Amanda Mar­burg – Naomi Rid­dle

Art Almanac - - Contents - Naomi Rid­dle

In Amanda Mar­burg’s paint­ing Death and the Goose Boy (2015), an over­sized goose-fig­ure walks across rocky ter­rain, set against a deep blue back­ground. A sin­gle beady eye perched atop an an­gu­lar orange beak stares out at the viewer as two hu­man legs pro­trude from its neck – sup­plant­ing torso and arms. It’s a sur­real dream­scape with the feel of a dark Grimm fairy-tale, but there’s some­thing else to be be found in the ren­der­ing of this scene. The con­struc­tion of the an­thro­po­mor­phic bird is al­most car­toon­ish, with the en­tire land­scape painted in such a way that it feels like it has the con­sis­tency of Play-Doh. You’re drawn to the tac­til­ity of this un­canny dio­rama – a strange sense of soft­ness pre­sented in two-di­men­sional form.

Un­der­ly­ing Mar­burg’s artis­tic prac­tice is a process of dis­tanc­ing. Firstly, she sorts through pho­to­graphs, footage and found ob­jects – stills from movies and ar­chives, or ref­er­ences to the land­scape around her home and stu­dio in Mel­bourne. Such source ma­te­rial is used to fash­ion a se­ries of brightly coloured three-di­men­sional plas­ticine mod­els, which are then pho­tographed against a stu­dio back­drop. In a fi­nal move, these images are painstak­ingly recre­ated in oil on can­vas: sculp­tural forms dis­tilled in paint.

Such a lengthy process im­plies that the fi­nal paint­ing ex­ists as the doc­u­men­ta­tion of a con­cealed du­ra­tional per­for­mance. Each new stage of Mar­burg’s process cre­ates a tem­po­ral gap; it be­comes the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the in­ter­pre­ta­tion, with the ini­tial ref­er­ence point slip­ping away. Mar­burg is en­gag­ing in a kind of flat­ten­ing, a re­duc­tion or dis­til­la­tion of the com­plex image, and it’s in this act of flat­ten­ing that the po­tency of an oth­er­worldly scene comes to the fore. There’s hu­mour at work here too, a sense of ir­rev­er­ence and play in com­bin­ing the do­mes­tic, in­fan­tile feel of plas­ticine with the revered tra­di­tion of oil paint­ing.

For her lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion at Sut­ton Gallery, Mar­burg con­tin­ues to en­gage with sculp­ture and paint­ing in a se­ries of works gen­er­ated from plas­ticine mod­els. The show ref­er­ences an eclec­tic group of ideas – dogs, the land­scape of Hang­ing Rock and pic­tures of the scenes of true crime – but the con­sis­tency of Mar­burg’s process, and the whim­si­cal na­ture of the com­po­si­tions, brings these dis­parate themes to­gether. In this in­stance, it is the dog that acts as the cen­tral uni­fy­ing image.

Mar­burg of­ten em­ploys an­i­mal im­agery, whether that be roost­ers, geese, crows or mice, and here the dog brings with it mul­ti­ple sym­bolic mean­ings: loyal, hard work­ing, sweet and com­pan­ion­able, but when viewed as a pack, po­ten­tially threat­en­ing and vi­cious (think of the

many politi­cians who re­fer to their me­dia spokes­peo­ple as ‘at­tack dogs’). Re­cently, a num­ber of artists and writ­ers have drawn on per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with their pet ca­nines to think through ideas of trauma, grief and mem­ory, such as Lau­rie An­der­son’s doc­u­men­tary film Heart of a Dog (2015) and Eileen Myles’ ‘dog-mem­oir’ After­glow (2017). Mar­burg is ref­er­enc­ing this par­tic­u­lar tra­di­tion of re­po­si­tion­ing our­selves in the minds of an­i­mals, bring­ing it in line with her own sense of play and won­der to forge a less hu­man-cen­tric vi­sion of the world.

Naomi Rid­dle is a Syd­ney-based writer and artist.

Sut­ton Gallery Un­til 28 July, 2018


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