ZHIVAGO DUNCAN: Measuring Consciousness

September 15 - November 19, 2022
Artist Reception: Thursday, September 15, 6-8 PM

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CULT Aimee Friberg is pleased to announce Measuring Consciousness, a solo exhibition of batik painting, ceramic and stone sculptures by Mexico City-based artist Zhivago Duncan. Incorporating scientific taxonomy with transcendental aesthetics, Duncan’s work combines old and new techniques to offer a meditation on the evolution of consciousness. The artist’s first solo exhibition with CULT, and first solo exhibition in the United States in over a decade, Measuring Consciousness will be on view from September 15 to November 19, 2022, with an opening reception on September 15 at 6 pm at CULT’s San Francisco space.

Duncan was born in Terre Haute, Indiana to a Syrian mother and a Danish father. His fluidity across materials and cultural signifiers reflects the relentlessness of an investigative mind. With freewheeling creativity spurred by his curiosity, Duncan’s lifelong impulse towards painting reflects his desire to contemplate, negotiate and comprehend the "big picture": the origins of sentient life and the universality of consciousness. The artist locates his obsession with creation myths to 2011, when his family’s plans to visit their homeland for the first time were disrupted by the outbreak of the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Investigating the region from afar, Duncan became absorbed by historical accounts of life in the Fertile Crescent, as well as the mythologies that arose from its earliest civilizations – still relevant for their psychic potency today.

Measuring Consciousness finds the artist returning to a technique he first learned as a 17-year-old – batik, or wax-resist dyeing. Like ceramics, batik is a decorative craft that evolved independently in civilizations around the globe. Laying down wax with a Tjanting (a pen-shaped tool used in batik to draw designs) directly onto his canvas allows Duncan to paint in a way that resembles drawing, before filling in fields of color in an intensive, layered process that defies the technical impulses of oil or acrylic. The dynamic results are both surreal and primordial; complex compositions play on forms reminiscent of petroglyphs. In his recent work, Duncan further heightens the dichotomy between ancient and modern by implying classification systems for his motifs. In the language of scientific phenotypes, the artist catalogs facial expressions, tectonic shapes and totemic symbols. What we are left with are endless variations on a theme, as perpetual and mutable as the universe itself.

As an artist and theorist, Duncan is far more interested in what aligns us than what divides—drawing connections to fundamental similarities between the Big Bang and the Biblical story of Genesis, or the Iliad and the Bhagavad Gita. The artist is fascinated by parallel developments in isolated societies, and identifies such synchronicities as indicative of the underpinnings of universal consciousness. As an artist, he treasures traditional techniques of coloring and figuration as pathways to a Promethean impulse – the fashioning of humanity from the raw materials of the Earth.

Utilizing negative space to render portals and entrances across his Raku ceramics, Duncan builds up a world of inner and outer spaces, passageways and avenues; the sculptures seem to embody their own world-within-worlds. This style and position of embeddedness is also found in Duncan’s stone sculptures. Referring to them as "digital fossils," they evoke a prehistoric version of the technologies we carry today in our pockets. Formed of cast or encrusted metals featuring imagery resembling Duncan’s batik works, the aluminum and steel plates exist by themselves and inserted with stone blocks of marble and other material. Encompassing, footnoting and expanding these individual works in one section of the exhibition is an installation of chalk on blackboard-esque wall. Much like a fantastic, scrolling mathematics equation of lore, the chalk installation spells out the connections and profundities of Duncan’s worldview.

The artist is interested in looking across vast gulfs of time to encounter the familiar and remember the eternal–a kind of universal solidarity that evaporates divisiveness. Gently disavowing an individualist ego, Duncan reminds us that we are all shared nodes in a vast network of knowledge–stretching across continents and through centuries, and closely intertwined with the seismic information of the planet and the stars.

Zhivago Duncan (b. 1980 in Terre Haute, Indiana) is a first-generation Syrian-American artist based in Mexico City. In his work, Duncan negotiates the disconnection between physical and metaphysical consciousness through a wide range of media including elaborate large-scale paintings, drawings, raku ceramic sculptures, kinetic dioramas and immersive installations. Inspired by the evolution of human consciousness and the construction of reality through culture, Zhivago’s artistic practice coalesces into a unique story of creation drawn from imagery found in ancient texts such as the Enuma Elis, the Popol Vuh, the Dogon and Lakota myths and the Bible. By weaving elements of ancient creation myths with texts on physics, metaphysics, astronomy, artificial intelligence and contemporary philosophy, Zhivago creates fantastical worlds and his own distinctive mythology that finds its fullest expression in his paintings. Duncan received his BFA from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London and his work has been exhibited widely at Museo Jumex (Mexico City), Pioneer Works (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Saatchi Gallery (London), CULT Aimee Friberg (San Francisco), Fredric Snitzer Gallery (Berlin), Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin) and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Querétaro (Querétaro City, Mexico), amongst others. His works are in the collections of the Perez Art Museum (Miami), the Saatchi Collection (London), the Barjeel Foundation (Sharjah, UAE), the Olbricht Collection (Berlin) and various private collections.

Current

ZHIVAGO DUNCAN: Measuring Consciousness
September 15 - November 19, 2022

CULT Bureau: Gaze Interrupted
September 17 - November 19, 2022

Past

AMY NATHAN: Slipknot Loophole
May 14 - August 26, 2022

Rebekah Goldstein: Welcome Home Stranger
March 19 - May 7, 2022

Sapiens / Stories at CULT Bureau
November 10, 2021 - April 30, 2022

Physics & Fiction
January 20 - March 12, 2022

Chris Fallon: Irresistible Deception
October 15 - December 18, 2021

Sapiens / Stories on 8-Bridges
October 7 - November 3, 2021

Masako Miki: New Mythologies
June 16 - October 12, 2021

Tales of Metamorphosis: Rebekah Goldstein, James Perkins, and Amy Nathan
June 3 - 30, 2021

Janus II - CULT's 7 Year Anniversary Exhibition
April 9 - May 20, 2021

Troy Chew: Yadadamean
October 17 - December 12, 2020

We’re all in this together
August 14 - October 10, 2020

Beyond Words
June 26 - August 29, 2020

Ritual of Succession
January 10 - March 28, 2020

Record of Succession at fused space
January 13 - March 27, 2020

AMY NATHAN: Glyph Slipper
September 13 - December 7, 2019

FEMALE TROUBLE 2
June 28 - August 3, 2019

RUXUE ZHANG
April 20 - June 15, 2019

MASAKO MIKI: Shapeshifters
January 12 - March 23, 2019

JASKO BEGOVIC (SKO HABIBI): HUMAN_E.T.
November 30 - December 14, 2019

REBEKAH GOLDSTEIN: See You On The Flipside
September 8 - November 25, 2018

FEMALE TROUBLE
June 9 - July 28, 2018

TERRI LOEWENTHAL: Psychscapes
March 2 - May 19, 2018

VECINOS
October 27, 2017 - January 20, 2018

RHONDA HOLBERTON: Still Life
January 10 – March 4, 2017

REBEKAH GOLDSTEIN: Release Me
October 21 - December 10, 2016

NO SHOW MUSEUM: Yves Klein, Maria Eichhorn, Daniel Knorr, Etc.
One Night Only: Monday, October 17, 2016

DESIRÉE HOLMAN: Selected Works
September 17 - October 8, 2016

SHE MOONAGE DAYDREAM:
Facundo Argañaraz, Leah Guadagnoli, Desirée Holman, Kara Joslyn, Max Maslansky, Liz Robb, Tamra Seal, Emily Weiner, & Cate White

July 16 - August 20, 2016

PABLO DÁVILA: Ladies & Gentlemen,
We Are Floating In Space

May 13 - July 9, 2016

MASAKO MIKI: Conversations with Fox, Feather, and Ghost
March 4 - April 30, 2016

SUZY POLING: Total Internal Reflection
January 15 - February 27, 2016

DAN GLUIBIZZI: You Don’t Have to be Alone Tonight
November 6 – December 19, 2015

FRANCESCO IGORY DEIANA: Haptic Render
September 11- October 31, 2015

SEXXXITECTURE: Daniel Gerwin, Rebekah Goldstein, Roman Liška, Max Maslansky, May Wilson & Jake Ziemann
July 1 - August 1, 2015

ADAM SORENSEN: In Situ
May 1 - June 27, 2015

KLARA KÄLLSTRÖM & THOBIAS FÄLDT: Village / High Hills
February 27 - April 25, 2015

PRINCE RAMA: How To Live Forever
January 25 – February 21, 2015

JOSEPH DUMBACHER & JOHN DUMBACHER: Divert (Out of Line)
November 7, 2014 – January 16, 2015

REBEKAH GOLDSTEIN: Passenger
September 12 – November 1, 2014

A PATTERN LANGUAGE: Michelle Grabner, Angie Wilson & Lena Wolff
June 20 - July 19, 2014

MICHELLE BLADE: Gathering Into Being
April 25th – June 7th, 2014

MIGUEL ARZABE: /*Reject Algorithms*/
March 7 – April 19, 2014

JACQUELINE KIYOMI GORDON: Drawings
March 7 – April 19, 2014

FRITZ CHESNUT: Purr Valley
& Rhonda Holberton

January 10 - February 22, 2014

UNSEEN: Miya Ando, Miguel Arzabe, Chris Duncan, Klea Mckenna & Dean Smith
November 10 - December 21, 2013

Past Off-Site Exhibitions

RHONDA HOLBERTON: Still Life 2
April 7 - May 26, 2018

LAS COSAS QUE PINTAN / PAINTING IN AN EXPANSIVE FIELD
Works by Miguel Arzabe & Juan Sorrentino

April 9 – May 17, 2015

EBB: Gina Borg and Chris Russell at Loczi Design
December 10, 2014