The next time you visit the studio building at 56 Bogart, let your wanderings take you as far back on the first floor as you can go. If you go down the hallway that leads to Fuchs Projects make a sharp left and make your way to the back of the building. Keep going, because you are on the right track to et al Projects. If this gallery is not on your cultural radar yet, it’s time you took notice! Your journey will be rewarded as it will lead you to the wonderful solo exhibition of Tim Zercie and his bright and colorful, almost monstrous creations. The show is a collection of larger than life fabric constructions that seem to actually leap off their walls and defy their very two-dimensionality. I had the good fortune to experience the lively and unique exhibition during its opening, which coincided with Bushwick Armory Night. As one of a number of other participating galleries in the Bogart building alone, Tim Zercie’s A Family Conjuration was a standout exhibition for a night abounding with competition.
When I first confronted the figures, I did not know quite what to make of them. This in and of itself is a good first impression. Completely non-derivative and unexpected, the wondrous works each possess their own personalities that are at first unnerving, yet convey a liveliness and true humanity. Reminiscent of El Anatsui’s masterful full wall tapestries, Zercie’s works also possess a theatricality and whimsy of Mexican lucha libre masks with their vivid colors and well-crafted personas. The similarities to these artists, however, end on a surface level. While some are humorous and engaging, others are melancholy, pensive, or even depicted in mid-decapitation. In all instances, Zercie challenges our preconceived notions of character and figurative depiction.
Zercie’s main font of inspiration comes from a fascination with spiritual ritualism, deriving from occult sources such as Qabalah, Freemasonry, The Golden Dawn, Rosicrusianism, and Thelema Magick, tied together through their mystic and magical capabilities. Zercie literally embodies the mystical texts, channeling the demon, spirit, angel or whichever other deity one chooses to relate to, in his creations. The way Zercie personifies these ancient sources is juxtaposed by their contemporary contexts. In our daily lives, where mysticism has been reduced to a palm reader, Tarot cards and the latest episode of True Blood, how does today’s popular media-driven culture view the symbolic, the magical, or the occult?
The answer to this question is both simple and complicated. Since the rise of Pop Art and continuing with artists working today, it often happens that an artwork possesses its own self-fulfilling prophecy. Works that are created in order to question, parody or critique modern cultural normalcy end up becoming an entrenched part of that very culture. (Case in point: VIP cardholders at the Armory Show two weeks ago were sent home with their very own Brilo Boxes a la Andy Warhol as souvenirs from contemporary artist Charles Lutz.) This form of culturally a propos art is easy to digest and gallery goers “get it.” Even the criticism that it raises tends to make those participating in these culturally specific endeavors feel better about themselves for being a part of the entire contemporary moment. Zercie’s manifestations do not attempt to present something we already know or are familiar with. Unless you are well-versed in the ancient esoteric religious rites, there is no way you are on familiar ground. This uneven territory makes the work immediately easy to dismiss as bizarre or strange. Although I cannot feign my own expertise, or pretend that I am now going to read all of the ancient texts, I am still interested in creating contemporary connections that are drawn based on the timelessness of arcane religion. They say all art history is in flux, waiting to be reinterpreted by each new contemporary audience. Then how is this art, with its underground and seemingly obscured allusions, relevant today?
We might always be in the process of trying to uncover the “universal truths” of existence. In their own way, the esoteric orders on which Zercie’s work is shaped are seeking to derive their own answers to age-old questions, outside of the mainstream of more unified religions. Zercie’s “conjurations,” as he names them, have the ancient quality of mysticism and mystery about them, yet tap into our basic needs of something to venerate, loath or fear. By attaching a face to these instincts, gazing into Zercie’s figures is like looking into a mirror back into ourselves. By stepping away from the contemporaneous worries and concerns that will soon expire with a new season, Zercie creates a more timeless exhibition that can and will resonate with a number of different audiences for, hopefully, years to come.
Caught between a temple and a funhouse, the exhibition is both familiar yet intimidating, grotesque and humorous, causing our preconceived notions of what to expect to dissolve as quickly as we attempt to create them.
Tim Zercie A Family Conjuration is on view through April 7th at et al projects, 56 Bogart Street, Bushwick. The gallery is open Thursday-Sunday 1-6pm; extended hours this Friday until 9pm, and by appointment.