Z’otz at YYZ

The art collective Z’otz is currently displaying their latest mural, drawings and sculptures in the north-end gallery of YYZ Artist’s Outlet. Z’otz derive their name from the indigenous Mayan word for bat, the small flying mammal. The collective’s three members – Ilyana Martínez, Nahúm Flores and Erik Jerezano – all came from that region. Flores comes from Hunduras, while Martínez and Jerezano grew up in Mexico. All three have for many years lived and worked in Canada.

On the main wall of the gallery is a mural, drawn directly onto the wall using pastels and charcoal. So once the show is over the mural is destroyed. Z’otz tell me this is a routine practice for them. They view these murals – they have produced many before – as performative in nature. Very often they are drawn while the public is visiting the gallery, so there is an inherent social dimension to their production. The mural comprises a number of interlocking surreal figures based on animal and plant life. Included in this particular mural are four nichos, stuck to the wall and incorporated into the overall composition. The central American nicho is traditionally a very colourful shadow box containing pictures or improvised sculptures, often made from inexpensive domestic materials. In this case the monotone cardboard nichos contain crude sculptures with a simply painted background which echoes the forms of the mural itself.

The mural on the wall by Z’otz Collective

Beasts of all sorts populate their work. In their individual drawings on paper we find, for example, a polar bear with a handbag, a moose with what looks like an elephant’s trunk as a tail. In addition there are two smallish sculptures rendered in clay that each resemble something between a head and a body perforated with various orifices. Their figures – on the wall, on paper or in clay – are disclosures of a fervid imagination. But, most interestingly, the imagination at work is collective.

Dissected ideas, 2008, mixed media on paper, 11″ x 15″

Shaman and the Treasure Table, 2008, mixed media on paper, 11″ x 15″

The three members have, for nearly fifteen years now, met once a week to produce their art work. During these weekly sessions they continually pass the drawing or sculpture on from one person to the next until they decide it is complete. In basic outline their working process is like that of the former Winnipeg collective The Royal Art Lodge (1996-2008), that similarly met once a week to produce their work. Z’otz’s work also has many of the graphic qualities of the Winnipeg group, but the preoccupations of these collectives differ markedly. The  Royal Art Lodge’s drawings very often feature text and make explicit references to popular culture. By comparison Z’otz’s work is far more unspecified in its subject matter and its references.

Flirting with Doubt 1, 2012 – 2018, mixed media on paper, 15″ x 22″

The generality of Zotz’s works, I aver, is the product of their collective exploration of the unconscious, as opposed to imagery that is generated directly from the outside world. One might say that Flores, Martínez and Jerezano eschew the expression of their individual imaginations. They told me that they often deliberately erase or draw over each other’s drawing. In place of an admixture of the members’ individual styles and preoccupations there arises a set of archetypal images, to borrow Jung’s terminology. Such archetypes are ideas that exist independently of any individual, and constitute instead a set of universal ideas. For Carl Jung these universal ideas essentially exist in the psychic world – one that exists in synchronicity with the physical world – that our individual minds can somehow access.

Installation view of Z’otz, Small Contribution to a Big Moment

I do not mean to suggest that Z’otz are literally tapping into a psychic realm in the way Jung imagined. Rather, I mention Jungian psychology as a heuristic, as a way to begin to understand how Z’otz end up producing an array of imagery that transcends the particularities of our culture. The hybrid creatures found in Z’otz works seem timeless. They echo, for example, the Mayan mythical figure of the pájaro hombre (bird-man). And these creatures equally resonate with us, despite our being remote from the likes of Mayan civilisation. Z’otz are able to mine a collection of imagery that belongs to no one in particular, but rather is latent in the unconscious of all of us. As a result their work is gripping in a way that is hard to pin down. It is elusively compelling work. Their drawings and sculptures have an authenticity that is rarely found.

Hugh Alcock

Images are courtesy of Z’otz Collective

*Exhibition information: Z’otz Collective, Small Contribution to a Big Moment, May 23 – July 20, 2019, YYZ Artists Outlet, 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Sat 11 am – 5 pm.

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