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.

Chicago infiltrates Boston

Last weekend, artists from Chicago traveled to Boston to make work at Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s Pozen Center for ROUGH TRADE II; a Boston Chicago artist exchange.  This collaboration between The Present Tense and Defibrillator Gallery was a great success.  We are already talking about doing another exchange between the 2 cities next year.  We also are pleased to report that the project’s Kickstarter campaign was successfully funded!  Thanks to the following people for their support of this project:

Ernest Plowman, Coco Segaller, Steven Frost, Suzi G, Chelsea Lowrie, Jenny Magnus, Christine, Dubi Kaufman, Sarah Belknap, Montserrat Galleries, Pat Falco, Jen McChesney, Sarah Sulistio, Jessie Chouinard, VulcanMike, Mark J, Ethan Kiermaier, Vela Phelan, Emily Green, Laura Ferguson and Steve Tekosky, Ricardo De Lima, Eames McDermott Armstrong, Rosie Ranauro, Amy Ranauro, Michael Thomas, Kirk Amaral Snow, Jocelyn Hughes, Jeffery Byrd, Joseph Hennessy, Jamie McMurry, Evan Rose, Marcia Ferguson, Catherine Tutter, Leeanne Brennan, Zayde Buti, Maria Molteni, Matthew Girard, Bob DeLuca, Dana Moser, the SIM Department at MassArt, Alex Kennedy, Kerri Coburn, Bob Farrell, Monica Chiang, Maggie Cavallo, Leonie Bradbury, Lucas Spivey, Caitlin Gianniny, Alexis Avedisian, Christian Cruz, and to all of the participating artists who traveled the distance to share great work!  The artists also generously opened their homes to one another, fed one another, documented the live works, etc.  Rough Trade II exemplified the strength of the live art communities both in Boston and Chicago!

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, share how the context informed their pieces, etc.  In the meantime, enjoy video documentation from the work Chicago artists made in Boston!

 

Elena Katsulis and Erin Peisert 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Mothergirl “What You Look Like, Too” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Meredith And Anna 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Adam Rose “Neu Iconoclasts: Wig Party” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Joseph Ravens “Mastication” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Claire Ashley 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.