2016, Carbonised male and female skeletons, gold, paper
Zatorski + Zatorski created “Self Portrait as Charcoal on Paper” for the Royal Academy, when invited to take part in the curated “duos” section of the Summer Exhibition.
Two human skeletons, one male, one female of approximately the artists’ own age and build have been carbonised – that is made to be as charcoal, reduced to a pure state of carbon, the very building block of all living things. In an age when the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere threatens our very existence, the work is a memento mori of our time.
One of the skulls has a gold crown, symbolic of using wealth to hold back death and decay, still left long after you are gone. As when one sees a tattoo on a cadaver – the gold filling humanises the remains, the viewer making that connection to themselves. Teeth are barometres of our existence: milk teeth, wisdom teeth, the complete loss of our teeth. The only part of the body that is inorganic and subsequently cannot be carbonised is the enamel of the teeth.
Responding to the notion of the “duo” and questions around artistic collaboration, authorship and our traditional view of the artist as “solitary ego,” Z+Z present themselves as one mark-maker, the mark and as the very drawing material itself – charcoal. The bones are mixed so that there is no conceivable separation between the man and the woman.
Z+Z were inspired by the RA life drawing rooms and the art-making traditions that the academy embodies. In the drawing room the artist is in conversation with their peers, the marks they leave behind forming a connection to past and future artists. Z+Z “drew” this piece in the gallery of the RA, creating the form in response to the other artworks and architecture of the space. Here the paper is simply placed on the plinth support, as if rolled out in the studio and could be blown away, the bones are not fixed.This collaborative self portrait is a universal portrait of us all and a reminder of the oblivion that awaits us.