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Praxis Makes Perfect | No Rest for the Teaching Artist

The end of the calendar year marks the beginning of winter break in academia. For me, it has been tough juggling an academic residency with my creative endeavors, so I let out a big sigh of relief after classes ended. And then I went right back to work. This period is critical, as it gives artists who have academic careers some time to pursue their own work. In recent weeks, I have been assisting two such artists: Marina Zurkow and Claude Wampler.

Marina Zurkow. “Mesocosm (Wink, Texas),” 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

I first worked with Marina years ago when I was her intern at Eyebeam. She later became my academic mentor, guiding me through the often treacherous lands of graduate school. But nothing we’ve done together compares to the past week of working as a two-person quilting bee. We’ve been finishing up Tyvek sculptures for her solo exhibition Necrocracy, which opens today at bitforms gallery in New York.

Marina Zurkow. “The Petroleum Manga,” 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Necrocracy features several of Marina’s works that explore the role of petrochemicals in our lives, in our environment, and in time itself. Debuting in this show is a set of soft sculptures that look like body bags for humans, dogs, cats, and other animals. They are made of Tyvek and printed with images of oil-derived products that we use every day, such as plastic bags, food containers, and credit cards. Designed to look something like sarcophagi, the bags are stuffed with regrind plastic, which gives the illusion that each bag actually holds a dead creature.

Yours truly constructing a body bag for dogs.

In preparation, Marina reviewed with me a detailed Illustrator file, containing exact dimensions and the placement of her patterns. Although Tyvek is the most durable material I’ve ever sewn with, it was also more precious than others because we had a limited supply. One thing I learned from this experience is to create prototypes until you’re certain that you can achieve what you want, especially when materials are scarce. Luckily, the final result was very similar to her specifications. Everything went swimmingly. Well, there was one snafu. I managed to finish an entire cat body bag and not notice until much later that I had accidentally cut off its ear.

A body bag for cats prototype.

After dropping off the final body bag at bitforms, I literally crossed the street and entered The Kitchen to join a production meeting with Claude Wampler, Amelia Saul, John Tremblay, organist Mitch Margold, curator Matthew Lyons, and production manager Zack Tinkelman. We were preparing for Claude’s N’a pas un gramme de charisme, premiering later this month.

Claude Wampler. “PERFORMANCE (career ender),” 2006-2010. Courtesy of the artist.

Sorry but the details stop here. Claude won’t let me breathe a word about the video work that I’ll be showing as part of N’a pas un gramme de charisme. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a leak here or there–we do live in the age of blogging and sharing. I honestly can’t give out a single fact. Okay, maybe I can give you a clue: the scene below may or may not happen live.

Marina Zurkow: Necrocracy is on view at bitforms gallery through February 16, 2013. Opening Reception: Thursday, Jan. 10, 6-8:30pm.

Claude Wampler: N’a pas un gramme de charisme premiers at The Kitchen on January 31 and runs through February 2, 2013.

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