Artist: Xavier Mary
Exhibition title: The Enigma of Steel
Venue: Nosbaum Reding Gallery, Luxembourg
Date: November 9, 2017 – January 6, 2018
Photography: Tania Bettega / all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Nosbaum Reding Gallery
‘Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky. But Crom is your god, Crom and he lives in the earth. Once, giants lived in the Earth, Conan. And in the darkness of chaos, they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered. And the Earth shook. Fire and wind struck down these giants, and they threw their bodies into the waters, but in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel and left it on the battlefield. We who found it are just men. Not gods. Not giants. Just men. The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one – no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts. [Points to the sword] This you can trust.’
The exhibition The Enigma of Steel by the Belgian artist Xavier Mary is loosely inspired by the film Conan the Barbarian (1982) directed by John Milius and based on a story by Robert E. Howard. The film is set in the Hyborian Age, a fictional period in the history of the Earth between 14,000 and 10,000 BCE (late Upper Palaeolithic). The title of the exhibition refers to the eponymous legend as told to Conan by his father.
Mary’s work for Nosbaum Reding consists of sheets of laminated steel with engravings made using a plasma cutter. Besides a transcription of the dialogue situating the legend of the origins of steel, they feature the swords that string together the narrative of the film, namely, the ‘Master Sword’ forged by Conan’s father and the ‘Atlantean Sword’ that Conan uses to avenge his father. Produced by the artist in a specialised metalworking shop in Diekirch, a small town in the Luxembourgish Ardennes, these imposing sculptures combine anachronistic fantasy worlds and advanced technology. Harking back to a mythical past, the artist’s installation encourages us to consider the origins of the steelmaking industry and question its current role in a context where technology threatens to elude our control. By focusing on an apocalyptic narrative, he furthermore invites us to reflect on our responsibility in the use we make of technology.
Xavier Mary (born 1982 in Liège) studied printing techniques at the École supérieure des arts Saint-Luc Liège and obtained a master’s degree in art from the École de recherche graphique (Erg) in Brussels. He has exhibited in numerous museums and art centres across Europe, including Bétonsalon, La Maison Rouge (Paris), Wiels (Brussels), M HKA (Antwerp) and Villa Arson (Nice). Artist residencies include Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin), APT Studios (New York), AIR (Antwerp), Museo delle Palme (Palermo) and Komplot (Brussels). In 2018 his work will be presented at BPS22 (Charleroi) and Neuer Aachener Kunstverein (Aachen), among others.