Stillness Series- Marilyn Arsem

Stillness is defined as a state or an instance of being quiet or calm.  It is also defined as the absence of motion.  Although stillness suggests inactivity, it can provide opportunities for focused movement and heightened sensation.  When contemplating these concepts in relation to contemporary art practices, Marilyn Arsem is one of the first artists that comes to mind.  Arsem has been conjuring thoughts about stillness in her work for over 3 decades, challenging her audiences to consider human and environmental impermanence.  Arsem works with a site-sensitive process, designing each piece for the place in which it occurs.  Arsem takes into account a myriad of contextual information that builds even the most minimal actions into site and time-specific experiences layered with complexities of meaning.



 Wintering Over

From durational performance “Wintering Over” By Marilyn Arsem At the National Review of Live Art Glasgow, Scotland, UK. February, 2007. Photo by Sally Maidment

For eight hours, Arsem lay inside of three tons of rich, fragrant organic soil.  She was in a greenhouse, ‘wintering over’ in the Hidden Gardens at Tramway in Glasgow, Scotland, UK for the National Review of Live Art in February 2007.  Speakers positioned at the entrance of the greenhouse amplified her breath and occasional whispers.  As people walked deeper inside of the space, these transmissions of Arsem’s live sound became inaudible.  Near the pile of earth, the curious noticed a slight rising and falling of the soil, an indication of the body lying beneath the surface.  If they drew nearer they could hear the sound of Arsem sporadically whispering her fears under the mound.  It was a quiet encounter.


“Underneath it was pitch black.

The earth was heavy on me, shifting, settling in to increasingly constrict my body and my breathing whenever I moved.

The air seemed too warm, too still, too thin.

And it was terribly silent.

I don’t remember much.

I had to enter some kind of altered state to stay underneath,

in order to keep at bay the fear of being buried alive.” – Marilyn Arsem



The action of listening carefully for Arsem’s muffled sounds intensified the sonic landscape inherent within the site. The duration of the performance passed through twilight hours into the night, bringing a heightened awareness of natural life cycles.


From durational performance “Wintering Over” By Marilyn Arsem At the National Review of Live Art Glasgow, Scotland, UK. February, 2007. Photo by Sally Maidment


from durational performance “Undertow” by Marilyn Arsem in Ex-Frigorifico at the 1st International Congress of Performance Art, Valparaiso, Chile. November, 2005 photo by Sofia De Grenade

Chile’s International Congress of Performance Art took place in Valparaiso, an active port city on the Pacific.  The festival had access to an old refrigerator warehouse known as the “Ex Frigadator”.  Arsem chose a small room with a trough style drain running down the center as the context for a durational piece.  Inspired by an encounter with a vendor selling bundles of dried seaweed, Arsem decided to fill the room with fresh seaweed collected from the ocean.   Arsem filled half of the floor with seaweed and blocked the trough at both ends so that it would hold water and mounds of salt.  Arsem laid in the seaweed, and allowed her feet to dangle in the trough.  For hours, she rolled through the visceral material that began to engulf her form.  She paused for long periods of time in between the action of rolling, creating an opportunity to witness her body engaged in a moment of stillness.

from durational performance “Undertow” by Marilyn Arsem in Ex-Frigorifico at the 1st International Congress of Performance Art, Valparaiso, Chile. November, 2005 photo by Sofia De Grenade


In both Wintering Over and Undertow Arsem’s body creates images that suggest the ultimate state of stillness.  She engages in various states of burial, addressing the ephemeral nature of being.  As she breaths and whispers with a mound of earth heavy on her chest, she conjures ideas about the afterlife.  The image of her body tangled in seaweed, brings forth sensorial responses that remind us of the shared experience of facing mortality.  Arsem’s work uses stillness as an opportunity to bring forth difficult and complex ideas surrounding the transient cycles of life and death.




Marilyn Arsem has been creating live events since 1975, from solo gallery performances to large-scale, site-specific works. Arsem has presented work at festivals, conferences, alternative spaces, galleries, museums and universities in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Most recently she has focused on creating site-specific performances, often in the context of festivals. These works are not planned in advance, but made in response to a location that is selected on arrival.She is a member (and founder) of Mobius, Inc., a Boston-based collaborative of interdisciplinary artists. As a full-time faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, she heads the Performance Area and is a Graduate Advisor.

Stillness Series- Sue Murad

For multi-media artist, Sue Murad, stillness is a way to experience rest, both in life and in art.   Murad describes her work as an intuitive engagement with form, disregarding notions of usefulness, common meaning, and prescribed narratives.  Much of Murad’s work operates in the territories of slippage between experimental dance, performance art, and visual art.  Having the opportunity to experience her work live, Murad accesses a mindfulness with every micro-movement of her body.  After reviewing her work for the Stillness Series, it was clear that Murad has successfully applied the same intention that she employs corporally to her utilization of objects.

"OJ Disk" 1998, Frozen orange juice, melting, installed at Massachusetts College of Art & Design 1998

Murad elaborates further on the concept of stillness:

“It ushers in quietness, regardless of the environment. Stillness has magnified moments of both peace and isolation. It has punctuated a work’s rhythm, and noted the finality of death. It has emphasized an inner human world and, in my installation work, has been interrupted by time and gravity.”

"The Tape Room" 2007, time based installation, as adhesive releases, tape unrolls at varying intervals and speeds over the duration of 9 days, installed at Arthouse, Boston

Through this series, The Present Tense has observed that stillness is a concept that evokes viscerally physical responses.  Is this possible to achieve a similar reaction when applying this concept to an inaminate object?  After looking at documentation from Murad’s installations  “The Tape Room” and “OJ Disk,” I believe it is.  Murad approaches these objects with a sensitivity that seems reserved for the human body.  The tape is subject to the effects of gravity while the Disk of orange juice sweats from the heat.   Through her experimentation, Murad turns the common objects, tape and orange juice into living beings.



Sue Murad is a multi-media artist working in visual and performing art. She teaches at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and runs Orange, an art, design & video studio. After 4 years with the performance art band, U.V. Protection (2004-2007,) Sue was a recipient of a 2008 Massachusetts Cultural Council award in Choreography. Starting in 2012, Murad will be an Artist in Residence at Children’s Hospital Boston. She lives and works in Boston.

Joseph Ravens has got Talent!

Summer in New England is slowly disappearing and The Present Tense wants to soak up the sun while we can!  We will be taking a vacation from posting until September 1st. In honor of our recent Call for work for our Bicycle series, we are leaving you Joseph Ravens’ “Is my Liver Showing?” created for ROUGH TRADE in 2007/2008.  The Present Tense collaborated with Joseph on organizing ROUGH TRADE, an exchange between Boston and Chicago based artists.

It was a pleasure to witness this quirky piece back then, and exciting to recently see Joseph recreate it in another platform!  Enjoy!

Joseph Ravens on America’s Got Talent!

Joseph Ravens aims to project energy and images with abundant focus.  Through various hybrids of art, dance, and theatre, he devises highly stylized situations in which images and actions coalesce to produce decidedly poetic, often conceptual, narratives.  Ravens has traveled the globe to show his work in a variety of festivals and art venues.  He has collaborated many other artists and has been the recipient of several awards ad residencies.  As if this wasn’t enough, Joseph is the Founder and Art Director of DEFIBRILLATOR Performance Art Gallery in Chicago.  The Present Tense is proud to have had the opportunity to work with such a valiant and dynamic artist!

Rope Series: Manuela de los angeles

“Dress to fly” reflects on bodies in space, in relation to the external environment.  The intent it to expose the reality in which the individual depends on both the materials and themselves.

2007, Galeria de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Medellin, duration: 90 minutes

This site-sensitive installation is composed of a cube of wood, needles, thread, and a cotton dress.  Large quantities of weight are held up by lightweight materials (the body weighs 47 kilos (103 lbs) and is held up by 57 threads of cotton yarn).  The garment is sewn while the body is held up by a wooden cabinet.  Once the garment is complete, the body is cradled by the threads, suspended in a white box.  The body remains in this cocoon anywhere from 1-33 hours.

2009, Second Bienniel Comfenalco Antioquia, Belen Library Park, duration: 190 minutes

2009, Second Bienniel Comfenalco Antioquia, Belen Library Park, duration: 190 minutes

2009, Second Bienniel Comfenalco Antioquia, Belen Library Park, duration: 190 minutes

Manuela de los Angeles (b. 1982 in Mexico City)  She is currently studying to earn her Masters degree in Visual Arts at the UNAM.  She has worked as a Curatorial Assistant in addition to showing her work in Mexico, Colombia, Italy and Spain.

Rope Series: Jeffery Byrd

"Silence," 2009, Open Festival, Beijing, China. Photo by Arielle Bier

“I use a lot of ribbon in my work and in earlier pieces I used both rope and string.  These materials are like 3-D lines.  They seem like metaphors for time and space and the path one’s life takes.  Except that with a physical string you can move forward or backwards across that time.  Theseus used string to find his way out of the labyrinth.”

"Silence," 2009, Open Festival, Beijing, China. Photo by Arielle Bier

"Silence," 2009, Open Festival, Beijing, China. Photo by Arielle Bier

"Silence," 2009, Open Festival, Beijing, China. Photo by Arielle Bier

"Silence," 2009, Open Festival, Beijing, China. Photo by Arielle Bier

“In China, I pulled the ribbon from my pocket like a magician as I moved in one direction.  I pushed it into my mouth as I moved back across the same space.  The red ribbon also reminds me of the path inside your body…your guts.”

"10,957 Knots (my 30th birthday)" 1994

“I once tied knots in a long piece of string for every day that I had been alive as of my 30th birthday (10,957 knots).”

"Bath of Venus," 2007, Bone festival, Bern, Switzerland. photo by Martin Rindlisbacher

"Bath of Venus," 2007, Bone festival, Bern, Switzerland. photo by Martin Rindlisbacher

“I used dental floss to change the shape of my face in Bath of Venus.  The road to beauty is paved with ugliness.”

"Countless Days, Endless Nights," 1993, Univ. of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art. photo by Jeff Martin

"Countless Days, Endless Nights," 1993, Univ. of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art. photo by Jeff Martin

“In one of my earliest pieces, a beautiful white rope held bricks suspended above my head.  I was wrapped in black duct tape and displayed like a human sculpture for the duration of the exhibition opening.  When the audience was gone, the tape was cut away and left like a shed skin on the gallery floor.” – Jeffery Byrd

Jeffery Byrd is a performance and video artist who has presented work all over the globe.  He has exhibited in over 75 group exhibitions and 15 solo exhibitions and has performed at such notable venues as Lincoln Center in New York and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.  Byrd has participated in performance and video festivals in major cities throughout the US and in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Columbia, Mexico, Italy and the UK. His art explores the metaphoric potential of the human body the relationships between reality and artifice through video, movement, original music and otherworldly vocals.

Byrd is a frequent lecturer at art schools and universities, including Parson’s School of Design in New York, University of the Arts in Philadelphia, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  His work has been featured in various books published by Brown & Benchmark, Simon & Schuster, Routledge Press and Rizzoli International.

Lucas Murgida @ Contaminate II

Lucas Murgida created the first part of this piece for Contaminate II as part of his Locksmithing series.  The following text was given to the audience at the event:

“The Locksmithing Institute of Contaminate Lesson #7: Willful Disappearance
In lesson #7 the students of “The Locksmithing Institute of Contaminate” will be instructed in the ancient locksmithing technique of disappearance.
First, to understand this concept better we must broaden our definition of keys. All of the people, ideas, things and places in our life are keys. All of these allow us to enter or exit certain physical and mental spaces. Most keys unlock our feelings of safety. They do this by permitting us access to ideas that we associate with our sense of security. Some examples of these are: homes, cars, favorite cookies, or relationships to loved ones. When a person loses their keys typically they panic. This reaction and attachment implies that one cannot manifest their own feelings of security without their keys. Suffering stems from this attachment. This is because we have great difficultly imaging what existence might be like without keys acting as our filter.
In lesson #4 of “The Locksmithing Institute” students were taught how to find their lost keys. This lesson arose from the observation that even the best locksmith can only make someone a new set of keys. Though this is a good service it fails to restore the sense of security that a persons old key afforded them. In the end people don’t want a new set of keys. They want their old keys back. From there, students who enrolled in “Lesson #5” were taught how to change their relationship to their keys. To do this a furnace was constructed. Next, the students were given the opportunity to place one of their keys in the furnace. The molten metal that remained was then poured it into a new, abstract form. It was still their same key, only their relationship to it had changed. In “Lesson #6” students were given the chance to lose their keys of their own free will. By choosing to do this (as opposed to accidentally doing it) students took another step towards developing their own feelings of security separate from their keys.
Those three lessons of “The Locksmithing Institute” dealt with, at their core, matters of “perception”. More specifically they are about things moving in or out our frame of reference. This has less to do with ones physical eye and more to do with the “minds eye”. The standard association that is placed upon the word “disappearance” is that something is gone and it’s where a bouts is unknown. However the simple meaning of the word is that something is no longer within our “sight” or to ceases to “appear” before us. “Appear” is strongly linked to the present tense. It is something that is occurring even as we are perceiving it. “Disappear” is no different. It is something that is happening in the present that we are connected to. Something that is always in the process of occurring.
To explicate this point Instructor Lucas Murgida will give an example of this in “Lesson #7”. On Friday March the 9h of 2007 he will be giving each of the students of Contaminate copies of the keys to his apartment in San Francisco. At approximately 6:00 PM EST on March 14th upon returning from Boston, Murgida will be locked out of his apartment. For Murgida the keys are not gone, they are simply out of sight. For the students Contaminate “Lesson #7” is occurring but it is not within their sight. There are many things that we are intrinsically connected to that our perception is incapable of detecting. When events or keys slip out of our frame of reference they are become endowed with other worldly ability it exist long past their life ever would have permitted. Because of this “Lesson #7” will always be occurring. This is the embedded significance of disappearance. It is the transcendence of the moment.“

Click here to see documentation of the completion of this piece!