The Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey has just expanded its collection to include more contemporary artists. The first artist to show in this “New Direction” series is Marina Zurkow, a Brooklyn artist focused on digital animation. The show is entitled “Friends, Enemies, and Others,” and it talks about a number of current issues - mainly that of the environment, human’s and animal’s relationship with it, and the global implications of these relationships.
When you first walk into the exhibit you are met with two of Zurkow’s animations, linked by aesthetic, color, and this unshakable- uneasy feeling. They are Zurkow’s Slurb and Weights and Measures. Slurb depicts a flooded post-apocalyptic Florida. Whether its flooded by means of climate change, we are unsure. Figures are trying to get around this flooded and hazy world trying to dodge submerged cars and rocks along the way. The world is sad and the ambient music is creepy. A little boy preaches atop a car and no one listens, the fat lady from the carnival is showing off but no one is watching. The world is a lonely and uncomfortable place.
Weights and Measures is a relatively short loop that shows plankton, elephants, and airplanes sharing the same marine ecosystem. All three do not belong together in this shared space, yet all three contribute to the environment in some way. Plankton provide necessary food to larger fish, elephants are helpful in converting the Savannah to grasslands, and airplanes aide in our transportation but ultimately account for 11% of the CO2 emissions. While these “creatures” don’t belong here, they’re interacting in an interesting way as the plankton are drifting, the elephants are swimming (surprisingly floating) and the jumbo jets are sinking to the bottom.
Next in the exhibit, are a group of letterpress prints - “Friends and Enemies.” Zurkow had gone over to England in order to broaden her perspectives on the world’s environment, not just her own. She created a series that continues along in the same light as the others - animals’ affect on the environment. Or more specifically, invasive species. These animals are shown on English Heraldic Crests. Through symbolism, they describe a certain species of animal, how they contribute to their ecosystem, what harm they do, who their enemies are, and who would consider them an enemy. At first it doesn’t seem like these pieces jive with the other animated pieces in the exhibit. It was almost easy to walk past them while on the way to another animation. I stopped at these last and grew a new appreciation for them when I took the time to read the accompanied charts and descriptions of each print.
Lastly, within the (indoors) exhibit, was Zurkow’s most fascinating work, Mesocosm. Before entering the screening room, large stills were shown on the walls to depict the four distinct seasons that take place within the film. The animation runs at 146 hours long playing on a loop. One minute of the film is relatively equal to about one hour of real time. The animation is of a larger man coming into a smaller frame from the surrounding black void. He takes a seat upon a stump, facing away from us, and watches the world go by. He sits through the different seasons as different animals come in and out and the landscape takes on new forms. The action within the animation is coded randomly based on the probability of certain events occurring. Not even the artist knows what will happen to the environment over the course of time. Maybe a squirrel will appear, or maybe a bird will swoop in. Either way, as the man sits still, the environment starts to affect him - as man has been affecting it all this time. The animals start to pick and eat at his flesh. He almost becomes one with this land as the animals interact with him and his body.
Ultimately, the Zurkow show at the Montclair Art Museum was a success. I applaud them for including an artist working in digital media and one who is concerned with the state of the environment. She raises pressing matters and issues that shouldn’t be ignored beautifully with simplicity and ease. I believe this is a step in the right direction for the museum.