Molly Markow: #abovetheclouds
By: Edward Breitweiser
April 3, 2019
Bio: Molly Markow is an interdisciplinary artist born and raised in Loveland, CO. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wyoming and is currently pursuing an MFA from Illinois State University. Her work spans sculpture, installation, collage, and photography.
She currently lives and works in Bloomington, IL.
She is interested in the collision of landscape and representation with purity politics, longing, and escape. She critiques the role of idealized depictions of landscape and questions how images shape notions of paradise, desire, and fantasy. Who benefits from ideas of paradise, and who doesn’t? She asks these questions while searching for a way to embrace impurity and the beauty in contamination. How might we come to an understanding of the post-pure that leaves room for joy?
has the sky fallen?, an exhibition of new works by Molly Markow, will be on display at the Center for Visual Arts, Gallery 110 at Illinois State University (Normal, IL) from April 2 to April 12, 2019. Gallery hours: T 1-6pm, W 1-4pm, Th 12-3pm, 4-6pm, F 12-4pm.
The first thing I noticed when I entered Molly Markow’s studio was a blanket-sized sheet of white, rip-stop nylon tent fabric printed with a repeating image of a box of Natural Light “Naturdays” strawberry-lemonade beer. With its radiant pastel colors and flamingo yard ornament, Anheuser-Busch’s is determined to make its so-bad-it’s-good-(but-probably-it’s-just-bad?) product go viral using any vaporwave-aesthetic means necessary. As if America’s flamingos don’t already have it hard enough,, the Naturdays box’s encoded message—The world may be falling apart, but just chill, esteemed member of the leisure class.—pulses with the subtlety of the Florida sun. Given its precision and scale, I assumed that Markow had acquired one of AB’s printer’s pre-press proofs, but Markow corrected me. The photograph was taken by Anthony Hamilton for an upcoming collaboration. “I printed it online,” she quips. “I have to sew it into a windsock soon. Hopefully it’ll blow in the wind!”
In her recent works, Markow skillfully balances scenes of sublime natural (or “natural”) beauty within the constraints of manufacture. These scenes—a white-sand beach with yawning palms, a fluorescent sunset bleeding across the horizon, a deep-green bed strewn with pillows of searing calendulas—provoke deeply-rooted physiological responses of the human subject in nature. But feelings of serenity, of tropical escape, or of wholistic unity (dasein, or being-in-the-world) are subverted by the infinite trappings of contemporary life: in Paradise (2018) the beach, printed on a Walmart shower curtain layered with a soft pink latex paint, is seen vaguely as rectangles where paint has not been applied, like disjointed pieces of an exploded puzzle. In Sun-baked (2019) the sunset, painted onto the plaster cast of the inside of a baking pan, is miniaturized to the size of a laptop that’s been rotated into portrait mode (Given the vitriol of online comments when an uploaded video is shot vertically instead of horizontally, imagine the response if the sunset did the same…). In Garden Party (2018) the calendulas are printed in mirroring repetition on satin, wrapped within concrete, and slashed with hyper-saturated spray paint to resemble a hand-sculpted gnome hat or parking cone.
Markow began working as a printmaker and photographer, and her gift for composition and subject matter has withstood recent excursions into three-dimensional works and installations. She enjoys playing within the history of representation, such as “unpacking the cliches of sunset photographs.” “In a critical context,” Markow said with a laugh, “[the phenomenon of taking photographs of the sky] can be such a cheesy thing, but I love to do it, and my photographer friends love to do it. So what is it that makes it so appealing, and what’s the implication of that?” Her larger works, such as #abovetheclouds #infinity #clouds_of_our_world #suns-spotters #sky #air #cloudporn #skylovers #skywatcher #nature #cloudlife #beautiful #skyview #visionclouds #cloudgazing #instacloud #smokescreensky (graciously abbreviated to #clouds) (2018), delight in the apparent subjective disconnect between our multi-sensory immersion in natural life and the flattened, ocular ingestion of a mediated image.
Borrowing the hashtagged, vertical-scrolling, digitally-flattened experiential syntax of Instagram and Tumblr, #clouds looms before you on an extra-human scale, but its construction feels precariously fragile. Replete with, as Markow says, “a vibrating-orange foot that says ‘caution’ or ‘danger”, #clouds simultaneously pushes us away with fear, and draws us in with curiosity. Upon close inspection, the printed scroll’s low resolution reveals itself to the eye. Citing Hito Steyerl’s “In Defense of the Poor Image” as an influence, Markow is upholding the seductive integrity of low-resolution imagery. In its synthesis of extreme scales, #clouds revives the Romantic notion that the sublime and the intimate are, in fact, one. It is a cheeky reminder that, thankfully, in the analog world, one cannot scroll forever and that the best experiences are still offline.
While Markow’s eye is guided by irony and humor, it’s not cynical. Rather, her collaged globally-supplied materials, playful high-viz punctuations, and immersive scales provide a blueprint for relishing the humor and beauty that remain in our fractured experience of life under advanced capital. By re-attuning our antennae, she reminds us that there is a subjective, unified life beyond materials—that laughter, joy, and sunlight keep us warm. Natural light, indeed.
This article is part of Sixty Regional, an ongoing initiative by Chicago-based arts publication Sixty Inches From Center which partners with artists, writers, and artist-run spaces throughout the Midwest and Illinois to highlight the artwork being produced across the region. This work is made possible through the support of Illinois Humanities, which is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Illinois General Assembly through the Illinois Arts Council Agency, as well as by contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations.
Edward Breitweiser is an Illinois-based artist, musician, and writer. Incorporating models from various intellectual traditions and bodies of knowledge, Breitweiser organizes particulars (software, electronics, audio/visual signals, text, networked distribution channels, improvisational music, performative activities) into arrangements whose products are the macro-result of the emergent interactions of all components at once.
His works have been presented at Festival MusicAlp (Courchevel, France); Network Music Festival (Birmingham, UK); the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago); Illinois State University Galleries (Normal, IL); MobileHCI (Stockholm); Salle Cortot (Paris); threewalls (Chicago); the Giorgio Cini Foundation (Venice); Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington, IL); the Fuse Factory (Columbus); and the McLean County Arts Center (Bloomington, IL).