Margarita Gluzberg

Richard Salmon

A cat is one of the first things we learn to draw. One circle placed on another, topped off with two inverted Vs: a body, a head, and a pair of ears. It is simple to produce and eminently readable as schema, caricature, and sign rolled into one. Alongside the rectangular house, with smoking chimney, four windows, and garden path leading to the central front door, it stands as evidence of a child’s initiation into the realm of representation.

Margarita Gluzberg has drawn such a cat. It is a creature of fantasy. The two circles are provided by a figure eight, or infinity sign, and the ears stick out from one of the loops. Just as a cat should be, it is covered in soft fur. But Gluzberg’s drawing technique is obsessive. Each of her innumerable marks reads as a hair, so that the overall shape of this cat is given in the marks’ cumulative effect without a precise underlying form being quite graspable. What we cannot see, for example, is that beneath all that fur there must be a twist in the loop, because this is a Moebius Cat (all works 1999), whose fur is on its inside and outside. Far from being an innocent cat, it is a worrying presence providing monstrous evidence of repressed fears.

Moebius Cat is part of the singular and very hairy menagerie on view in Gluzberg’s recent show. There is a moth, a spider with an uncertain number of legs, a beard-cum-shaggy dog, and an animated cactus. They are all large and, with the exception of the cactus, are pinned only on their upper edges, so that the paper curls away from the wall at the bottom. The result might make for a series of brooding presences were it not for the fact that Gluzberg undercuts this seriousness with a number of cartoonlike touches. For instance, Moth, while it might not conform to any known species, is largely rendered in what would be thought of as an objective, observational manner, until, that is, one notices the upper-wing markings, which feature two eyes ringed with extra-long lashes in a deliberately exaggerated and ludicrous mismatch.

Nothing here, though, is too obvious. These drawings demand a lot of looking, and the overall effect, slowly arrived at, is of a barely submerged erotic charge. The spider in Apex Predator extends one appendage in a Betty Boop-style come-on, stands firmly on the flexed final segment of another, holds two akimbo, and kneels demurely on two more. While the long, flowing beard appearing as Beard-God-Dog is reminiscent of the one sported by Michelangelo’s God on the Sistine ceiling, it also resembles a hair piece. Along with the large black gap between “beard” and “mustache” where the mouth should be, there is another, smaller graphite spot a little lower down. So if that’s an anus. maybe the mouth isn’t a mouth at all. The cactus has mouth and eyes too, and so, somehow more strangely, does the body of the spider.

What is absorbing about this sense of perversity is that it is felt not at the margins of experience but as central to any question of identity. It is perversity as normality, a potential that, in working to constitute a self in relation to others, does so through tauntingly withholding any certainty of place or quality. A come-on is a camouflage tactic, gender wavers, and soft beauty might just as easily be taken for repulsive ugliness. Appearance is seriously jocular, and what is inside is laid bare. Boundaries are impossible to perceive here, and yet everything is absolutely precise, represented distinctly on a surface that then strives to fold into and substantiate itself, rolling into and encroaching inquisitively on our own space. It’s all very weird and anxiety-inducing and wonderful.

Michael Archer