The fluidity of catastrophe
Houston artist Marina Zurkow's 2009 video piece has renewed relevance in light of oil spill
Houston artist Marina Zurkow couldn't have known how prescient her mesmerizing animated film 'Slurb,' now on exhibit at Women & Their Work, would read with a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico currently grabbing headlines.
Originally commissioned for a 2009 Tampa, Fla., arts festival - yes, created for a city on the Gulf of Mexico, speaking of prescient - the 18-minute continuous loop with an ambient electronic pop-inspired soundtrack (by Lem Jay Ignacio) paints a picture of a post-apocalyptic future world that's been destroyed by some sort of alluvial pollution-triggered catastrophe.
In Zurkow's vocabulary, 'Slurb' is combination of 'suburb' and 'slime.' And in this flooded new world - projected movie-screen large in the gallery - remnants of a civilization float by. Or really we float by it: 'Slurb' unfolds leftward like a slowly unrolling Chinese scroll. It's a leisurely though compelling 360-degree tour through a landscape - a waterscape? - that's both familiar and not.
Intensely colorful, 'Slurb' is populated by an eccentric cast of characters.
Zurkow created her oddballs from video clips she found online and elsewhere. She culled footage of traditional Southeast Asian aquaculture and commerce - the flat boats and floating house communities of Cambodia and Thailand, for example. From YouTube, Zurkow selected clips from a preacher competition. And searching under the keyword 'sad' from online stock footage archives, she found arresting moments of people in deep grief.
Zurkow also plucked news images of half-destroyed elevated highways, deluged downtowns and half-submerged cars - from Hurricane Katrina coverage? - for background elements.
Using all these found visuals as a template, Zurkow crafted them into her own fluid hand-drawn images, saturating everything in a simple palette of bright colors.
The cataclysm in 'Slurb' has already occurred. And yet the inhabitants of this strange world seem caught in a moment of suspended anticipation, locked in their endlessly repeated moments, yet waiting for the next event.
A child preacher evangelizes from atop a flooded trailer home. Asian women slowly propel their flat open boats through watery piles of tires. A couple left wearing nothing but T-shirts sob together as the float by in a simple rowboat.
Flittering among all these people is a wholly other cast of freaks - larger-than life insects and sea creatures, mermaids with almost fluorescent skin tones and half-human, half-amphibian mutant beings. They too are endlessly locked in repeated gestures - ceaselessly dancing, diving, waving.
Hypnotizing with its gentle movement, playful and friendly with its hand-drawn style and vivid colors, 'Slurb' is nevertheless a dirge, an elegy to a destroyed world.
Would that every environmental cautionary tale be rendered so beautifully.
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays through May 27.
Where: Women & Their Work, 1710 Lavaca St.