“Where Have All the Young Men Gone” is a line from Pete Seeger’s anti-war song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”.
The artist uses this song from the 50s as an opportunity to address the change of the genera.
Lucas Zallmann uses this rhetorical question in the form of an acronym for the title of his latest exhibition.
The loss of youth which is touched upon in the text is according to Zallmann who was born in Vienna in 1979 first and foremost the loss of a natural relationship to the body and to one’s own gender – aptly comparable to the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
The artist brings to mind a state avant la lettre, before the contemplation of oneself began; before the sting of doubt pierced itself deeply into the masculine – well also into the feminine – flesh. His illusionistic paintings of clouds in acrylic paint, which give way to a clear summer sky, stand – to put it in Milan Kundera’s words – for the unbearable lightness of being. They are too beautiful to be true.
Reality looks different. Conventional gender roles have become obsolete and are being questioned by various sections of society. The pinnacle of the contention, which not only electrifies social networks, is the recently initiated #MeToo debate. Since then, the male self-conception presents itself more awkwardly then ever. Relations beyond gender boundaries seem to be frequently infused by insecurity, mutual defense and delusion: „Right now there is not much to laugh about neither for men nor for women“, says Zallmann. His artistic commentary on this sociological change is the new series „Non-Smiling Smilies“. The upward corners of the mouth of this yellow 80s classic have disappeared on the sketchy faces, which he paints in vinyl paint with two vertical and one horizontal stroke. Standing in front of the paintings though, you still believe to recognize a wink. Contrary to the multi-variant digital culture of emoticons Zallmann practices the repetition of always the same expression: „Non-Smiling Smilies“ in pastel and neon hues against a grey background, monochrome and polychrome, on foil, canvas and paper, as spatial entities, reliefs, sculptures and installations on which you are allowed to sit. Its form goes back to the letter H whose middle bar Zallmann has pushed down a little bit. When you compare the chemical formula of estrogen and the so-called status hormone testosterone which influence heavily gender specific appearences and behaviours, you will see that the only difference is one H which stands for hydrogen. Zallmann, who is interested in endocrinology (the science for researching hormones) and the influence of nutrition on our physical and psychological wellbeing, makes H the symbolical starting point of „Non-Smiling Smilies“. He addresses the increasing threat the human organism is subjected to by degenerated industrial food and a hormone metabolism impaired by a hazardous environmental impact: depression, anxiety, stress and infertility are only a few of the many consequences. A far more consequential and subtle impact can be seen for instance in the bonding capability of many people, in the broadly overwrought behaviour of many men and women, in the dog-eat-dog society which stems from testosterone driven ego shooters, and in the typical pervasive appearance of many men as „balding gentlemen with ladies’ tits“ (see Donald Trump:-)).
The body of art of Lucas Zallmann, which always seems so effortless, opens up new perspectives about cross-disciplinary questions. On the stylistic dimension it represents the naturalness of contemporary art which tries to break free from aesthetic traditions as well as profound political and ethical claims. Idyll and trompe-l’oeil, perception of the social milieu and a nonchalant attitude lie close to each other.
Text: Angela Stief