Present Tense’s 13 of 2013

As we greet 2014, The Present Tense shares its reflections on 2013.  2013 was a fruitful year, offering countless moments for experiential art.  Here are 13 of these moments that The Present Tense found inspirational.

 

 

13. In April, Boston Center for the Art’s Cyclorama was activated by Vela Phelan’s Near Death Performance Art Experience (NDPAE).  In a simple stroke of irony, NDPAE had its own experience with death. Originally scheduled to unfold over 2 days at Fourth Wall Project in Boston and after months of planning, Fourth Wall was temporarily shut down due to permitting issues, a historic plague among Boston alternative art spaces.  NDPAE was postponed until further notice.  The event fortunately found shelter at the Boston Center for the Art’s Cyclorama, a stunning space with a history of being used as a war memorial.  NDPAE was rescheduled for April 21, 2013, less than 1 week after the Boston Marathon Bombings.  In this 7 hour performance art event,  artists created live works around the theme of life and death.  Both the context and content of the work at NDPAE made for an intense experience for all to remember.

Jamie McMurry "Flawed" 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

Jamie McMurry “Flawed” at NDPAE 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

 

12. This year saw the beginning of new and important series of curated performances in the Museum of Fine Arts. Odd Spaces, curated by Liz Munsell, was the first of the series and  included artists from Boston and New York. Musell is no stranger to performance, and “Odd Spaces” has frequently been referenced as a very successful collaboration between local community and institution. Liz’s choice to have the event on the MFAs weekly free night, as well as a panel discussion immediately after, encouraged a discourse between artist, audience, and curator within the walls of the respected institution.

 

11. A stand out piece this year was created at Odd Spaces at the MFA.  Marilyn Arsem’s 6 1/2 hour piece, “With the Others” challenged what it means to experience a live event.  Hidden beneath a bench in the Egyptian Galleries of the MFA, Arsem’s body was anointed with Jasmine and covered in black cloth.  The aroma filled the halls leading to the space where only the curious would discover Arsem’s living body amongst the mummies and other artifacts in the room.

 

Marilyn Arsem "With the Others" at Odd Spaces 2013

Marilyn Arsem “With the Others” at Odd Spaces 2013

 

10. During the summer of 2013, a marathon of performance art festivals occurred throughout the United States!  Chicago’s annual international performance art festival, Rapid Pulse activated the Wicker Park neighborhood for 2 weeks.  Rosslyn Arts Project, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, and The Pink Line Project debuted the Supernova Festival throughout Rosslyn, Virginia, in raw spaces, office lobbies, rooftops, parks, the Metro station, and other public places.  Edge Zones presented the second annual Miami Performance International Festival that provided 4 weeks of programming throughout the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens and the Miami Design District.   The Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival (BIPAF) used 11 spaces in Brooklyn and involved over 150 artists from all over the world with the aim of creating constructive institutional critique as an attempt to relationally construct new economic and social contexts for performance art.  Alejandra Herrera and Jamie McMurry curated the 4th installment of Perform Chinatown in Los Angeles.  Presented works ranged from street interventions to body- driven works.  Durational performance installations unfolded throughout the event in large boxes that lined Chung King Road.

 

09. Also in the summer of 2013,  Anthony Greaney closed its doors, but hosted many memorable shows that supported performance and other experimental time-based media. Greaney’s presence on Harrison Ave in Boston was a testament to Boston’s need for space to show experimental work, and to challenge the status quo of what Boston’s art scene really looks like. It’s no secret that many lament the loss of this space.  Some noteworthy exhibitions this year included the Tactic Series, Pan Act, Epoch and RE:Present Me.

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o+ “Vast Mystic Mecca Void” at Tactic 2, Anthony Greaney 2013

08. Grace Exhibition Space  in Brooklyn has made it their mission to glorify performance art since 2006.  In 2013, Directors Jill McDermid-Hokanson and Erik Hokanson acquired a second space in Kingston, NY.  GRAY ZONE for Performance Art adds an exciting new context to support their programming!

 

07. Temporary Land Bridge, run by Kirk Snow and Andrea Evans, launched over the Fall of this year. Land Bridge further contributes to Boston’ s network of of support within the creative community, doing so by giving artists interviews, reviews, and “statements” where the artists themselves curate the content of their posts. Temporary Land Bridge offers an exciting new resource for artists working across media.

 

06. In 2013, we saw artists, curators, and organizations continuing to explore the interstices between art and social practice.  Suzanne Lacy’s “Between the Door and the Street”  supported by Creative Time, was a notable moment of performance art serving as activism and was not without its own controversy.  This piece has sprouted dialogues around the complex relationship between art and activism, bringing opinions around issues of conduct, authorship, privilege, and agency to the surface.

 

05. The First Biennial Festival of Performance Art and Sound Art came to The Quarry, an arts campus under the auspices of Contemporary Arts International  (CAI) in Acton, MA.  A stand out moment was JV’s (Jeff Huckleberry and Vela Phelan) 24 hour collaborative piece, “Poach” in the woods. 

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JV “Poach” 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

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04. The spectacle of Marina Abramovic´ continues! In 2013, we followed the Kickstarter campaign used to raise funds to make the Marina Abramovic´Institute a reality, watched a video of Lady Gaga practicing the Abromovic´method and Jay Z’s attempt at performance art go viral.  It is safe to say that performance art is no longer hidden in the shadows of society. Whether one thinks this direction is desirable or detrimental, this has certainly inspired interesting conversations throughout the year.

 

03. The DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum’s Paint Things show was a strong exhibition throughout.  A stand out moment of the exhibition was Claire Ashley’s inflatable sculptures that were created on sight. The Chicago-based artist brought these sculptures to life with her playful delegated performance piece, “Double Disco” this past Spring. Jim Dine’s hearts will never be the same.

double disco: i’m goin’ nowhere from Claire Ashley on Vimeo.

 

 

02. Mobius’ Fall programming was exceptional, featuring exciting works by local artists and artists from across the globe.  Some stand outs include Ieke Trinks,“Dynamorphic” by Nedregard and and Hillary, Ampala Prada, and Antoni Karwowski/ Daniel S. DeLuca/ Vela Phelan.

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Nedregard and and Hillary “Dynamorphic” 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

1.  After years of living in boxes, storage units, basements, and  other inaccessible places, Mobius’s massive 37 year old archive has been inducted into the Tufts Library. Over the next few years, the archive will become more and more accessible, revealing an important part of  the history of experimental and experiential art.

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William Pope L.’s boots from a 2003 performance, among other relics.

This Generation’s Population of Ghosts: Near Death Performance Art Experience

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Generation’s Population of Ghosts*

Near Death Performance Art Experience BOSTON 2013

Sandrine Schaefer

As performance art moves into a phase where it faces the same commodification, professionalization, and institutionalism that other art mediums have endured, artists and organizers are challenged with how to maintain the authenticity of the medium and it’s history.  Within this medium, where artists call upon their physical, mental, emotional, and intellectual endurance to challenge the parameters of real time, it is impossible to remove mortality from performance-based work.  As artists connected by this medium watch one another’s practices evolve and mature, they are simultaneously watching each other age.  They witness their bodies change, ideas develop, and they can see their impact on each-other and the future generations of performance artists with whom they are connected.

Working with the concept of Life and Death, Vela Phelan conceived of Near Death Performance Art Experience(NDPAE), a performance art event that offered an opportunity for multiple generations of artists to create live works around this theme. In a simple stroke of irony, NDPAE had its own experience with death. Originally scheduled to unfold over 2 days at Fourth Wall Project in Boston and after months of planning, Fourth Wall was temporarily shut down due to permitting issues, a historic plague among Boston alternative art spaces.  NDPAE was postponed until further notice.  The event fortunately found shelter at the Boston Center for the Art’s Cyclorama, a stunning space with a history of being used as a war memorial.  NDPAE was rescheduled for April 21, 2013, coincidentally the birthday of the late Bob Raymond, and less than 1 week after the Boston Marathon Bombings.

For 7 hours, audiences were given time and space to contemplate how we make sense of the cycle of life and death through the lens of action-based art.

Marilyn Arsem "Edge" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

MARILYN ARSEM “Edge”
The work began at 4 pm (3:55 to be exact) when Marilyn Arsem sat down at a square wooden table in the center of the Cyclorama. 2 glasses of water, filled almost to the brim, were placed side by side at one end of the table.  The natural light that streamed in through the Cyclorama’s dome silhouetted her form.  A spectator excitedly whispered that she was holding the room in the glasses.  Taking a closer look, I saw that she was, indeed the keeper of the room, as passersby’s reflections danced across the water.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed small bubbles lining the insides of the glasses. A reminder that the water itself had already stood still for a period of time, or a foreshadowing of Marilyn’s prolonged presence within Near Death.

The beginning moments of Marilyn’s piece, titled “Edge,” were perfect. The Cyclorama was almost silent except for the sound of a clock ticking, emanating from Marilyn.  I was grateful for these beginning moments with her.  The materials present in the other artists’ installations set around the room suggested that chaos would soon ensue.  I meditated on the methodical opening and closing of her eyes.  She looked spent, but her presence filled the entire space with a level of intensity that I had never before experienced in a performance art piece.

 

Faith Johnson "We Are What We Dream" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

FAITH JOHNSON “We Are What We Dream”

Tucked away in a corner of the Cyclorama, The question, “If we could dream a new world, what would it be like?” was subtly scrawled across the threshold of Faith Johnson’s interactive installation, “We Are What We Dream”.   A woman approached with a map of the installation.

On one side of the space, people sat on pillows wrapped in silver heat blankets, reminiscent of images of the marathon runners after reaching the finish line.  The map invited me to choose a crystal from a carefully arranged circle on the ground.  After selecting my crystal, I was instructed to travel to the “Silver Mountains” to choose a place to sit and meditate on the question: “If we could dream a new world what would it be like?”

As I wrapped the heat blanket around me, I noticed the color of my skin reflected in the material.  It transformed into a second skin and made me think about all of the people who had worn it before and would wear it after I left. I was able to forget that there are people watching, focusing on the warmth of my “mountain” and the sounds it produced.  The crinkling of the Mylar reminded me of the sound of animals rummaging through piles of trash I experienced during my recent travels in India.

Faith Johnson "We Are What We Dream" 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

When I climbed out of my “mountain”, a wall displaying a growing “waking dream map” confronted me.  Sitters were invited to write their thoughts directly on the wall.  Faith nailed their crystal next to what they had written.  With delicate silver thread, she integrated each crystal, each thought, into the map. I felt thankful for Faith’s choice to directly engage her audience in a way that was instantly gratifying.  It was fulfilling to see my direct influence on the piece.  Exercising this control offered a much-needed respite from the intensity of Marilyn’s individual focus.

After I made my contribution to the piece, I stood back and watched the sunlight from nearby windows dance across the crystals and the “silver mountains.”  Before leaving India, I spent several days in Varanasi, where I observed the Ghats where bodies of the wealthy are cremated in open air.  I watched bodies covered in golden blankets (much like the heat blankets used in Faith’s piece) burn a steady stream of smoke as roaming cattle and goats ate fallen marigolds from the garlands that decorated the corpses.  Watching participants interact with “We Are What We Dream” was a similar experience.  As people emerged from their “silver mountains,” there was an air that they had been transformed, perhaps even transcended their understanding of time and space.

 

 

Travis McCoy Fuller 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

TRAVIS MCCOY FULLER:

Back in the main space, the glasses on Marilyn’s table appeared to have moved, making clear that she was pushing the glasses across the table with a tedious pace.  Using the ticking of Marilyn’s clock as a sonic foundation for his piece, Travis McCoy Fuller was first to activate the outer edge of the circle of the Cyclorama.

Travis employed subtle variations to ask for participation in his piece.  He asked out loud, gestured, and spoke softly to offer a more intimate experience of the performance.  One of the beginning actions in the piece included two volunteers transporting a pile of rocks on the table to small piles on the floor around the space.  Simultaneously, Travis pulled a bag of sand with a hole in it around and through the audience, an arbitrary line of sand marking his path.  This was the first in a series of actions that broke the traditional performance space, clarifying that this piece required the audience to witness actively.

Travis asked the audience if there was anyone who would like to sit at the table.  A man sat on top of the table.  Travis adjusted his semantics and asked if anyone else would like to sit at the chair that was next to the table.  A woman sat in the chair.  Travis joined them and the three engaged in the act of eating basil plants in silence.  The man and the woman negotiated sharing the plant, the woman taking delight in nibbling the stems.  Sometimes when I witness delegated tasks in performance, it feels like an attempt to control the audience’s experience or nothing more than a practical choice.  As I watched the woman (who chose to stay at the table for the majority of the piece) it became apparent that Travis’ choice to solicit help was an invitation for participants to explore their own performativity.  He cultivated a community within the piece, giving the audience the choice to directly contribute to its creation, if they wished.

The performance space was broken again when Travis sat with the audience, took a swig of vodka and passed the bottle around the room.  This offering was a gesture that leveled the playing field between the performer and audience.  He proceeded to cut his arms and rubbed curry into the fresh wounds.  The bloodletting directly referenced the corporeal self, while establishing empathy between the audience and the artist.  This empathy was ignited again when Travis “challenged” several people in the audience to hold ice cubes until they “turned to water”.  This immediately induced the same visceral response that I felt watching Travis cut himself.  Although I was not holding an ice cube, I could feel my own fingertips growing numb as I watched and waited with the people in the audience who were given ice.

Travis McCoy Fuller 2013 photo by Philip Fryer

 

Travis seemed to be moving between meditative and aggressive states.  I interpret this as another technique for breaking the performance space.  There was time for quiet contemplation (eating plants, balancing stones, watching sand fall) but there were also moments that demanded the audience to be alert (pushing stones, hammering, using a staple gun).  While these aggressive actions could be misinterpreted as angst, the destruction served a function to the cycle of the piece.  After smashing holes in the center of 2 square tables, Travis balanced one table on top of the other.  He stapled the neck of a pair of coveralls around the hole in the bottom table.  With the help of the audience, he lifted another pair of coveralls filled with sand onto the table on the top. The sand from one body poured into another, a symbol of reincarnation that took on the form of an hourglass.

Travis McCoy Fuller 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

The piece evoked infinite notions of how humans structure, understand, and attempt to control and change time.  Melting ice, the image of the reincarnation hourglass, a loop of John Cage’s saying, “But when we don’t measure time…” fusing with the ticking of Marilyn’s clock all culminated into an experience that questioned perceptions of time.

The piece ended with the action of Travis nailing himself to a wall holding nails in his mouth.  He ripped himself from the wall as if he were shedding his skin.  He spit out the nails, a letting go of sorts, another suggestion of a transformative process.  After Travis nailed himself to the wall and tore himself free a second time, he stopped, releasing the entirety of the space back to Marilyn.

 

Jamie McMurry "Flawed" 2013 photo by Philip Fryer

 

JAMIE MCMURRY “FLAWED”

The wall and floor of Jamie McMurry’s space was covered in faux-wood paneling.  A white suit and various tools hung on the wall, while a dusty colored recliner awaited action in the middle of the space.  The installation placed the audience somewhere reminiscent of a basement, a trailer, or a houseboat.  A microphone on a stand was presented, making the space feel a bit like a makeshift nightclub.   Wherever Jamie had taken us, it was steeped in nostalgia and felt a bit creepy.  To add to this aesthetic, he used an over-head projector to share an article written on the 1953 murder of Mable Monahan.  The article claimed that the only clues in the murder were 2 shoe prints and a bloody handprint smudged on the wall of the victim’s Burbank home (Jamie explicitly referenced this by leaving his own imprints on the wall of his installation). He lunged in front of the article, one hand extended towards the projection, the other, jiggling a ring of keys attached to his belt loop.  This action, like so many in the piece, oscillated between feeling antagonistic, ritualistic, and humorous.

He moved throughout the space, shifting between aggressive movements, ceremonial-like gestures, and childlike explorations of the body. He engaged in actions like gargling, gagging, and attempting to piss in a bucket.  Many of his actions forced the audience to make quick decisions about proximity.  He threw things around, created aggressive sounds, jumped rope with a long chain, and created slingshots that catapulted glass jars full of paint-covered wooden beads against the wall. Some may consider this irresponsible behavior, but I appreciated this tension as a strategy for breaking the traditional performance space.

Within the piece, Jamie engaged in a cycle of activating, referencing, and reframing images.  We saw this first with an image of a palm tree.  He wore the image on a T-shirt, projected it and proceeded to paint it on the wall in white.  Jamie then spit the same white paint out of his mouth, referencing the tree through symbolic action.

Jamie McMurry "Flawed" 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

The most dynamic icon he used was an image of two hands in a gesture that is commonly read as “OK”.  Between the hands was an oversized image of an open mouth.  Jamie created this image with his own body in real time, referenced it on a t-shirt, and later recreated it on the wall.  In one of the final actions of the piece, Jamie used a makeshift slingshot to throw one of his glass jars into a large vinyl print of the mouth.  This action and the remnant of this action offered space to contemplate the notion of consuming experience.

Jamie McMurry "Flawed" 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

Much of “Flawed” made use of actions that explored the complexities of consumption/excretion paired with the dichotomy of power/vulnerability.  He addressed colonization, referencing the ghosts of the displaced.  He wore an army blanket over his head and turned it into a poncho as he pushed his head through.  When he emerged, a pair of pantyhose he wore over face had erased his identity.  He ritualistically shook the glass jars he later fed to the mouth on the wall.  He explored colonization again when he changed into a white suit that was embroidered with the words “GOOD PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS SURE THEY’RE RIGHT”.  He literally buried himself in the recliner, covering his body in soil and mud.  After raising himself from the dead, he attempted to destroy a wooden birdhouse with his bare hands.  Watching Jamie expend so much effort, trying to destroy a home belonging to someone else, transformed him into the devil incarnate.  Yet, the struggle of battling with his physical limitations illuminated his vulnerability, made him human, and somehow relatable.  I couldn’t help but internalize this, becoming aware of my own arbitrary attachments.  At what point does the struggle outweigh the perceived gain of a situation?  Much of the piece existed in this area of grey.

 

Jamie McMurry "Flawed" 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

In addition to creating actions that demanded an upheaval of the audience, “Flawed” required multiple shifts in how the audience listened.  Sometimes the audience was strained to decipher soft or muffled sounds.  At other points in the piece, Jamie produced more abrasive sounds that resulted in the audience covering their ears.  This varied sonic experience was a subtle call to action that foreshadowed the final action of “Flawed”.

After playing Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” Jamie picked up a woman from the audience, offered a private sonic experience by giving her a pair of headphones, and carried her outside.  When he walked through the Cyclorama’s doors, he was handed a bouquet of black balloons.  As he walked down the sidewalk, the audience giggled and hustled to catch up. The lyrics “I’d trade my soul for a wish, Pennies and dimes for a kiss, I wasn’t looking for this, But now you’re in my way…Where you think you’re going, baby?…Hey, I just met you, And this is crazy, But here’s my number, So call me, maybe?” still fresh in our minds.

A few blocks from the Cyclorama, Jamie stopped and released the balloons.  Together, we all watched them drift through the night sky until they were out of sight.

 

VestAndPage "Thou Twin of Slumber" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

VestAndPage “Thou Twin of Slumber”

The installation of VestAndPage (Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes) included a pile of broken glass with wine glasses hanging above, suspended in a moment of free fall.  Two large bricks of ice melted throughout the day, requiring an occasional mopping around the space where they rested on the floor.  The melting of the ice and the glasses frozen in time set the pacing of the performance before it even began.

When the time came for the installation to be activated by the artists’ bodies, the piece began in darkness.  A flame methodically illuminated a pair of legs hidden inside of a square shaped hole in the wall.  I don’t remember the moment or how the lighting situation changed, but I remember Verena repeating the action of falling onto a mattress as Andrea built a road from golden bricks to walk across the space. The inability to fully register the actions through memory or documents due to the constant variances of low light situations was something I wrestled with throughout the piece.  After learning that VestAndPage source content for their performances from their own dreams, I realized that these were intentional choices made in an effort to induce dream-like states in the audience.

The collaborative duo spent much of the performance on opposite sides of their space, traveling towards one another.  This resulted in the audience having to manage a tension between where to look.  When giving attention to one artist’s actions, the viewer was forced to experience the other through their periphery.  We had to use our other senses and call upon our intuition to gain an understanding of the totality of the performance.  I had to make peace with the fact that I was going to miss much of the piece and that the action of forgetting and late remembering, much like a dream, was built into the nature of the occurrence.

Andrea stood on a brick and carefully cut his face and chest in a mirror that was suspended in a similar fashion as the wine glasses.  He followed this action by walking across the pile of glass.  After seeing the blood from his body trickle from his carefully placed incisions, I prepared myself for the worst.  The inner dialogue began and I anxiously tried to decide at what point I would intervene.  At what point would it be negligent to watch another being put themselves in this kind of danger.  As I looked closer, Andrea did not appear to be getting cut as he walked across the glass.  This seemed impossible and I felt as though I had been tricked.  Once I surrendered to the illusion, I was able to enjoy the beauty of the image and the sounds it produced.

VestAndPage "Thou Twin of Slumber" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

Meanwhile, Verena held a large glass jar containing a light, a piece of molding bread and larvae on her bare stomach.  She sat close to the audience so that we could see the larvae’s movements.  This was hypnotic.  Andrea wore a contact microphone that amplified his breathing.  Certain actions produced heavy and erratic breathing that broke my focus on Verena. I turned and saw his face in a container of sand, his breath captured in a dust cloud as he exhaled.  When the two artists finally, physically met, Andrea was standing on one of the ice blocks.  He invited Verena to stand on top of the ice with him using an arm gesture.  Placing the jar aside, she curled up into his arms and into what appeared to be raw wool that was wrapped around his form.  The two tried to balance and hold one another as they slipped off of the ice.

VestAndPage "Thou Twin of Slumber" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

In the action that followed, Andrea laid on the ice as Verena, randomly placed her foot into the hands of people in the audience.  Similar to Travis’ use of ice, this action induced an empathetic response to the action that Andrea was enduring.

Andrea sat up and Verena randomly chose people in the audience, leading them one by one to Andrea.  She placed their hand on Andrea’s back.  She continued this act of choosing and transferring until Andrea’s back was covered in hands.  She illuminated this image with a small and cool-colored light.

Our bodies are our vehicles for experiencing waking life, but like the decomposing bread consumed by the larvae, it does break down.  It bleeds when cut.  It is subject to extreme environmental conditions.  It is vulnerable. Through the use of highly visceral actions, some that even appeared to defy physical reality (walking on glass without harm), VestAndPage challenged ideas about what it means to be in a body and conjured romantic notions of what can be experienced beyond the physical realm.

When the lights lifted, Marilyn was still sitting, gently pushing her glasses across the table. I watched tears travel down her cheeks, as she maintained her uncompromising focus.  Watching her travel through the subtleties of the grieving process imparted her strength as an individual and the honesty behind her artistic practice.  It reminded me of the first time I saw Bas Jan Ader’s “I’m Too Sad to Tell You” but without the buffer of an interface.  I felt a deep gratitude for being witness to such candor unfolding in real time and space.

 

Jeff Huckleberry 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

Jeff Huckleberry

Near the end of the evening, Jeff Huckleberry engaged in a series of struggles.   His installation was perhaps the most tactile, consisting of raw wood; some premade boxes that still had the bar codes stapled on them, balloons, buckets and various other tools.  Jeff paced around the space, before engaging in a series of cleansing actions.  First, he poured a bucket of water and oblong balloons over his head.  He followed this by drenching himself in rubbing alcohol, disguised in 2 Super Super Super Big Gulp travel mugs.  In this quantity, the fumes were dizzying.  Two clown noses dangled around his neck.  He played the harmonica through a microphone and placed a hand held electric sander into a pile of coffee inside one of the premade boxes.  It danced in circles as it droned, producing an intoxicating aroma of burning coffee and sawdust.  He wrapped a long black cord, soaked with the rubbing alcohol, around his neck.  He looked like he was wearing a contemporary ruff.  He then wrestled with a pile of wood in an effort to transfer it from a pile on the floor, into one of the wooden boxes.  We watched him make one bad decision after another.  I thought about the consequence of action.  As he stood, hugging the pile of wood while being asphyxiated by the rope around his neck, I felt conflicted between the desire to unwrap him and the desire to laugh at the absurdity of what he was doing.  I’d like to believe that my desire to intervene had been outweighed by my appreciation of the creative process, but in hindsight, I am not so sure.  I ask myself if I chose to passively observe these actions because this was a “performance” or because I have the advantage of knowing Jeff’s work well enough to believe that he was “in control”.  I also wonder if this choice was at all informed by Jeff’s physique.  Maybe his strong-man-esque stature was fooling me into believing that he was somehow invincible.  The fumes from the alcohol couldn’t hurt him.  He couldn’t possibly slip and fall on the spilled liquids on the floor.  This shifted my thinking to contemplate the shared human experience of struggling with the confines/potential of one’s own physicality and the inherent identities it takes on.

Jeff Huckleberry 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

Many of the actions Jeff engaged in either illuminated or exaggerated how cumbersome the body can be.  His physical transformation through the rainbow, however, was something his body was well suited for.  He stood, nude, inside the box fitting his legs in between the fallen wood he had previously wrestled with.  He dumped white paint over his on his head.  He repeats this action: red, blue, orange, purple…He turns for a moment.  The purple paint has trickled down his back in such a way that splits him in two.  He is half orange, half purple. He continues with green paint, then blue.  The watery paint moved over his form gracefully, pausing only as it gathered in his body hair.  This action referenced art history, both the disciplines of painting and sculpture.  The clown noses referenced ‘entertainment’.  Although Jeff wore the signature of a clown, the ultimate entertainer, used colors that were exciting to the eye, and cultivated an air of absurdity, the performance was far from entertainment.  After he finished this action with yellow, he turned on a pump inside of the box.   We watched as the brightly colored run-off paint turned into painter’s mud as it glided over the chaotic wooden structure.

He moved onto his next action that entailed filling a coffin shaped box with bottles of Miller High Life.  He filled another coffin shaped box (slightly shorter) with the oblong balloons.   He changed into a white shirt and pants that the residual paint left on his body seeped through.  This involuntary remnant left me to ponder our inability to fully control the imprints we make throughout our lives.  He raised the boxes, mildly reminiscent of the twin towers (an image difficult not to conjure in our post 911 society).   He broke the beer-filled box on the ground to release the beer.  He performed a cycle of libation, pouring 1 beer on the box and 1 beer over his own head.

Jeff Huckleberry 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

Nude once again, Jeff traveled the space hitting sticks, a ritual believed by the Ancient Filipinos to guide the departed to heaven.  He left his installation to hit sticks in front of the photo of Bob Raymond displayed on a wall across the room.  At this point, I had also left Jeff’s designated space, noticing that Marilyn was nearing the end of her action.  I did my best to situate myself between them, an attempt to fully experience both pieces simultaneously.  This action of mourning paid homage to Bob, and also established a physical space for Marilyn within Jeff’s piece.

Jeff proceeded to turn off his sound, Marilyn’s clock echoing throughout the room.   He transformed into a ghost while sitting inside of another box that faced the fountain he had previously made.  Black liquid seeped through the white fabric that covered his form and poured down from a point on his head.  He pulled the fabric off, revealing a tube inside of a bucket that continued to pump black water over his body. As the paint accumulated in the box beneath him he wore a black clown nose.  This image evoked decay, leading me to contemplate embalming rituals and notions around preservation of the body.  His clown nose suggested that this had all been a joke.  The performance ended with 2 fountains made from matter, Jeff’s body no different than the pile of wood positioned in front of him.

Like much of the work that unfolded earlier in the evening, Jeff’s actions created a dynamic tension around spectatorship and the importance of surrendering to process and allowing it to run its full course.

 

GJYD

Marilyn ends.  One glass fell.  The other glass followed several short minutes after the first.  The crashing of the glasses on the floor was quick, less sonically jarring than expected, and seemingly anticlimactic.  It was the moment when Marilyn left the table and disappeared into the shadows that my eyes started to burn, preparing to release tears.  Several moments later, Phelan made an announcement and Bathaus began to sound.  My experience of processing what had just happened felt rushed.  I wanted for more time, more silence.

Marilyn Arsem "Edge" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

Before the water that spilled from Marilyn’s glasses even had time to begin the process of evaporation, 3 figures wearing Gene Simmons masks swarmed Marilyn’s remnants.  They played Ring-Around-the-Rosie around her table.  When they stopped, they each revealed a roll of small black plastic bags that had been concealed in their hoodies.  They pulled the bags one by one, littering the ground.  I was put off (to say the least) by what appeared to be a lack of regard for the space created by the previous artist.  It felt like I was watching someone dance on a grave.  The action felt incomplete since they didn’t finish pulling through the entire rolls of bags.  To inhabit a space where someone else had committed to a task with their full intention and presence just moments before, only to short-change their own action, was frustrating to witness.  This oversight is a reminder of the importance of a site-sensitive practice and the power that can come from mindful considerations of the totality of a context and duration, as demonstrated by Marilyn’s piece.

GJYD 2013

In its best light, GJYD’s action pointed towards the varying understandings of death. The impact of death is selective and there are great variances between grieving processes.   I faulted these performers for their insensitivity to Marilyn’s space, for their inability to acknowledge it as still being occupied, but perhaps they believed enough time had passed for the space to be activated by someone else.  I, like so many, had been with Marilyn from the beginning of the day, thoroughly invested in “Edge”.  GJYD’s action forced me to confront my own personal connections to Marilyn’s piece and the knowledge that NDPAE was dedicated to her late husband.  GJYD reminded me of the importance of practicing non-attachment even in the light of personal adversity.

 

In Hindsite…

Performance artists have been organizing their own opportunities to share work for years. In the late 90’s and early part of the 2000’s, performance art was a medium that seemed to require gentle introduction to audiences across the U.S.  It’s not theatre, not dance, not music, and though it is related to visual art, what is called “art” is a process, rather than the product of a creative process.  It is conceptual and often strange for new audiences.  What is the etiquette for witness engagement?  How do you know when a performance is over?  Should you applaud?  Answers to these questions vary greatly depending on individual pieces and different artists’ philosophies.  Historically, the responsibility of inventing structures for presenting this work has fallen on artists and performance art organizers.  Many of the early events and festivals that The Present Tense has organized employed strategies that were used at NDPAE.  Music was played between performances, other time-based media such as ephemeral installation and video were programmed alongside action-based pieces, and announcements were made to alert the audience when these action-based pieces had ended.

Within the context of NDPAE these strategies felt unnecessary, and at times, inappropriate.  The music often felt overwhelming and distracting.  The video program and announcements were in competition with the physical conditions of the space (announcements were difficult to hear and the videos were washed out by the natural light).  These details were initially frustrating, but have made me acknowledge how many changes the performance art scene in Boston has cycled through.  There has always been a practice of patience among Boston audiences, but I believe that there has been an even deeper shift in how we collectively experience performance art in this city. Tools and strategies once used to calm the audience, to “loosen them up” are not needed in the way they once were.  NDPAE illuminated the fact that audiences are more willing, equipped and wanting to engage in the dialogues that artists are putting forth without mediation.  Audiences are prepared to invest in works that take on longer durations.  This opens up potential to develop new experimental collaborations between creative minds connected through experiential practice.  Instead of educating audiences on what performance art “is” and how it can be viewed, artists and organizers can instead focus our energies on developing multifaceted content that inspires deeper thought through the work we present.

 

Marilyn Arsem @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Faith Johnson @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Travis McCoy Fuller @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Jamie McMurry @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

VestAndPage @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Jeff Huckleberry @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

* a reference to Travis McCoy Fuller’s piece created for Contaminate I in 2006. 

Rough Trade II Interviews: Marilyn Arsem | Meredith and Anna

MARILYN ARSEM

Marilyn Arsem “still.missing” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

TPT: How did you find performance art?  How did performance art find you?

MA: I think it found me…  I remember being completely taken by written accounts of Happenings when I was in high school, and as a result we created our own, a group of us collaborating and combining different media. I remember even then being interested in real time rather than in narratives, in actions with materials rather than in plots, in visual images rather than in characters, in engaging with the audience rather than building a fourth wall.  So it made sense to align myself with the visual and performance art and new media communities.

TPT: You have an interesting process for making work.  Can you describe it and specifically the process you went through for realizing this work? 

MA: I try to follow certain instructions to myself:…  to do something that I have never done before, to work with the specifics of the space, to consider the context of the event, to make use of what is easily available, to not make unreasonable demands on the institution hosting the work, to tread lightly and leave no marks, to operate from my current state of mind, to pay attention to what I am paying attention to, to not be afraid to fail.  I remind myself that I am not obligated to entertain the viewers, that I can ask questions rather than provide answers, and that all I can really do is respond to what I am encountering at that time, from where I am in that moment.  It is a conversation, an inquiry, a process of discovery, rather than a statement or position.

 

Marilyn Arsem "still.waiting" 2012 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

 

TPT: How did you arrive at the decision to work in Defibrillator’s windows?  How did this context inform your piece?

MA: I hadn’t expected that the windows would be available, since I understood from the website that they were curated separately.  So it was only when I arrived on Thursday night that I heard that it was possible to work in them.   I was especially interested in the fact that the audience moved in and out between the two windows; that there were actually two separate windows to use.

 

Marilyn Aresm "still.waiting" 2012 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

 

TPT: Can you talk about the flour?

MA: It was a practical choice – I wanted the floor to be as white as the walls – I suppose I was influenced as well by the floor of the gallery being so newly painted white.  But really I just wanted the visual of white.  Later I thought that it suggested snow or clouds.  And I knew that flour would be easy to get in quantity, as I was told that there was a grocery store nearby…  and finally, I knew that it would be relatively benign to lie in it.

TPT: Can you talk about the blue chair?

MA: The choice of a chair descending occurred in stages.  First I thought of something rising, but then decided that something descending would be a better choice.  I am not sure why I decided that, though I could say that I have done a number of works where some object has risen into the air, and so I thought doing the reverse might be interesting.    And it felt right…

Then the question was what should descend.   Fruit?  Shoes?  Nothing seemed right.  Sabri, an artist who used to live in Boston, but is currently studying in Chicago,  suggested ‘furniture,’ and then I thought – of course, a chair.  Choosing the color took longer, but then light blue seemed right.  Later I thought of it being a reverse sky…

A chair might be considered a body, or something waiting to hold another body…  Or the descending chair might be read as ‘Deus Ex Machina.’   However, when the chair arrives it is empty.  Still waiting.  Something is missing.

But these choices – white, flour, chair, blue, are really just intuitive choices.  My understanding of them, or explanation of them, comes hours or days later, and most often in reflection on the work, after the performance happens.

 

Marilyn Aresm "still.waiting" 2012 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

 

TPT:  Is there a relationship between these objects and the broader scope of your work?

MA: I am not sure how I might answer this question…  I have had chairs in performances before  – a small red chair high in a tree; a chair made of ice in which the audience sat; a red chair placed daily in the landscape to witness sunrise…   I consider an empty chair as a very interesting site – an offer, a place waiting to be occupied, or evidence of something or someone who is missing…

TPT: Can you talk about the intention behind the actions?  Did that intention change once your were in the piece?

MA: I don’t think that I have a way to talk about intention.  I had an image of myself lying face down, in white.  And so I created that.  I wanted to be lying down, not engaging with people.  But I did want something to change, to arrive, to offer some other possibility, even though it was unfulfilled.

TPT: What were you thinking about during your piece?

MA: Haha, well actually I was trying not to think about how painful it was, how I wished that I had made a test for myself about what might be a more comfortable position to occupy.  But, I also had wanted to simply land in the window, on the flour, as if I had fallen from the sky.  And so that is how I ended in that position – I more or less fell into it.

TPT: Where were you during your piece?

MA: Breathing.  Listening.  Lowering the chair.

 

Marilyn Aresm "still.waiting" 2012 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

 

TPT: What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience?

MA: In this context I had many fewer expectations of the audience than usual.  In my mind, I was simply an image that slowly transformed over time.  I wanted them to see me, to forget about me as they watched other performances, and then look again to see the chair slowly descending.

TPT: How was performing in Chicago different from making work in Boston?

MA: I rarely make work in Boston.  Being in Chicago was a pleasure, not the least being that I spoke the same language as the residents.  I could anticipate how they might view the image.   Oh, and I could find my materials more easily, negotiate paying for them with ease…

TPT: Can you talk about the process of titling your pieces?  Why/ how did you choose the title “Still, waiting”?

MA: still. waiting

My computer resists that title, trying to make the S and W capital, or change the period to a comma.  It resists, trying to follow rules…

But choosing a title happens for me after the work.  It is a way to give a clue to a way of thinking about or looking at the work.  More information.  And so in this case I am trying to accurately identify what was happening to me at the time, and attempting to name that experience, or at least suggest other information in order to have a more in depth reading of the work.

 

Marilyn Aresm "still.waiting" 2012 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

MEREDITH AND ANNA

Meredith And Anna 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

TPT: Did your piece have a title?

A: Part of our performance method is about reacting un-rehearsed to the situations that our actions create, so though our projects always have working titles that we use to discuss the piece previous to the performance – we don’t title the work until we show documentation of it.

M: The title of the piece is “Red Flag”.

TPT: How did you find performance art? How did performance art find you?

M: I signed up for Performance Art I thinking I was taking an acting class, I had been involved in a local improv group. My performance art professor Mat Wilson (Industry of the Ordinary) was quite dissatisfied with this historical perspective. Performance art found me when, once educated by Wilson) I started inserting my work into the public sphere and was uncharacteristically embraced by the public for the medium.

A: I’m pretty sure I have always made performance art. I just didn’t know what I was doing until I started working with Industry of the Ordinary. In high school I would do things like hook up a Karaoke machines in the car and drive around picking up people to sing with my friends Kyle and I. I went to art school as a painter until I found I could approach activities I already love, like singing Karaoke in the car, aesthetically and construct artistic experiences.

TPT: How did you meet? How long have you been making work together?

A: We met eating take-out from Sultans Market on the floor of the Happy Collaborationist Exhibition Space. Meredith was a part of Before Cake, After Dinner – a performance art group that we exhibiting showing at Happy C.

M: I feel like it’s important to note that I hate everyone upon first meeting them but in the same breath I am capable of falling in love. I fell in love with Anna and Hadley of the Happy Collaborationists … they also let me smoke inside.

A: Meredith joined the Happy Collaborationists curatorial collective three years ago and we have been collaborating on our artistic practice together for about a year.

TPT: Can you describe your process for collaborating?

A: Currently we are in a bar; this is admittedly an important element of our work.

M: I wouldn’t consider myself a possessive girlfriend, however, I “collaborate with”/contact Anna… how many times a day?

A: …Twenty or thirty, depending on what we have going on, considerably more often then my boyfriend. I think where you really see this in our work is with the lack of formality in relating to one another when performing, we laugh when things are funny, we openly discuss how to cope with situations that arise; constant communications is part of our relationships and our art practice.

TPT: Do you have individual practices? Can you talk about them?

M: We are currently concentrating on our collaborative practice; neither of us has made solo work in 3-5 years.

TPT: How did the context of the Pozen Center inform your work?

 

Meredith And Anna "Red Flag" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

M: We hated the Pozen Center. We were absolutely thrilled to be presenting work at Mass Arts and we were excited to be working in a space of such importance but found the space physically overwhelming.

A: I was terrified of the Pozen Center, as soon as we walked in. I was terrified of the stage and the grandeur. We usually work with actions that can insert themselves into a pre-existing context and the Pozen Center demanded that we make ourselves the center of attention.

M: If we had not been in the Pozen Center we would not have executed this piece this way, the scale of the room forced us to work with height, the insurance restrictions of the College forced us to change the structural formation of the piece and the theatrical lighting forced us to interact with set and audience in a way that we usually avoid. We now love the Pozen Center.

TPT: How did you communicate with one another in this piece?

M: When we are performing we do not take on any characters of personas. When we laugh its real, when we swear it’s real, when we fall its real.

A: When were perform we have fluid conversations, we work thought problems and make jokes, we pretty much discus things exactly the same way we would if we weren’t doing something ridiculous.  Anything else would be acting.

TPT: How did you decide on the actions and imagery in this piece?

M: I was on an OK Cupid date, and it was going great. The guy had been a curator or something in St. Louis, which gave me a false sense of security of what I could or could not talk about. Due to nerves I had skipped dinner and we were meeting for drinks … after a few cocktails things were going so well that we moved on to a restaurant. At some point I said “reality television is really important to me”, to which Jude said “You just said ‘reality television is really important to me’ RED FLAG.”  I assumed he was making a joke and continued to discus my love of all things high and low culture. I never heard from Jude again, but since then I have had many conversations of how I define Red Flags, as well discussions about all of the attributes that make me a red flag.

A: Meredith is one of the funniest people I have ever met and she tells this story really well, more importantly I have made her tell this story to so many people who are much more important than us, so for me the image of the red flag has shifted from a portrait of Meredith to a portrait of our ridiculous relationship. When we arrived at the Pozen center we found these poles that were used to hang lights, they were reminiscent of flag poles and I immediately climbed to the top of them. They were wonderful objects and it became pretty obvious that we needed to raise ourselves as red flags on them. We wanted to present a third pole in the piece, a place holder for the audience to physically or intellectually position themselves in and consider how they could stand beside us. The joined triangular structure was the result of us worrying the College, they wouldn’t let us do the piece without the brace which turned out to be a win/lose situation, we lost the direct reference to a flag pole but it the end it strengthened the sculptural footprint of the piece when we were not performing.

M: I also got that one guy to take off this shirt while he was building it.

TPT: Do you often use endurance actions in your work?

A: Often, it’s hard to end performance art and if a work doesn’t have a built in ending it’s the only decision that makes since, beyond that it connects directly to our life styles – we both work multiple jobs, run Happy Collaborationists and still try to make art. Our existence is a practice of endurance and we don’t quit anything until our bodies or minds give out.

M: Our practice is also based on a concept or idea of generosity. What can we give the audience? What can we give each other? It only makes sense to do any of these things for as long as humanly possible.

TPT:. Can you talk about the color red?

M: Red is a big color; it’s bold and demands attentions.

A: I don’t think we started working with red for the sake of aesthetics, rather we were interested in several objects in our culture that others had decided to make red: the red carpet, the red flag and the red solo cup. We selected aspects of everyday existence that we were interested in and they all happened to red, because of that I think we have started to really consider this color aesthetically. It took us about five hour of shopping to find the “right” red shirts for this piece

TPT: Can you talk about the intention behind the actions? Did that intention change once your were in the piece?

 M: Our intent with this piece was to fail. It was important to insert ourselves symbolically as a flag, but it was equally important to carry out an action that would ultimately become physically impossible.  Our intention did not change because we successfully failed.

 A: I believe that the in-time transformation of the piece happened in its second occurrence. When Meredith and I started, we were both already physically exhausted. After I helped her to the top of the pole, I could not quite reach the top myself. After we had both fallen, it because obvious that we could not continue to simultaneous execute this sculpture – so we decided to reformat the action and she began to lift me the top over and over again, until I was no longer physically able to grip the bar that was holding me up. She was still standing by me, but we had to combine our strengths to keep the sculpture alive.

 

Meredith And Anna "Red Flag" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

TPT: What is Happy Collaborationists?

M: Happy Collaborationists is our collaborative curatorial practice, we use it to support other artists working in performance, installation and media arts.

TPT: What are the blue wigs all about?

A: Everyone always asks about Happy C’s wigs, and that’s the point. They are goofy and approachable, we work with conceptual art, sculptural performance and a lot of other forms of artwork that make people uncomfortable about asking questions and engaging with us. The blue wigs started as a wacky stunt that had a lot to do with the fact the we all looked good in blue wigs, but they remained because over and over again someone who wants to ask a question about the artwork can’t do so until they are already having a conversation with us, and no one has ever been awkward about walking up and asking about the wigs, or asking to get their picture taken with us. It’s not a performance it’s more of a scheme.

TPT: What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience?

M: That they don’t feel trapped. I want our audience to make their own incredibly conscious decisions as to what the piece means to them, and how they chose or choose not to interact with a work. Ultimately I am a looking for acceptance.

A: I hope that an audience engages and interprets our actions from their own perspective, once you make a work it become autonomous and I believe that any individuals perspective on a piece that I do is equally valued to my own.

TPT: Were there any moments that surprised you?

A: Yes and no, we never know how our interaction will unfold in a work, so we never know exactly what to expect. When you don’t have precise expectations, it’s hard to be surprised.

 

Meredith And Anna "Red Flag" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

TPT: How was performing in Boston different from making work in Chicago?

M: We couldn’t find a liquor store anywhere.

TPT: What imprints did Boston leave on you?

M: This was our first time engaging in an artist exchange and we are grateful for the friendships we have made and are inspired by the work of these Boston based artists.  We are blown away by the generosity of the individuals we have met.

TPT: Can you talk about the duration of this work?

M: We waited until a crowd gathered and then reacted to our physical limitations.

A: We performed the work once and were exhausted. After a recovery period we felt as though we could continue the action, so we re-executed the piece. We performed until I could no longer grip the pole and we had to stop.

TPT: What is inspiring you at the moment?

M: The ability to laugh at ourselves and knowing when to laugh at each other. We make work about things we can confidently answer about one another lives and actions.

TPT: What’s next?

THE CALENDAR!

TPT: Any words of wisdom?

M: A Snickers in not a meal…

A: except when it is.

Boston infiltrates Chicago

Last weekend, 6 artists from Boston traveled to Chicago to make work at Defibrillator Gallery as part of ROUGH TRADE II; a Boston Chicago artist exchange.  Here is video documentation of the pieces that they created.  In the coming months, The Present Tense will be posting extended interviews with each artist, giving them the opportunity to talk about the intention behind their work, their experience with the exchange, how the context informed their pieces, etc.  Stay tuned!

 

 

Philip Fryer “TREE/POOL/SKY” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Sandy Huckleberry “Fishing” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Marilyn Arsem “still, waiting” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Sandrine Schaefer “SecondSkin” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Daniel S. DeLuca RKSR CNL from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Jeff Huckleberry “Fourth Rainbow” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

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

 Undertow

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.

Marilyn Arsem @ uneARTh

In December 2006, Marilyn Arsem performed a piece titled “How Long” atPresent Tense’s uneARTh. The piece was composed of a simple actionwith complex implications. The action; how long can she hold herbreath underwater. To add to the action, a video projection of gentlymoving waves illuminates the wall behind her. But we cant hear it, instead, we hear the visceral noises of Marilyn submerging her face in a bowl of water and coming up a minute (or two) later for one breath of air. This performance is a poignant look at the body’s most basic of all needs, and the ambivalence of the material itself. Our relationship with water is one based on vitality, however in alternate context’s if you don’t respect it, it will destroy you. In that sense, this piece could have been an homage to Bas Jan Ader, another performance artist who final action was being swallowed by the ocean. Marilyn reminds us that not only are we mortal, but that we are at the mercy of our basic needs.