To enter Lucian Shapiro's website is to enter his world, a different world that is equally of the past and of the present. One almost feels like they have stumbled upon an exhibit from a lost civilization, if that civilization long gone was our own. Here we see photographs of the artists immaculately crafted masks and faux ritual objects with their intriguing, but mysterious names that seem to speak to a vast cultural history the viewer doesn't know. Made up of used tea bags, caution tape, strung bottle caps and other ephemera of daily use, each piece rises above its materials to reach the level of the sublime and the sacred. Some of the masks seem like headdresses from the Ziegfeld Follies with their lofty crowns and crenellations, while others seem to be inspired by the costumes of the Venetian carnival. Though these pieces do speak to a high level of civilization they are also immensely tribal, seeming to blend together urban punk culture with the warrior cults of Papua New Guinea. Alongside these exquisite masks are weapons and ritual implements such as bedazzled baseball bats, quartz encrusted war hammers, and bottle cap vessels all vying for our enraptured attention.
Short films that can be viewed on the site seem to be artistic documentaries from the world of the artifacts and include a Moon Ritual, a Mating Ritual, and a sacred hunt.The films are highly archetypal in tone and imagery, seeming to gesture towards a shared tribal past. In the films the protagonists are seen in the artists masks, with his ritual objects, but in contemporary casual clothing. Highly atmospheric music plays against a background of nature or in the case of the Moon Ritual the lights of a distant city. Other sections of the site show these same artifacts as additions to high fashion shoots or against dioramas of the natural world. Overall the pieces give off an etherial "other" quality that is both enticing and slightly foreboding.
The artists himself says of his work that it dances between life and death, using found objects as if they were relics from a lost age, instead of the waste of consumer capitalism. He wants his viewers to question the connection and difference between contemporary trash and the left overs from extinct societies. The masks and the weaponry are forms of self-protection made out of our modern addictions, a mask made from coffee filters or a shield from beer caps. Addiction, says the artist, is an assemblage of repeated actions and rituals that is used to protect or insulate oneself. Through his art Shapiro connects this belief to the idea of religion, culture, and life cycles, making the viewer question the value and meaning of each. He also wants us to look at the vast amount of waste created by contemporary civilization and question weather it is right to throw so much away in the name of the new or fashionable. To this end he juxtaposes the symbols of disposable society against the enduring artifacts of traditional cultures by making the second out of the first. Shapiro asks us to see the beautiful in the mundane, to value craft, and to slow down and seek the eternal. His beautiful and haunting work does just that.
Images via the artist's website