David Castillo Gallery presents New Mythologies, an exhibition of works by artists Pepe Mar, Jillian Mayer, and Asser Saint-Val.
New Mythologies explores three case studies in which the invention of a belief system emerges as both the foundation and consequence of art-making. In their respective practices, Mar, Mayer, and Saint-Val each treat the internal logic of their works as stable narratives with recurring themes, characters, or ideologies which speculate upon the conditions of our time in history. These fictions negotiate the same corollaries of mythology as a medium for didactic exposition and interpretation.
In its popular usage, mythology is commonly understood to belong solely to the realm of early human civilizations, where oral traditions imparted teachings of natural or social phenomena—everything from creation to the weather—in often allegorical stories of otherworldly heroes and gods. The 19th century British folklorist Sir G.L. Gomme described mythology as the “science of a pre-scientific age”. In his 1957 book Mythologies, French theorist Roland Barthes demystified the ideological function of mythology in the modern era, arguing that it serves as a symbolic reflection of human experience. In this regard, mythology relays an understanding of the time, culture, and circumstance in which it was created. Mythology is the contrivance of its age, and it serves as a vehicle in which the deeper, often allusive messages of its time can traffic.
Pepe Mar works from a self-fashioned iconography that references his native Mexico, the queer club scene of the last thirty years, as well as the visual trajectory of his sixteen year career. The sacred mythologies of his early works take the form of celebrity gossip and tabloid news; the sources for the clippings that comprised much of his paper collages and sculptures. He makes reference to this visual legacy in a new body of fabric paintings in which he collages custom textiles printed with images from his past artworks. His visual vocabulary demarcates an invented and layered landscape in which found objects and images from throughout popular culture and the history of art take on the form of gods and goddesses, great beasts and apocalyptic destroyers.
Tracing the trajectories of the technologies of our present age, Jillian Mayer charges her practice with futuristic speculations about the fate of humanity. In her Slumpies series (2016 to present), the artist considers the ubiquity of the Internet, and the broad demand for the digital tools used to access this networked setting, to invent a furniture of the future. Within this theoretical framework, Mayer fashions the Slumpie as a utilitarian sculpture designed with the specific purpose of supporting various postures of the body while using a smartphone; a furniture which foresees a growing co-dependence or symbiosis between humans and technology.
Asser Saint-Val’s paintings foreground surreal, quasi-human figures which challenge the logic of the well-ordered body. Erupting with mutations, excess parts, and mechanical apparatus, these beings stand at a precipice between the materiality of the human body and the immaterial transcendence of the mind’s higher-order functions. Neuromelanin—a dark pigment found in the brain—lies at the center of Saint-Val’s work. Quoting broad sources from neurological research to the French philosopher René Descartes, Saint-Val posits that neuromelanin emerges from the brain’s seat of spiritual power and plays an important role in the development of the mind’s spiritual potentials.
Mythology bears the burden of the whole of humanity’s belief systems. The term comprises the world’s parables, folktales, and legends; stories past and present, remembered and forgotten. And, at its essence, mythology is resolutely about invention: relaying the stories of an age, a place, and a people which can only be grasped, contained, and imagined through art and the transience of language.