, there is a large Indian population, they also had a lot of VHS rentals and they had all these Bollywood films. I’d rent them because there was one right next to the convenience store near my parents’ home, I think they were only 75 cents a rental so they were cheaper than going to the actual video store. I would just rent them based on whatever the cover was, usually the crazier the costumes on the cover the more likely I was to rent them. I got into the ones made in the 1960s because they had this really great take on the early garage rock sound.

HUO: How do you see the future right now? There are so many artists going into digital media, the Metaverse, VR and AR – is that something you are interested in? Have you ever thought of doing your own video game?
MD: I wouldn’t count it out, but when I was in art school I almost felt like the whole reason I was drawing was a reaction to the future of everything becoming digital, it was the complete opposite of digital, just being pen and paper. I still resist it quite a bit but if it felt like a fun project I could possibly see animating something. My vocabulary doesn’t go there, I was probably the last generation before computers fully kicked in, so it isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I really have to try hard, I could see a collaboration with someone possibly but I was never really a fan. Possibly something with dance could be interesting with virtual reality but I still feel like putting on those visors feels too much of a hassle. [laughs]

HUO: Most recently you’ve made work which has to do with peace and anti-war. Maybe we can conclude on that because obviously, that is a sense of urgency right now.
MD: Well, my grandfather is from Ukraine and his father left when Stalin invaded, they escaped to Canada so I feel very close to what is happening. Also during Covid, it just felt like a blatant attempt to end democracy in the US and it’s really a lot to do with Putin just getting Trump in there. A lot of people deny that, but I think it did have a lot to do with it, messing around with the internet and putting misinformation out there. I just really wanted to raise money for charities for Ukraine to give out a hopeful message, if it’s possible in such a dark time.

‘Untitled’ by Marcel Dzama, 1998

Marcel Dzama’s latest exhibition, Child of Midnight runs at London’s David Zwirner Gallery until December 22nd, more info here. All images courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner. 

Interview originally published in the HERO Winter Annual 2022.


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