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17 September 2019

THE LIZARD IS PRESENT: But Are We?

Melbourne Fringe Festival
Naarm/Melbourne
27 September 2019

 

Abromalizardvic premiering her work at Happenstance Festival, 2018.
Detail from Sir Anthony Van Dyck, A Lady of the Spencer Family, c.1633–8
Marina Abromalizardvic.

Artist. Innovator. Feminist. Lizard. Conversation-starter.

What can I say about Marina Abromalizardvic in a thousand words that can't be gleaned from spending even a few seconds in her presence? What could I attempt to articulate, that wouldn’t be dwarfed by the flood of unspoken understanding that one feels opposite her, gazing into a face that is both impossibly ancient to our ecosystem, yet completely new to the durational art scene.

It was less than a year ago, in late 2018, that Abromalizardvic premiered The Lizard Is Present at Happenstance Festival, bringing the powerful passivity of her durational work to the open air of the Merri Creek.

The core mechanics of the art are so simple — the artist sits opposite the patron, unspeaking and barely moving, for as long or as little as the work calls for — it seems astonishing that none has ever thought to do something similar before.

But perhaps that speaks to the limitations of centring the human perspective in art. Within our obsession for spectacle, it’s easy to forget that stillness and silence can also be an event. That which is effortless and intrinsic to the lizard can stir and provoke in the human.

You see, the lizard has always been present in art. A symbol of fidelity in the seventeenth century paintings of Sir Anthony Van Dyck, an object of ornamentation in the sculptural work of Clive Stephen Travers in the 1930s, a springboard for abstraction in the lithographs of Joan Miro’s Le lezard aux plumes d'or (The Lizard with Golden Feathers) in the 1960s. Even today, our conceptualisation of the lizard as distant and unknowable lends itself to meme-ification on the internet, positioned among similarly enigmatic zoological entities like the capybara or, indeed, the egg.

But what makes Abromalizardvic’s work quite so game changing is that for the first time, lizard is finally object, subject and author of their experience in the art canon. No longer are they set-dressing, mere mise-en-scene for the human gaze.

One might be tempted to think that Abromalizardvic’s overnight stardom in the scene ascribes too much intent to what many herpetologists have described as ‘ultimately pretty stock-standard lizard behaviour’ — but let us not dismiss the rigour of the art. For could we not say that all great artists of history were simply doing what came naturally to them? And ultimately, is it not privileging humanity over all else to say that Frida Kahlo’s innate gift for painting is inherently more artistic than a lizard’s innate gift for sitting quite still for a bit?

That said, there are some humans whose role in Abromalizardvic’s work, facilitating the cross-species interface that has made her a known quantity throughout Kingdom: Animalia in just a few short months, that can’t be overlooked.

Long-time assistant with curatorial ambition, Vidya Sai Rajan has cleverly hitched her wagon to the meteoric rise of a true artist. Rajan's previous work (Asian Ghost-ery Store, Griffin Batch Theatre Fest 2018; Poorly Drawn Shark, Squid Vicious) speaks to mild success in the lesser arts of fringe and independent theatre, work that has quickly been eclipsed by her keen eye in bringing Abromalizardvic to a broader audience. It was Rajan’s existing relationships in Melbourne’s human art scene, namely with Program Director and Curator of Testing Grounds Arie Rain-Glorie, that saw Abromalizardvic’s second expansive session of endurance art recontextualised into an urban environment, trading in the green environ of Merri Creek for the grey of Southbank.

Perhaps most remarkable about this iteration of the work was how little the urban recontextualization affected the art. Exit interviews with patrons fortunate enough to sit opposite Marina affirmed that, in her presence, the exterior world melts away, leaving you with nothing but a universe of interiority. She really was just so … present. Like all great art, there is no context that could dilute its power.

Which perhaps explains Rajan’s decision to organise a series of endurance sessions, culminating in a gala in Marina’s honour, at Melbourne Fringe — an open access festival where anyone from trained mimes to white geishas can be (at least for a time) platformed.
It’s a curious choice for an artist that, in the short space of a year, has proven herself well above such contexts. Then again, Marina’s power is in transformation — of the self, of taxonomy, of art. I have zero doubt that she will work her alchemy on the festival itself, elevating it to a new height. And I, for one, can't wait to be present for it.

Marina Ambromalizardvic will perform impromptu sessions of The Lizard Is Present throughout Melbourne Fringe (12th - 29th September, 2019), as well as attending a gala in her honour on the 27th of September, 2019.

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Alistair Baldwin is an arts writer based in Naarm/Melbourne. Writer in Residence for 2016’s Next Wave Festival, he has written criticism for un Magazine, Art + Australia, c3 Contemporary Art Space and more. His work tackles themes of disability, queerness, the body, commerce and humour. He also does TV for money, and has written 'jokes' for ABC’s The Weekly, Hard Quiz and Get Krack!n.