Natural Histories: Deborah M. Carroll Anzinger

A closer look at Deborah Anzinger’s work in the Natural Histories Exhibition:

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Instability is a major theme in much of Deborah Anzinger’s recent work. In both Gone and Lizard Anzinger uses images of nature as a means to reference anxieties around the instability of life- which she experiences as an“urgent sense of mortality”. This is paralleled with an anxiety around representation, which is always dual in so far as it is both the thing it represents and not. The word “tree” is a tree- in so far as it signifies one- and at the same time is not a tree in so far as it is only a four-letter word.

In Gone the thick, almost sculptural rendering of the words makes the text at once tactile and symbolic, their duality as signs is made visible through their excessive physicality. Similarly, the photograph floating in the corner is from a visit to her family’s rural farmland in Maroon Town, Jamaica; the figures in the image are Anzinger’s sister and two friends coming out of a cave. The image is completely un-moored, out of context, and like the words, made to bear both what it represents (the memory of “back” then/there) and its unstable status as image, capable of being made to mean many things and/or nothing. Taken together, the work stages an interrogation of representation at the level of form, and an interrogation of the concept of“belonging”at the level of content.

In Lizard (the video piece to be found in the next room), the ethereality of nature and looming mortality are again the focus. As in Gone, this is paralleled with an anxiety around the unstable sign. The video seems to perform the instability of the sign“lizard”. A feared creature for many Jamaicans including Anzinger, the lizard is here transformed by natural processes into a sad carcass of little interest to anyone, and further transmutated into art object by abrupt infusions of a distinctly synthetic yellow. In the artist’s own words, the work is“an oscillation between tactile physical experience and representative language”.


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