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/ February 8, 2013
ITP Professor Marina Zurkow’s Environmental Art Comments On America’s Greatest Love Affair

America should give a box of chocolates and a big bouquet of roses to its one true love: oil. We use it in more things than we’d like to believe and it’s killing us (well, slowly).

Back in 2011, NYU’s own ITP Professor, multi-disciplinary media artist, and environmental activist, Marina Zurkow set off for the southern plains of the Llano Estacado in West Texas, where she worked on a research residency to see just what goes into extracting the liquid gold.Her findings and our national infatuation set the stage for her current show, Necrocracy at bitforms gallery in Chelsea. Zurkow talked with Local about her various prolific endeavors – more after the jump.

Marina Zurkow is an artist who consistently examines the relationship between mankind and the natural world. She takes a multifaceted approach to her work as she incorporates influences of new media, illustration, performance installations, and site-specific environmental research.

As an accomplished artist, her work has been displayed in places such as The Sundance Film Festival, The Rotterdam Film Festival, Res Fest, Ars Electronica, Creative Time, The Kitchen, The Walker Art Center, the Brooklyn Museum, The National Museum for Women in the Arts, Eyebeam, MTV, and PBS. She is a 2005 NYFA Fellow, a 2003 Rockefeller New Media Fellow, and a 2001 Creative Capital grantee, and is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow. Phew. Try saying that in one breath.

After meeting with a slew of experts, locals, workers and activists in Texas, her findings compiled into a timeline of oil and the culture and lifestyle surrounding petrochemical production. Her work also alludes to more controversial issues, such as fracking and the implications of a world in which we continue to slurp up oil as if there are free-refills.

Since petroleum is derived from the remains of dead organisms that perished millions of years ago, the name of the exhibit comments on our worship, dependence, and disturbance on these beings that are long-gone. These “zombies” are used to create plastics which will certainly outlive us. How’s that for questioning our mortality?

Necrocracy = the rule of the dead.

Don’t worry though, the exhibit is not morbid, we promise. In fact, it is quite peaceful. Visitors are greeted by images of “Petroleum Manga” that depict all kinds of seemingly random objects that have one thing in common: they are all petroleum derived. Around the corner, an animation displayed on a large screen in the cozy little gallery illuminates a dark room cornered by short little HazMat suited figures, Tyvek animals, and other small screens showing a soothing, but also daunting drill breaking through layers and years of sediment.

Aside from Necrocracy, Marina has been involved in some other interesting projects with members of the NYU community and has some other cool endeavors in the works. She answered a few questions for us about these undertakings:

NYU Local: Who are some other members of the NYU community you’ve collaborated with in the past?

Marina Zurkow: My colleague at ITP Daniel Shiffman collaborated with me on the drilling visualizations in the show at bitforms.

Una Chaudhuri (English, Animal Studies, Performance) [worked with me] on a 2010 Visual Arts Initiatives grant on a project called Zoöpolis (after Wolch’s essay of the same title). Fritz Ertl, Una Chaudhuri and I are working on a project now called Survival Challenges, looking at intersections of Buddhism, theatre, and philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s ideas on “becoming” to approach climate change from a less hysterical and apocalyptic standpoint.

Are you planning on any future works with these people? Anyone new involved with NYU?

Besides the current show at bitforms, I am planning a food event for the Rockaways in April with curator/write Michael Connor and chef Lauryn Tyrell. We are looking at the local ecosystem of the Rockaways post-Sandy and into the future, which includes the petroleum pipeline out there as well as marsh and littoral ecologies.

Are you incorporating any of your own artistic practice in the classes you are teaching in ITP?

I teach critical studio art classes with a focus on my research/practice interests:

Animal Studies, Science Studies (Bruno Latour) and Ecocritcism, and the creation of temporary public (and sometimes site-specific) art. One such class is “Animals, People and Those In-Between; and another is “ReNatured.”

Anything interesting your students are working on?

Mycoremediation in Gowanus; amplifying the surrounding waterways; communicating with bats using translation from high frequency sound; designer survivalist gear for the East Village set; liferafts.

Her next animated landscape takes place in Times Square and her goal is to create a dialog between artists and citizens on what lays ahead for us in the future. She is well on her way. 

Necrocracy runs at bitforms until February 16th. 

[Images viavia.]