Known for their provocative mixed-media sculptures, the Chapman brothers began their career with a series of works devoted to an aesthetic reconsideration of the art historical legacy of the Spanish master Francisco Goya. Using materials ranging from toy soldiers to department store mannequins, the Chapmans recreated a series of gruesome images from Goya’s Disasters of War etchings (1808-1814), an indictment of the atrocities committed by Napoleonic troops during their occupation of Spain.
In Year Zero the Chapmans revisit the scene of this crime, this time referencing a single etching from this series entitled Great Deeds–Against the Dead! While Goya’s image depicted the decapitation and dismemberment of three Spanish peasants, the Chapmans restate this horrific scene with genderless child mannequins that frolic in unknowing innocence, clothed only in standard-issue running shoes. Paradoxically, Year Zero evokes both the past and the future: a cut on one child’s knee suggests that the events depicted in Goya’s etching are yet to come, while a small piece of rope attached to the tree makes us think that the disasters have already taken place. It is this tension between the past and the present, between the history of art and the reality of the contemporary world, that the Chapmans so successfully exploit in their work.