by Marina ZURKOW (USA), 2003
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a girl, I put away such childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face…
Thus does Braingirl, truly the brain-child of flash animator Marina Zurkow, modify 1 Corinthians 131 in the episode "Fishing." It is a characteristic Braingirl moment: this feminist alteration of the biblical is not dissimilar from Zurkow's perpetual co-opting of corporate iconography. The protagonist, Braingirl, however, is not someone you will likely see on a billboard anytime soon: while marginally anime, her aforementioned brain sits exposed atop a nude prepubescent body. This is despite a market-friendly superhero colour-code and appellation, which is itself revamped in her transformed superhero quips: "Holy Genitalia!"
And yet, with Zurkow's deftly subverted corporate-culture aesthetic, the abomination of Braingirl looks somehow lustrous; she speaks in a cutesy voice and loves ponies, just as she grows a penis and goes on a violent rampage. This subject material is indicative of Zurkow's horror film background: she was the art director on Necropolis (1986) as well as Robot Holocaust (1987), quintessential B-movies both. In all eight episodes of Braingirl, this fusion of the endearing and the horrific is at the crux of its success; at its best, the series detourns institutional art and employs it to criticise its practitioners.
While the cycle is mostly preoccupied with Braingirl's self-searching adventures, Zurkow's most impressive episode features the eponymous lead in a cameo role only. "Eyetest" has Braingirl's suitor, Bagboy, awakening to discover that his eyes have switched their orientation, now one atop the other. In his disconcerting expressions of revulsion, Bagboy gives Gregor Samsa a run for his money; the defamiliarization of the body is a timeless anxiety, seemingly. Bagboy makes his way to the hospital, which is composed of an endless waiting room over which float sigillary corporate icons of varying recognizability. Eventually, Bagboy meets the doctor, who speaks in incomprehensible platitudes and subjects Bagboy to the titular eye test as well as Rorschach charts. The visual paraphernalia of the medical industry is here beautifully rendered and ridiculed by Zurkow; traditionally interpretive Rorschach inkblots become simplistic representations of everyday items (which Bagboy of course misreads). The intention of the doctor's tests is to torment Bagboy; there is not even the pretence of medical aid. Finally, the doctor recommends that Bagboy have his eyes removed, to which the unfortunate patient replies, "I am so afraid, Doctor. I think I'll just get used to this."
The entire episode is articulated with a precise and biting knowledge of the failings of the medical industry; this is expressed with an intimate fluency in corporate art, which Zurkow also evidently recognizes for its faults-and stylistic markers: the zero-point of possible misinterpretation, the featureless representation, and most importantly, the alienating effect. With these figures, Zurkow levels a cartoon polemic against one of the very establishments that uses this same particularized visual language: the Western medical industry. And this is the central pleasure and paradox of Braingirl: in employing detournement to an entire milieu, that of corporate iconography, and using it against itself as well as its perpetrators, Zurkow chooses the most appropriate and effective weapon possible.
1 : "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face..."
The Bible (1 Corinthians 13)