The iconographies of living and dead mythologies are irresistible not only because of the association with things of "ultimate concern" that they have accumulated over their history. Often, they are affecting in themselves, bypassing cultural particularities to speak directly to the extremes of human experience, usually its various modes of suffering.
Tyler Zeleny, a 2012 BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art curating his first solo exhibition at Miller Schneider Gallery, ambitiously sets out to create his own language of visual myth to rival the classics. His media is a complex sort of collage, using stencils made from photographic references, which are scanned, manipulated, and spliced together digitally before being printed. His chosen images are animal-headed archetypes and human bodies in impossible spaces.
Through this work, Zeleny hopes to make sense of his culture and its aspirations. His works elevate empathy, cooperation, and forward-thinking, while remaining aware of the enduring darkness of the human condition.
In "Support," a tangle of naked bodies pile on the ground, momentarily evoking any number of war crimes. However, closer examination of the human bramble reveals a lattice of limbs intentionally forming a wreath. Out of the pile three towers arise like acrobats climbing atop one another. It is an allegory for the beauty of cooperation, but not all the cooperators are equals. There are still people at the bottom of the pile.
In "The Celebrity Distracts the Workers", six males with the heads of panda bears are staked to the ground with chains around their ankles. Each is paired with a long-handled sledgehammer. A figure with an African elephant's head stands in the center, raising an arm aloft in a teacher's gesture, as if holding up an invisible object for inspection by his students.
One worker rests his hammer on his shoulder, listening with casual attention. Another stands stiff with arms at his sides. In front of him, a worker sits at the celebrity's feet, legs crossed and hands spread in a prayerful pose.
Despite the workers' deference, we are given reason to believe he is no savior. The paper his image was printed on is crinkled. Though two workers shield their eyes from his presence, the shadows on the celebrity's trunked face are deep, and he stands in a cloud of gritty splotches. The light which blinds the two workers is not emanating from him. But perhaps most tellingly, the panda-men are still in chains. In their enthrallment, they will not swing their hammers. Only one worker makes to use his tool, swinging it over his head. He could be preparing to smash his chain, or he could be driving his stake into the ground. Or he could be launching an attack on the celebrity, so as to free his coworkers.
It's clear where Zeleny's sympathy lies, but he leaves the end to his narratives unwritten. He offers myths, not prophecies.