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.
Until 28 July, 2018