Zhivago Duncan Explores Cultural and Artistic Contrasts in “Never But Always”

Berlin-based multimedia artist Zhivago Duncan puts equal emphasis on material, subject, and scene. His gold-on-linen silkscreens, part of “Never But Always” at Meem Gallery, underscore his fascination with the relationship between material and substance.

Duncan’s complex Syrian-Danish identity bleeds into his art. In this Dubai show, the silkscreened works and etchings juxtapose the natural with the artificial—a theme of contrast that dominates the work. Ottoman-inspired architecture, Western pop culture, and painted figures from the natural world (namely birds) all feature prominently in Duncan’s work. The different styles overlap yet coexist, as if pages from the same sketchbook.

One Pays, Two Suffer (2015) lays out the coexistence of geometric architecture, a disassembled Spider-Man, and a flying eagle, all in tentative, vibrating balance. By taking apart the human form and manmade machines—a shared motif in several of his silkscreens—and laying out blueprints for their assemblage, Duncan suggests that disassembling something to reveal its parts can reveal a great deal about its whole.

Considering his seemingly disjointed subjects, Duncan’s choice of material connects the work while enhancing it. By silkscreening ink and gold foil onto linen, he compares the simple to the luxurious, the rough and matte with the smooth and glinting.

Also on display is a series of black-and-white etchings paired with the copper plates from which they are printed. This pairing exposes Duncan’s art-making methods, suggesting that an artwork’s origin, process, and product are inextricably linked. It’s a concept Duncan grapples with personally as well as artistically: An object’s past is central to its present.


—Emily Singer


Zhivago Duncan: Never But Always” is on view at Meem Gallery, Dubai, Mar. 13–May 10, 2016.

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