When a strange sea creature washed ashore near Darien, Georgia, last March, marine biologists were stumped. With an elongated neck, shark-like fins, and what appeared to be guts spilling out, the green mass looked like the Altamaha-ha, a storied sea serpent legendary to the region—a Southern cousin to the Loch Ness Monster, if you will. Experts couldn't determine what they were looking at with only video evidence, but most of them agreed on one thing—whatever it was, it was probably a hoax.
And they were right—the unidentifiable corpse was apparently a taxidermied shark with added papier-mâché elements, left on the shore at the order of Zardulu, the mysterious New York–based artist and self-identified "myth-maker" who says she's staged various viral hoaxes, like the three-eyed catfish in the Gowanus Canal and the raccoon who hitched a ride on an alligator, and is also suspected of orchestrating Pizza Rat.
But like much of Zardulu's handiwork, the sea creature wasn't just an attempt to shock people. She explained to me over Twitter that the piece, "Ketos Troias," is actually based on an Ancient Greek myth, a recreation of the sea creature Ketos, who Heracles slices open with a fish hook. And what better place to showcase the work than in a region already plagued by legends of its own sea monster?
"Darien is the home of a great American legend of the Altamaha-ha, I wanted to breathe some new life into and incorporate it into my larger narrative," the artist told me. "The slaying of the Ketos Troias is symbolic of a triumph over the frightening creatures in both the ocean of my unconscious, of yours, of all of ours. That's why it was such a compelling story."
Next month the piece will be on view at TRANSFER gallery's Triconis Aeternis: Rites and Mysteries, Zardulu's first solo exhibition where she plans to bring elements of her self-made "myths" out from behind the camera and into storefronts on Canal Street in Manhattan. Along with "Ketos Troias," the artist told me she's showing "several items that were used to create myths," along with paintings, illustrations, and text that "create a broader narrative." The gallery is also publishing a book of the artist's paintings and writings, which shares the show's name.
"These pieces are all crucibles, ritual adventures, I am living out in the real world, in the broadened conceptual space created by the internet and viral media," she explained. "Deep down… we don’t care about the truth. We want myth. We want our feelings and emotions to be represented in symbolic forms. That’s why we gravitate to these viral stories, videos and images," she added.
Often Zardulu's work uses real or taxidermied animals and is carried out by actors, filmed, seen by unsuspecting witnesses, and then shared online or with media organizations. But the evasive artist, who hasn't revealed her true identity and usually wears a bearded mask in public, has only recently been claiming credit for her elaborate dupes.
During Miami's Art Basel, news sites picked up a video of a man who found an iguana emerging from his toilet. The New York Times reported shortly after that it was actually Zardulu's creation titled "The Usurpation of Ouranos," based on a myth about Ouranos, a god who imprisoned his children in the underworld, only to have his son Kronos castrate him and usurp the throne. The piece wasn't officially submitted to the art festival, but the Times called it "one of the most widely viewed pieces during Miami Art Week."
With Triconis Aeternis: Rites and Mysteries, Zardulu will lift the shroud of secrecy (if only slightly) that surrounds much of her work and bring her shadowy persona out into the public space. She told me she plans to be at the show, and that along with pieces from viral stories people may recognize, "you may see several pieces you had yet to know were mine."
Triconis Aeternis: Rites and Mysteries is on view at On Canal, between Broadway and West Broadway on Canal Street in New York City, October 4 through November 1.
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