Zoé Blue M.’s “Fallen Scale” @ LOYAL, Stockholm

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LOYAL, Stockholm // June 04, 2024 – July 13, 2024

Carry the Night, 2024, Acrylic and paper on canvas, 72 x 96 inCarry the Night, 2024, Acrylic and paper on canvas, 72 x 96 in

Drawn In, 2024, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 78 inDrawn In, 2024, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 78 in

Lunacy: Unrolling Letters, 2024, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inLunacy: Unrolling Letters, 2024, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 in

LOYAL is proud to present Fallen Scale, Zoé Blue M.’s first solo exhibition with the gallery and her first in Europe. Eight paintings revolving around Shinto mythology feature Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess and Ame-no-Uzume, the Japanese goddess of dawn, mirth, and arts. The paintings are presented in Loyal’s ground floor exhibition space, originally designed by famed Swedish architect Hans Asplund in the 1950’s. Fallen Scale, unfolds a tale of crisis, cycles, and balance framed by myth and a sense of place and identity. Shintoism is the indigenous spirituality of Japan, centered around kami—the spirits or deities associated with the natural world and ancestors. It is a vital part of Japanese culture, emphasizing the deep connection between humans, nature, and the divine. Shinto myth is populated with both the feminine and masculine, yet Blue M. chooses to paint only female figures in this exhibition, claiming space for an urgent story of femininity that transcends time and culture. Swedish architecture is also present throughout the exhibition, drawing direct references to Asplund’s designs throughout Sweden, placing the series of paintings in conversation with their Scandinavian context. Paired with elements of modernity such as contemporary clothing and electricity, this classic Shinto tale is transformed into an archetypal and modern-day myth.

Amaterasu and the Heavenly Cave

Amaterasu is the goddess of the sun in Japanese mythology and the chief deity in the Shinto pantheon. One day, Amaterasu’s brother, the storm god, wreaked havoc by destroying her rice fields, desecrating her sacred palace, and causing the death of one of her attendants. His violent behavior deeply offended and terrified Amaterasu, causing her retreat into a cave, the Heavenly Rock Cave. The world, without the illumination of the sun, fell into darkness. In order to lure Amaterasu out of hiding and restore sunlight and order to the world, the gods staged a festival with song, dance, and decorations outside the cave’s entrance. Ame-no-Uzume, the goddess of dawn, mirth, and arts performed a comical and erotic dance, causing the other gods to laugh. Amaterasu, surprised the gods could show such merriment in her absence, called out and questioned their festivities. Ame-no-Uzume responded, explaining they were celebrating the appearance of another god greater than Amaterasu. Curious, the sun goddess peaked out of the cave and was met with her reflection in a mirror the gods had strategically placed outside the cave. Amaterasu believed her reflection was the greater god they spoke of and approached the mirror, emerging from the cave. The gods immediately sealed the cave’s entrance, preventing Amaterasu’s retreat. Thus light and balance was restored to the world.

Lunacy: Unrolling Letters is the first painting visible when entering Loyal, and that’s important. Inspired by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s ukiyo-e series “One Hundred Aspects of the Moon”, the painting captures a female figure descending a winding staircase. She is encircled by an unfurling scroll that floats in a delicate wisp. The scroll holds the tale of the woman holding it and foreshadows the story of what is to come throughout the rest of the exhibition, a slice of destiny. Akin to Japanese prints, manga, and anime, the females in each painting in the exhibition don similar attributes. The woman, girl, god, human featured here could be the same as those pictured throughout the exhibition, or not; what matters is what she represents: time collapsed, identity, and intergenerational cycles. The spiraling staircase, modeled after Hans Asplund’s design for Eslöv Civic Hall, reinforces this loop and folds time and space. The figure’s casual clothing, notably modern with red and white checkered pants and a loose mustard colored t-shirt, places myth in our time and posits the questions of what it looks like to be a god in modern times. A metallic fox settled in the background symbolizes the goddess Ame-no-Uzume, anticipating her crucial arrival in alternate paintings in the show and points to Blue M.’s characteristic use of semi-hidden elements layered with meaning, something to watch for.

Not Listening is the second painting seen when walking into the main exhibition space. Here we see Amaterasu in modern times. What else would the sun goddess be today but an electrician? She’s not so holy now. She and a friend scale an electrical pole fitted in billowing skirts and cheetah boots, midriffs bare, they are unfit for electrical work but they don’t seem to care. Both girls survey their surroundings in ease, this is before the goddess is driven to take refuge in a cave thanks to her brother’s destructive behavior. Colorful kites fill a bright blue sky. This is the only painting where the presence of others is clear, the kites are flown by a crowd below communing with the girls above. Kites are known tools of exchange; the design, color, and manner of flying kites can communicate cultural stories or messages during festivals. They can also act as a link between the terrestrial (human) and celestial (divine). The insignias on the kites offer another layer of communication. The Japanese character for Blue glides by in white blocks, while neighboring kites sport the brands of Blue M.’s friends. This detail personalizes and humanizes.

In Drawn In, the sun goddess has retreated to the Heavenly Rock Cave. She’s all alone. Tears stream down her face as she reads a scrambled version of the scrolls from Lunacy: Unrolling Letters. She’s re-examining her story, her life, one that she’s stuck in and continues to play out in the surrounding paintings. This space is both lighter and more ornate than the dark and damp cave we typically envision. But this is the sun goddess; her luminosity floods her surroundings, weaving patterns of light throughout the cave. A gauzy purple barrier lifted by green ribbons is met by a stairway covered by shrubbery, there’s no way in. Here, the cave is reinterpreted as a breezeway, one that is well known to Stockholmers. It follows the same design as the functionalist, brutalist gem of a parking garage “Parkaden”, designed by Hans Asplund in 1963 for the iconic turn-of-the-century department store Nordiska Kompaniet (NK) in central Stockholm, again connecting this series of paintings with their exhibited context. A katori senko or mosquito coil rests in the corner of the shelter, burning a mosquito repellent incense. The smoke from incense is said to call back ancestors and break down boundaries between here and the beyond. The fact the sun goddess is burning a katori senko points to her humanness. Her flesh can still fall victim to the mosquito.

In The Great Persuader, another name for Ame-no-Uzume or The Heavenly alarming female, the goddess tears off her clothes, causing her fellow kami to laugh and Amaterasu’s eventual exit from hiding. This is the moment and considered a foundational myth for Kagura, a traditional Japanese performance or dance meaning “God-entertainment”. It is intended to honor the kami and can evoke a trance-like state of mystical communion with them, symbolizing the power of dance and revelry to connect with the divine. Here, Ame-no-Uzume is portrayed as a girl in bovine boots and knee high socks lifting her pleated blue skirt to flash her girlfriends. These girls wear what Blue M. and her friends wear, again bridging divine and human and evoking cyclical time. A brick wall borders the scene, indigo leaves drift through an apocalyptic sky, marking the sun goddess’s absence. This painting is all about Ame-no-Uzume, it’s up to her, the goddess of dawn, a master of merry-making, humor, and dance, to restore order to the world. It’s her positive ingenuity that brings the sun back into the world, saving the earth from eternal night.

In the Mirror depicts a child sitting on a woman’s back, peeking over her shoulder at the path ahead, a daidai perched atop the child’s head. The daidai signifies Kagami Mochi, a traditional Japanese New Year decoration consisting of two round mochi stacked on top of each other, with a daidai (a Japanese bitter orange) placed on top. This decoration is an offering to the gods, symbolizing prosperity and the continuity of family. The brick wall from The Great Persuader reappears here, but this time with a gaping circle to the sky. The circle resembles a mirror or sun, and the baby’s placement directly before it suggests she is the child of the sun goddess. In the myth of the Heavenly Rock Cave, Amaterasu exited her hiding place to find a mirror, her reflection. Blue M. cleverly reinterprets this moment by swapping the mirror from the myth for the goddess’s child, another form of reflection. The daidai on the baby’s head signifies her divinity and the prosperity that will follow when the sun goddess emerges from the cave, ensuring the continuity of her lineage and the world at large.
Fallen Scale is the story of Amaterasu and the Heavenly Cave, but it is also the story of a friend helping a friend out of a dark place through a simple act of joy. It is about community support, something that is often absent from Shinto myth and the world we live in. It is about cross-cultural communion; the sun plays a special role, the special role as the most important god (not only goddess) in the Shinto pantheon. The sun is similarly important in Norse mythology, Sámi tradition, and in Sweden as a land of midnight sun, especially as mid-summer, the longest day of the year draws near. Overall, Fallen Scale is a modern-day myth transcending place, time, and culture.

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