Less than a week before most states began issuing shelter-in-place orders, artist Marina Zurkow was giving tours of her latest exhibition at bitforms gallery in New York City. “Wet Logic,” a two-person show featuring works by Zurkow and Sarah Rothberg, explores a model of the world organized according to a wet, oceanic ideology rather than a dry, land-based paradigm, presenting a series of systems that further human connection to oceans by way of action and imagination. The title of Zurkow’s animation series, Oceans Like Us, uses pun and metaphor to express a desire for the ocean to love us.
Today, Zurkow is living and working in isolation on the campus of Bennington College, where she is both teaching and taking classes. “It’s a challenge to get students to interact on Zoom, and for us all not to go as flat as the screen” she says. “This morning, we started class with a guided meditation from Dear Climate (the collective I’m part of), which seemed to stress them out; they are still shy online.” While Zurkow is currently missing much of the equipment she uses to make her video sculptures, immersive environments, and participatory projects, she shared the “botchjob collages” she has been making, along with her new Climoji https://www.climoji.org app, which will be available this summer for people to use as they express concern with global climate crises. The gathering at bitforms on March 6 was celebratory, interactive, and multi-sensory: surrounded by images of oceanic life on the walls and video screens, guests sat on the floor and sipped “algaeritas” prepared by the artist (yum!) while taking in the imagery of the rhythms and lifeforms of the ocean, as well as of the proliferation of toxic plastics, and of the technological instruments used to measure and monitor the oceans.
“While projects like the pop-up ASMR dinners I am working on with Hank and Bean, and the Helsinki Biennial are now delayed due to COVID-19, I continue to research and develop work on the virtual ocean imaginary,” says Zurkow. “I want to bring an oozy quality to the visual, the auditory, the edible.” The artist explains that her interest in the intersection of art, science, commerce and technology stems from her commitment to ecological justice, which differs, she says, from environmentalism. “Environmental justice centers on us, on humans. Ecological justice is a multi-species perspective; it’s about addressing the health, the rights, of all species including the human species.” In closing, Zurkow shared a fascinating podcast, “Shaking the Viral Tree,” which explores and explains the history of zoonotic viruses, and the role that human and commercial expansion have played in the current crisis:
In this interview, science writer David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, speaks about the root causes underlying the current pandemic and explores the ways in which viruses are embedded in the same systems of ecology and evolutionary biology that we are. As we disrupt wild ecosystems and shake these viruses free, COVID-19 offers an opportunity to reimagine our relationship with the natural world.
How do you situate your practice in the context of the current moment?
This month, in response to the ongoing murders of black people by the police, the uprising among most sensible people in the US and around the world in response to systemic racism that manifests in the power structures and sad mindsets that “govern” us, and catalyzed by the brutal murder of George Floyd, I have been co-facilitating some powerful online workshops under the title “Investing in Futures: Beyond the Police.” Using the cards I co-created with artist Sarah Rothberg, and catalyzed by Afrofuturist Ashley Jane Lewis and new media maker Lydia Jessup (2020 ITP/NYU graduates), we have been inviting primarily black creative individuals to participate in 3 hour zoom workshops to imagine a future beyond policing. We draw constraints from a deck of possible future cards (for instance from categories like Government, Personal Communication, Living Conditions, Education, Climate), and respond to prompts that imagine conflict, in order to work through a future we’d all want to live in. We have been indebted to the imagination and structures offered to us by creative worker and organizer Neta Bomani, who has been designing effective prompts and modifying our card deck to accurately and poetically capture both current conditions and future possibles.
Workshop information here
Investing in Futures information here
I am thinking hard about ways to overtly connect systemic racism, class inequity, ecological justice and climate chaos. That should manifest in the teams, audiences, and outputs we make.
About the Artist:
Marina Zurkow is a media artist focused on near-impossible nature and culture intersections, researching “wicked problems” like invasive species, superfund sites, and petroleum interdependence. She has used life science, bio materials, animation, dinners and software technologies to foster intimate connections between people and non-human agents. Her work spans gallery installations and unconventional public participatory projects. Currently, she is working on connecting toxic urban waterways to oceans, and researching the tensions between maritime ecology and the ocean’s primary human use as a capitalist Pangea.
Recent solo shows include Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, bitforms gallery, NY, Montclair Museum of Art, and Diverseworks, Houston, and exhibitions at Sundance New Frontiers, FACT, Liverpool, SF MoMA, Walker Art Center; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Wave Hill, NY, and the National Museum for Women in the Arts. She has collaborated with Social Science and Humanities scholars at Rice University, New York University, and the University of Minnesota. Zurkow is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, and received grants from NYFA, NYSCA, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Creative Capital. Marina Zurkow’s video sculpture, MORE&MORE (the invisible oceans): India, 2016, is included in a 21c traveling exhibition, Labor & Materials.