by Michael Ferlazzo 

Zefrey Throwell’s work is a synthesis of the dialectical war being fought for humanity. He, a sublation to it all, works to subvert the public and get our collective consciousness moving again, to provide a push out of the mud swallowing the wheels. 

Many of Zefrey’s previous works deal with the issue of transparency, most notably, his series of performance pieces encompassing Occularpation, one of which he gathered a group of people to mimic the Wall St. routine before stripping down and baring themselves before the bull. The surface of an issue is just as important though. Darwin used the surface as an inspiration for his work in evolution, as he saw the way in which creatures provide a front for their true nature, and it is as much a part of truth as anything else. In Zefrey’s latest work, Dream Battles, he uses the surface to present the current issues of society: our obsession with status and celebrity, with money and power, with presentation and technology. He throws it in our face and the shock of it provokes contemplation. 

Prior to the opening of this exhibition Zefrey, equipped with translucent bone pink glasses and a comforting warmth not found in the Manhattan Art scene, escorted me through the gallery, piece by piece, for a dialogue on his work. 

Months after visiting the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps, Zefrey found himself in a desperate depression, “There is no preparation for seeing an abandoned concentration camp.” In an attempt to climb out of the pit of despair he resorted to comedy. Woody Allen, in particular, and his anxiety riddled slapstick provided a relief to Zefrey and a ladder to climb, and during the climb, Zefrey began lining the walls of the pit with canvas. Canvas embroidered with fabric sewn by Zefrey himself. Material from his bedroom to Malaysia 70’s inspired Jaguars provide a background to the canvas for the icons to shine on. These canvases evolved into mixed media paintings and photographs depicting ideological warfare between two theologically opposing icons. 

By creating these Ideological face offs, Zefrey is working to create an alternative framework to consider the undercurrents of contemporary Totalitarianism. How can we break the cyclical nature of exploitation in the current economic system of capitalism which is used as a mask for modern fascism and is corrosive to the health of our society and environment? Zefrey believes the answer lies in humor. The power of humor is strong and magnetic for people, it breaks through the walls we build and presents a truth in our ways while forcing a confrontation with our conscience. It is why the greatest comedians are really some of the greatest and loudest social critics. They use the force of their humor early in their careers to build a foundation to critique society later in their careers. The legacies of George Carlin, Bill Hicks, and now Louis C.K are cemented this way.

It is a world in which Kim Kardashian is fighting Terry Gross for our attention. Two antithetical pinnacles, beauty and brains, against each other. Both who use the media for success, but are negating each others futures – one regressing after being used and thrown aside from the public eye, and one who was never in the public eye, but a voice in the consciousness who is only getting louder as the wax piles up and the q-tips cannot provide enough relief. By being forced into a dialogue on the battles between these ideologies, between Steve McQueen and James Cameron, Woody Allen and Joseph Goebbels, you are forced to think about what they stood for, and how they are considered in the current fabric of society. 

The work of the Nazi’s has not entirely disappeared. Their tactics are still wielded by governments around the world, and their ideological warfare is used in the corporate state to gain followers through subversion into their conscience. Modern Fascism. The Academy Award nominated The Act of Killing provides an insight into this as it demonstrates that people still use the domineering tactics developed by fascism and they can still be successful. 

Precedent has been set indicating that by fighting extreme violence and evil with the same society will not progress in the right direction but the approach only creates more evil to be harboured. Zefrey believes that wit, humor, and aesthetics are the weapons which we should fight with to subvert the violent insecurities of contemporary fascism, deflecting the evil back onto itself for reflection. 

The work uses the celebrity and shock value, much like Ocularpation, to draw an audience in and then subvert their thoughts by planting a seed which will linger and potentially blossom in the near future. When I asked Zefrey whether this was an intention in his work he replied “Exactly.” 

Living in the digital age can present a facade on our history. We are desensitized to extreme violence and distracted with false icons through Capitalism. Many contemporary artists find that it is their duty to bring the atrocious realities to our attention, and Zefrey Throwell is one of them. He holds a sense of hope that the future will be bright and he is doing his duty to steer it in the right direction and with a single glare into his eyes you can feel his intent. 

Cover image: The Pope vs. Pasolini (La battaglia per I’Italia)” (2014), silkscreen, acrylic, and enamel paint on fabric.

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