Notorious internet artist and trickster Zardulu is stepping out of the shadows this fall, with her first-ever gallery show. A mysterious figure who exists on the fringes of the web, Zardulu and her love for modern myth and legend have birthed an unknown number of news-of-the-weird stories, for which she never almost never takes credit. The depth of her practice will finally be revealed this fall when TRANSFER gallery hosts “Triconis Aeternis: Rites and Mysteries,” an exhibition of the artist’s work in a series of storefronts on New York’s Canal Street.
“I’ve fabricated around a half dozen viral stories his year on various platforms,” the artist told artnet News on Facebook. “Some of them trended higher than the president.”
As you might expect with Zardulu, the way that the show came about was anything but traditional. Last September, TRANSFER’s owner, Kelani Nichole, got an unexpectedly intriguing email from Zardulu herself. “Usually, when you get a cold email at a gallery, it’s not something you’re really interested in, but I was already following Zardulu’s work,” Nichole told artnet News, noting that she was intrigued by the concept of internet fiction.
The show marks the first time that Zardulu will be claiming her work, and making it available to collectors. The exhibition, hosted by ON CANAL, 20 storefronts on Canal Street between Broadway and West Broadway, will feature a mix of the media coverage of Zardulu’s stunts, as well as objects, presumably related to the myths’ creation.
“I can’t really say too much about the nature of the object-based part of it,” Nichole admitted, but “we’re trying to think about the artifacts of the practice and the tools of the trickster in a way that makes sense to present to collectors for acquisition.”
Word of Zardulu’s trickery leaked in January 2016, when the man who helped her create the viral video known as Selfie Rat admitted the piece was staged. The footage appears to show a man asleep on a subway platform, as a rat crawls into his lap and unwittingly takes a selfie on his phone. (Zardulu put peanut butter on the shutter.)
Many of Zardulu’s absurd fake scenarios involve animals, and she is rumored to have a mischief of trained rats. (Yes, a group of rats is really called a mischief. Some things you can’t make up.) As such, many have suspected that Zardulu was also behind Pizza Rat, that impish rodent that gamely dragged an entire slice of pizza rat down the subway stairs. It’s probably a false rumor, but one that Zardulu has encouraged, as it only adds to her mythos, further blurring the lines between fact and fiction.
“We’ve reached a point where technology and media and the way we communicate allows us to build entire worlds for ourselves that are not necessarily linked to reality,” Nichole said. “In the realm of politics, Trump exploits storytelling, myth-making, and personality, to build a world that people passionately believe in, and it doesn’t matter that it’s not anchored in reality.”
“Zardulu is working with these same kinds of tools,” she added. “Media has put us in a place were storytelling can now beat reality, and she’s doing that with art. Her viral hoaxes are building up a mythology that creates a joy and fascination, a benevolent mystery.”
For Zardulu, these myths also become a way of tapping into deeper truths. One example she offered was the West African trickster god of Eshu, who disguised himself with a many-colored hat. “Certainly there’s an element of humor, of absurdity in the myth. But there is a truth that is far more powerful than his lie,” she said.
Speaking with Zardulu is like talking in riddles. Here’s an abbreviated excerpt from our conversation about the upcoming exhibition:
I hear you are having a show at TRANSFER! Congratulations. We are looking forward to announcing the exhibition on artnet News.
I am excited too. Do you believe in the gift of prophecy?
Maybe? But I’m a pretty skeptical person
Skepticism is such a terrible state of mind, Sarah! Skepticism relates to reason. I relate to unreason.
Jung said “It is an error to believe that there are magical practices that one can learn. One cannot understand magic. One can only understand what accords with reason. Magic accords with unreason, which one cannot understand.”
So what can visitors expect from your exhibition at TRANSFER?
Magic. Good transition, hahaha.
Are you worried about stepping out of the shadows and letting the world see your work in a more straightforward manner?
No. In what way would you think that I’d be worried? When I discuss my work, what may appear to betray the mystery, always serves to exalt it.
I asked you if you believed in prophecy. I have prophesied more viral videos that I’ve created. Perhaps I’ve just acquired an ability to predict them, from my understanding of our universal experience, our collective unconscious. They are things we’ve been collectively waiting to happen. My greatest challenge has always been to create them before reality beats me to it, or perhaps it’s something more. I don’t think I create a false reality, I’m creating a reality that hasn’t yet happened. I am finishing the sentences on the tip of reality’s tongue.
Awesome. Is that what happened with pizza rat?
All of my myths started as visions. Don’t yours?
I don’t know if I’ve made any myths.
You should. Myths are the only eternal human form.
That is how Zardulu speaks all the time. “I can’t say it’s always been very clear working with Zardulu,” admitted Nichole, who has been talking with the artist for almost a year, since last September.
During that time, Nichole has gotten the occasional cryptic hint, an inkling that there was a Zardulu myth in the making. Zardulu sent artnet News, for interest, a recent video of an ant, ostensibly in a jewelry show in India, dragging a giant diamond across a desk. It’s been covered by the Daily Mail, the Weather Channel, the New York Post, and many local news outlets and internet blogs.
Nichole and Zardulu haven’t met face to face yet, but the gallerist’s penchant for unconventional exhibition formats—one of the reasons the artist approached her—meant she was prepared for such a non-traditional arrangement. (Nichole has worked with LaTurbo Avedon, an avatar artist who exists only in the virtual realm, for four years.)
Zardulu will appear in person at the show, in some capacity. “I don’t know how, or what form that will take yet,” Nichole said. “I believe her presence will be known to all in attendance in some way.”
The artist has also prepared a publication to accompany the exhibition, called the Triconia Aeternis: Rites and Mysteries. The show will also include an online component, where some of Zardulu’s works will be revealed even before the opening. Other works will be on view at the opening and unveiled throughout the show’s run. Nichole expects there will be seven or eight in total—but no rats.
If there’s one thing to expect from the show, it may be that there’s no way of knowing what to expect—even for Nichole. “I’m very curious how the whole series of events will unfold,” she said. “I think that I’m not even privy to the full view of what Zardulu has planned.”
“Triconis Aeternis: Rites and Mysteries, a Solo Exhibition From Zardulu the Mythmaker” opens at On Canal, ongoing through September 1.
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