Does Dzama’s Win­nipeg re­sem­ble yours?

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - ALI­SON GILL­MOR

WHAT IT IS: Mar­cel Dzama’s Un­ti­tled (Win­nipeg Map) from 2007, now on view at Plug In ICA as part of the mas­sive multi-artist ex­hi­bi­tion My Win­nipeg: There’s No Place Like Home.

WHAT IT MEANS: The ti­tle for the show, My Win­nipeg, is taken from Guy Maddin’s 2007 docu-fan­ta­sia, which por­trays our burg as a dreamy, snow­bound land­scape wrapped in oc­cult his­tory and per­verse psy­chodrama. Plug In wants to un­der­line the idea that Win­nipeg isn’t one fixed re­al­ity but an over­lap­ping mul­ti­plic­ity of sub­jec­tive, of­ten sub­ver­sive his­to­ries and ge­ogra­phies.

No sur­prise, then, that the vi­sion of Win­nipeg of­fered up by the 38-yearold Dzama is sub­limely screwy. Maps are usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with ob­jec­tive, ra­tio­nal de­scrip­tion, bol­stered with sci­en­tific stuff like grids and scales and topo­graph­i­cal fea­tures. But this is map­ping gone hay­wire, loaded with Dzama’s char­ac­ter­is­tic mix of in­no­cence and men­ace, muted colours and won­der­fully way­ward con­tent.

A found­ing mem­ber of the hugely in­flu­en­tial Win­nipeg col­lec­tive the Royal Art Lodge, Dzama puts many rec­og­niz­able fea­tures into his city map. The Red River looms large. There’s Portage and Main (“-50 be­low”) and Sal’s and the Forks.

But Dzama also tweaks the me­dieval prac­tice of putting myth­i­cal beasts into the un­charted ter­ri­to­ries of maps: He brings them right into the city lim­its and lets them loose on well-known land­marks. Crea­tures gnaw on the Royal Cana­dian Mint and the Leg­is­la­ture. A sea ser­pent is im­pli­cated in “The great MS pad­dle­wheel dis­as­ter of 1984.”

There are signs of the artist’s own per­sonal his­tory —- the Dzama house­hold, aceart and Plug In, the FitzGer­ald Build­ing at the U of M, the record store Into the Mu­sic (“good vinyl”). There are also re­cur­ring artis­tic ob­ses­sions — bats, bears, cats, cowboys, pointy hats, forlorn snow­men.

Land­scapes are al­ways a fu­sion of the real and ideal, but Dzama goes wildly be­yond that, into a mythic mix of the good (the buf­falo dio­rama at the Man­i­toba Mu­seum), the bad (“Hells An­gels club house”), and the down­right bizarre (“THE GI­ANT SQUID OF THE RED”).

WHY IT MAT­TERS: Win­nipeg is a much-mythol­o­gized city. To out­siders, it can seem like a place of al­most unimag­in­able arc­tic ex­oti­cism. Since Dzama moved to New York in 2004 and made it big on the in­ter­na­tional scene, his Win­nipeg ori­gins have added to his mys­tique. A 2005 ar­ti­cle in The New York Times Mag­a­zine states that Dzama was “born in 1974 in the iso­lated Cana­dian wilds of Win­nipeg.” (!!?) Some­times he plays with these mis­con­cep­tions. His map en­try for the Win­nipeg In­ter­na­tional Air­port reads: “Large jets now land reg­u­larly.”

But some­thing about his work also en­cour­ages us to make our own myths. Plug In’s show en­cour­ages us to look at our city anew, to see it as a place of grit and beauty, of sto­ried pasts and pos­si­ble fu­tures -- a place of dreams, mem­o­ries and imag­in­ings.

This is Dzama’s Win­nipeg. What’s yours?


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