Text by Helen Hirsch

At first blush, the vibrant ink drawings, collages, film works, dioramas, and sculptures by Canadian artist Marcel Dzama appear to be whimsical visions of a playful imagination. But a second glance reveals them to be marked by a darker, more twisted sensibility—original expressions of a grotesque and unjust world. Hollow Laughter, produced on the occasion of Dzama’s first institutional solo presentation in Switzerland at the Kunstmuseum Thun, offers viewers a stunning introduction to the artist’s strangely contorted universe. Featuring scholarship by museum director and curator Helen Hirsch, this modest, concise publication includes intimate details and color reproductions of Dzama’s meticulously composed imaginings, which take the form of drawings, sculptures, collages, installations, and a film—Une danse des bouffons (or A jester’s dance)—which made its European debut as part of the exhibition. Recalling the unsettling echo of “hollow laughter,” something subtle is always awry behind the façade of Dzama’s appealing, expertly executed surfaces, often involving masked, costumed, or armed characters who engage in bizarre and occasionally lewd acts with other protagonists, and suggest a uniquely non-pedantic take on the excesses of society. Indeed, the disjunction between the initial impression and the lasting one is mirrored by the archaic look-and-feel of his images that bring into focus the vulnerability, manipulation, and discomfort often couched in interpersonal interactions.