Marina Zurkow

Women and Their Work, Austin

Through May 27, 2010
by Lee Webster

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      Marina Zurkow
      Video still from Slurb
      Single channel video
      Courtesy of the artist and Women and Their Work

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      Artist Marina Zurkow spent three years addressing issues of climate change in her work. Now she is finished with this topic, she told the audience at a recent panel discussion held in conjunction with the exhibition of her piece Slurb (2009) at Women and Their Work. After three years of wrestling with these issues, Zurkow explained, she looked at the parade of dismal ideas and images and felt they weren’t moving her towards any greater understanding or action. She had the nagging feeling she was only “trafficking in the apocalypse,” adding to a glut of imagery in the media that capitalizes on our fascination with the End Time. However, with crude oil currently gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of thousands of barrels a day, Slurb feels far from exploitative. It heralds a frightening future in which humans live on obliviously, for better or worse, in the face of drastic and irreversible climate change.

      Zurkow’s 18-minute video loop is a meditation on life, post cataclysmic environmental change. A flooded city drifts by, populated by a cast of animals, humans, hybrids and fantastical characters, each in its own eternal loop, some deftly rowing boats and others precariously balancing atop submerged trailers. The edges of the candy-colored animated figures squiggle and vibrate in the manner of hand-drawn animation, and yet their repeated motions are uncannily life-like. Zurkow has pulled each of these figures from YouTube videos and stock-footage websites, using search criteria like “societies that live on water” or “sad.” Slurb’s endless loop is reminiscent of the repeated imagery of this past decade’s 24-hour news feed. The action gently rises and falls, sometimes lulling you into a bewildered immobility and other times churning your stomach with the uncomfortable realization that this is all actually happening while you’re just sitting there.

      The City of Tampa, Florida commissioned Slurb for a public art biennial in 2009, and the drowned city floating by in the piece is made up of Tampa’s sky scrapers, bridges, and pristine suburbs. When asked how the piece was received by Tampans, Zurkow observed that it had little resonance with the people of the city, with one viewer casually remarking, “Hey, that’s my office building!”

      This kind of response gets at the crux of the issue for Zurkow: is it possible that trafficking in the apocalypse only increases the distance of an inevitable but far-off future? If people don’t see themselves when they see their office buildings flooded and floating along in the polluted stew that was their city, what will drive home the fact that climate change will affect each and every American? Slurb walks the fine line of all political art, successfully staying away from the didactic and preachy. Though it won’t spur every viewer to action, it gives us all a meditative space to imagine a world we’ve begun to glimpse through the natural disasters of recent years, and 18 minutes to consider whether we could cut it in that not-so-distant future.

      Slurb may be viewed online here.

      Lee Webster is an artist living and working in Austin.

      + 1 Comment
      Brandon Durham
      May 31, 2010 | 9:46am

      YES! I love Marina Zurkow! Long time fan.

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