The wonderful war games of Marcel

Finding a seat in the small projection room crowded with admirers gathered to hear and see Marcel Dzama in person was no easy task.
Though stemming from humble beginnings in Winnipeg, Manitoba, it seems that Dzama now bears a name with the power to draw huge crowds on the art scene. He is a multi-talented artist with a vastly diverse body of work, which ranges from drawing to dance, ceramics, all the way to film.
Nonetheless, there exists a great consistency in his oeuvre. For all their diversity, his individual artworks are in constant dialogue, informing and influencing one another to form a very thematically coherent body of work.
His short films A Game of Chess and Death Disco Dance, both screened in a loop at POP Montreal, are excellent examples of Dzama’s amazing variety of talents and how he can bring them all together.
The first short to be screened, Death Disco Dance, was shot as a celebratory video. It depicts ballet dancers performing a short dance while the other characters look on. This segment is looped, replayed backwards then normally again for a few minutes. It is comical, if not repetitive, and slightly annoying.
A Game of Chess is the main attraction though, as it creates a fascinating and imaginative portrait of war. It interweaves two stories connected by chess, a game that becomes an allegory of war. Scenes from a ballet of chess pieces, performed for an audience of puppets, are intercut by shots of a mysterious young military woman and of two men playing chess in what appears to be a bombed-out square.
The dancers are immediately recognizable as physical embodiments of Dzama’s drawings. He notably made some costumes himself with ceramics. The theme of war as spectacle is also recurrent in his work and is exemplified in this film.
Reality and fantasy contrast, as the dramatization of war operated in the ballet is confronted with its cold, brutal mechanics. When death occurs in the ballet, it is agonizing and overplayed. When the woman shoots one of the chess players, he silently collapses onto the chessboard, his opponent unfazed.
The audience of puppets, however, only sees the ballet; war becomes entertainment, desensitized and removed. In A Game of Chess, Dzama propels a telling critique of mass entertainment with complex and masterful artistry – a feat to be recognized.


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