Marina Zurkow

RacoonNation, from the series Zoöpolis, 2010 | Mesocosm (Times Square, NY), 2014

RacoonNation, from the series Zoöpolis, 2010 

The modern city offers a habitat to both humans and animals. Yet humans have strongly curtailed animal life in the city: pets live close to people while vermin are kept out of sight and wild animals are kept out. Rejecting this restrictive spatialisation of species, RacoonNation seeks to imagine the city as a space of shared animality, an ecosystem capable of supporting the lives, pleasures, and freedoms not only of its human citizens but also of an expanded population of members of other species. Marina Zurkow presents this new urban reality by mounting enormous billboards with images of racoons on images of New York City taken from Google Street View.


Zurkow asserts that the dream of ‘back to nature’, i.e., as far as possible from the city, is a thing of the past. That ideal has now found a home in the metropolis, in a city with vertical gardens, farmhouses on rooftops, etc. In this project she wants to expose the irony and danger of that other, biblical, prophecy in which the wolf dwells peacefully with the lamb. RacoonNation confronts us directly with the differences between species, with the laws of predation and self-preservation, and with the resulting competition and violence. Zoöpolians must coexist with coyotes and deer, run with the wolves and swim with the trout. In short: they must learn to live with the new reality. According to Zurkow, the changed landscape challenges us to create new rules.


Mesocosm (Times Square, NY), 2014

Mesocosm (Times Square, NY) is an algorithmic animation depicting the passage of time in a speculative, hybrid Times Square, New York. On screen, one day lasts 12 minutes, and a whole year passes in 73 hours. No cycle is identical, as the appearance and behaviour of the human and non-human characters, along with changes in the weather, are determined by a code using a simple probability equation: seasons unfold, days pass, moons rise and set, while animals, people, and weather come and go.


The work is presented as a triptych on three screens, loosely based on Hieronymus Bosch’s  Garden of Earthly Delights: Eden before The Fall, a crowded but pleasurable Present, and finally Hell. The animation contains images gathered from Google Street View, pictures of present-day architecture, and allusions to geographic terrain prior to the city’s development, with forests, green hills, and rivers. Populating the left screen are animals that thrived on ‘Manahatta’ before the arrival of Europeans, in what was, reportedly, an ecological paradise. Flowing towards the middle screen, the animals no longer appear wild, having been replaced by today’s tame animals represented by chickens, pigs, horses, goats and civilized people (naked joggers). The right screen shows a future lacking even this domesticated type of nature: a new urban environment populated by drones, plush mascots, Hello Kittys, M&M avatars and other trophies from our consumer culture, as well as rats, cockroaches and the ever-present pigeons.


The artists remind us that in 18th-century Europe, the New World was marketed to investors and pioneers as an ‘Eden’ promising vast capital, access, and freedom, in the form of limitless resources. Today, in the 21st century, we have started to realise there are limits to growth. Which is why Times Square here takes on the guise of, as Zurkow phrases it, ‘a dystopian and dynamic present-day Eden, whose resources and capital are visited by throngs of “pilgrims” in a quest to partake in the abstracted, virtual, dazzling and unattainable flows of desire and wealth.’


The pleasant present has reached its limits. The time has come for a new paradise.

 

Marina Zurkow (1962, United States) is a multidisciplinary artist based in New York City who builds animations and participatory environments that centre on human beings and their relationship to animals, plants, and the weather. Through experiencing her projects, it becomes clear that nature has long been a stage upon which we project ourselves, making ourselves the other. Her work spans gallery installations and unconventional public participatory projects. She uses life science, biomaterials, animation, dinners, and software technologies to foster intimate connections between people and non-human agents. Engaging audiences through her films and videos, sculptures, print graphics and public interventions, Zurkow’s work is by turns humorous and contemplative. 

Marina Zurkow 

RacoonNation, from the series Zoöpolis, 2010 

Photocollage, 130 x 81,21 cm 

In collaboration with: Una Chaudhuri S

upported by: NYU Visual Arts Initiative Award 

Courtesy bitforms gallery, New York 


Marina Zurkow 

Mesocosm (Times Square, NY), 2014 

Software-driven animation, 73-hour year-long cycle (never repeats) 

Animators: Marina Zurkow, Sarah Rothberg 

Software developer: Sam Brenner 

Sound: Lem Jay Ignacio and Marina Zurkow 

Additional software: Yotam Mann

Commissioned by The Museum of Biblical Art, New York

Courtesy bitforms gallery, New York