Marina Zurkow’s art explores the oceanic pressures and distortions that have become tangible in our age of climate disruption and global capitalism. She draws on the ideas many of the same scholars and thinkers that I do, including Phil Steinberg and Kimberly Peters’ great essay “Wet Ontologies” and the works of Stacy Alaimo, Una Chaudhuri, Stefan Helmreich, and many others. I contributed to Marina’s More & More project in 2016, and she contributed to my Oceanic New York in 2015.
For all those reasons I was especially excited to see her new gallery show, Wet Logic, produced in collaboration with Sarah Rothberg, at bitforms gallery on the Lower East Side Thursday. It was stranger and more lingering that I had thought it would be. I’m still processing it, and I’m hoping to go back. How can we live in this world of broken and overflowing oceans? I glimpsed some parts of some answers that afternoon.
One of my favorite things about this show is how little it relies on language. I’m word-obsessed and mostly live inside phrases, syntax, and other linguistic genre-systems. A visual show like this one can be difficult for me to access or engage with — but that’s the fun part. It’s helpful to be pushed away from the tools I usually use.
The first element of the show is Zurkow’s Accretions, reprised from 2016. These silk-screens on cardboard boxes represent, =”propositions for sculptural masses,” or perhaps resonant objects from our present or future. Each cardboard square has one or several four-digit codes stamped onto it, which refer to the Harmonized System of the More & More project.
Toilet Joke 1, a collaboration between Zurkow and Rothberg in 2020, shows a toilet overflowing with plastic pellets in which float a cracked iphone, playing a video of the surf: “the ocean virtualized.” Invitation to a slow-moving future?
I wasn’t able to fit the virtual reality goggles onto my too-big cranium, so I can’t describe Sarah Rothberg’s Water without Wet — but maybe some commentary will be forthcoming.
The heart of the exhibition features six screens of different sizes cycling through Zurkow’s Oceans Like Us animations. Overflowing with shapes and figures that include humans, mermaids, jellyfish, kelp, dancing otters, “nervous squiggles” and many more, these video animations — Zurkow titles them “Love Me,” “Milkcrate Plastisphere” and “Bow Null” — present an alien, enticing, startling, and deeply disorienting ocean. Sitting amid the screens feels like swimming in the ocean, in that it overloads the senses, pushes against the imagination, and leaves you unknowing but inspired.
I spent my time immersed in the screens thinking many different things, often about water’s polarity and its capacity to serve as “universal solvent,” the fluid that renders all things into their pieces. Oil and plastic appeared to displace the fishes and humans from their spaces at the centers of the ocean-screen. Mechanical images cross-hatched coral and plant life. Can the ocean be big enough — harmonized enough — to contain all these things? (In the front room of the gallery, the clogged and overflowing toilet joke kept its unmoving answer.)
The last piece in the show, Study for Toilet Joke II, also produced jointly by Zurkow and Rothberg, features a whirlpool eddy “suspended in an infinite flush,” inside a goldfish bowl. Its wet motion frames the plastic stillness and virtuality of Toilet Joke I on the other side of the gallery. Which future is our future? The neverending flush or the plastic stasis? Both, maybe?
I’m hoping to get back for more immersion in the screen-oceans. You should too! Get down to Allen St before it closes on March 15!