By Dawn Watson
With nine days to go before his big Parrish “Road Show” opening reception, Tucker Marder finds himself standing in the middle of a field in Water Mill. The contradiction between the unblemished natural open space, surrounded by high-end new residential construction, perfectly encapsulates that which has become the Hamptons. Thus, it’s the consummate setting for his newest art project.
The field at 1058 Deerfield Road, purchased by the artist’s father, Charlie Marder, who owns Marders landscaping and nursery in Bridgehampton, will most likely one day be a tree farm, the artist says. But right now the patch of land lays fallow. With the wind cutting through the flat terrain and the houses being erected all around him, Mr. Marder takes stock of the space where on Saturday, August 15, he will unveil his “Stampede.”
The site-specific installation will feature 200 live Crested Indian Runner ducks; three abstract, geometric-shaped parade-type floats; a vibraphone and a puppet show. Whimsical and playful, the overall underlying theme of the piece is serious. It’s meant to capture Mr. Marder’s feelings on the changing attitudes of regional land use and historic trades, such as Long Island duck farming.
“I guess you could say that it’s about the land-use battle. Leisure versus agriculture,” Mr. Marder says. “Everything that the Hamptons has now become: nature and wealth, co-existing side by side. For now.”
Preparations for the temporary installation—which is part of the Parrish Art Museum’s “Road Show” series, featuring temporary projects by East End artists in unexpected places outside the walls of the museum—have been anything but fleeting, reports the artist. He has been raising the now eight-week-old ducks since the day after they were hatched. After “Stampede,” the flock will move down the road to a local farm, he says.
Mr. Marder has deep respect for animals, but birds, which are common in his work, most especially, he says.
“I think they are one of the most romanticized animals,” he explains. “They are hilarious, goofy and fun but also the most amazing, majestic poetic creatures. I’m interested in their seemingly inherent contradictions.”
His upbringing here in the South Fork has contributed greatly to his views about nature, and to his artistic vision as well, he adds.
“It’s a really crazy, special and absurd place,” Mr. Marder says. “It’s a haven for the rich and famous but it’s also a microcosm that has kept some sort of a functioning ecosystem in spite of it all. It’s an inherently flawed thing, but also a wonderful thing.”
The artist, curator, producer and plantsman is currently working on his MFA at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He uses humor to illustrate and encourage empathy for the natural world. Using puppetry, live animals and people interacting within a set space Mr. Marder’s productions tend to focus on the symbolic relationship between humans and animals. His work has appeared at the Parrish in the 2013 “Artists Choose Artists” group exhibition, selected by Watermill Center’s Robert Wilson; at the National Aviary in Pennsylvania; and at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton. Additionally, he collaborated with Christian Scheider on a theatrical adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Galapagos,” which premiered at the Parrish Art Museum’s Lichtenstein Theatre last year.
For him, making art is less about an end product and more about making a statement, albeit in an entertaining way, he says.
“My career has been based off projects that don’t really last that long,” Mr. Marder says, explaining that he’s not really interested in making sculpture or paintings to sell to somebody, but instead on creating art as a non-transaction-based livelihood that brings awareness to the natural world.
When asked how that will translate to an income, he laughs.
“That’s how I’ve been doing it, though I have no freaking clue how it will continue.”
In the end, his work is about the small victories, he adds.
“I’m not trying to save the planet, but hopefully what I’m doing will create a tiny slip in perception that allows someone to consider the life of a duck, or some other living thing,” he says. “I try to do it through humor and silliness, but there’s an undercurrent of seriousness there too.”
The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill will host a reception for “Tucker Marder: Stampede” at 1058 Deerfield Road in Water Mill on Saturday, August 15, from 6 to 8 p.m. and on Monday, August 17, from 11 a.m. to noon as part of the summer “Road Show” series. Additionally, the “Road Show” will travel to the Big Duck in Flanders on Wednesday, August 19, at 7 p.m. where Marder will join Lisa Dubrowski of the Big Duck Museum for a talk. Learn more at www.parrishart.org.