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Thoughts on Performance Art- my Ritual Space approach

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img_0414-2So I have a lot of thoughts on performance art.  Many of them come down to the idea that when you push it to the extremes (which is one of art’s natural habitats) it becomes about enacting extremes on the body.  Extreme pain (so many), extreme pleasure (Seed Bed comes to mind), sex, nudity, privation, stillness, repetitive motion… so many extremes of what the body is and what it can take.  An extension of that is the extremes of emotional exposure as seen in and through the body.  There are many interesting, important approaches to this, but I feel like it is ground well covered, and not what I’m interested in for my own work.

My work isn’t about me or my body or extremes, it’s about creating a platform, structure, even a ritual space for others to engage with ideas I present: with each other, with themselves, and now, possibly with me.

Ritual space is something I have been interested in for as long as I can remember. It was central to my studies in my first undergrad in History of Religions. I took a wonderful anthropology-based (Turner-centric) course on Ritual, but I saw ritual in everything from folk tales to architecture and football games. Ritual space is throughout our secular and personal lives- the ritual space of a hot bath with candles, a classroom, a bar, a gallery or a public library. These spaces have forms, rules, and roles which set them apart from other spheres and spaces in our lives and they create feelings and thoughts unique to those spaces. In these spaces we are ourselves, and yet ourselves in a specific role or character to fit the space, observing certain rituals of that space (a 3rd grade teacher will be themselves at both a bar and their classroom, but different selves).

In #DadaTarot I am creating a ritual space for the action to happen in. That action requires a mediator with a certain level of otherness and authority. A slight change of clothing and demeanor is enough to create this. I am still very much being myself, but I have given myself certain rules (some of which I specifically gave myself permission to break).   The rules, the clothing, demeanor and the simple object of a table give me the structure of a ritual space for the piece to work in.  Given the nature of Dada I didn’t even allow myself anything fancy for the table- it is a ready-made cocktail table and the covering was the first plain black piece of fabric on the top of my fabric pile, not sewn or tidied in any way.

For this piece, the Role of Barker/carnival worker has to be there to set the interaction apart from other gallery interaction, but also to get the participants to enter in a questioning way. These roles are known for being untrustworthy.  I want people to come to this project with skepticism. For this piece I would absolutely not dress in any kind of clothing associated with actual fortune-tellers with very good reason: my role does not actually involve doing the fortune-telling. That I leave to the participants. The barker’s role is to bring bystanders into the action and tell them what the rules of the game are, which is what I do.

Me in the role as artist would to explain the piece and how it fits into my work. In the case of me performing in this piece (as opposed to someone else performing the piece while I stand next to it as Artist) I mostly steer clear of this. If they press, I mostly answer as Barker, not artist as to the nature of the piece.  That said, I am remaining myself.  This performance allows for expressing what I want to say, holding back, and then allowing myself to be pressed for an opinion, even as I say I should not really be giving it… which is what good Barkers do too.

I suspect more of my work is heading in this direction. Most of the participatory works need some kind of “baby sitter” during interactions to explain the interactive process to people and to keep people (especially drunk people) from breaking them or walking away with parts of the art.  Mostly the ritual space of Gallery with the role of Gallery assistants covers this. Now that I am looking this aspect of my work in the face and acknowledging that what I am creating with my installations is ritual space (inside the ritual space of gallery/museum/etc.), it logically follows to incorporate ritual roles for certain works.

*note:  I am fully aware that not all performance art involves extremes, and there is a lot of performance art out there (physically extreme and not) which I admire.  A lot of it is politically extreme and I applaud that too.  This studio blog post is about my own artistic path.


Stepping Back (in)

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mirrorI’ve been away from being public about my art for a little while now.  I’ve only applied to a single program, I’ve written no blog posts, showed no work and even turned down a few shows.  I needed a break where I could think my thoughts without offering them to the world.

Years ago I might have pushed on, and possibly had a breakdown.  I’ve learned better.  During the course of my recently completed MFA program six people I love died.  Three of my four grandparents, one of whom was like a second mother to me.  Two mentors.  One friend and fellow artist to suicide.
Just on their own MFA programs are difficult, intense cauldrons of emotion and ego and challenge and intensity of ideas and beliefs.  They are the crucibles that forge us… those of us who don’t crack.  The ones that did crack were measured in the bulging mailboxes and empty studio spaces at the end of each year, and there were more than a few.  We put ourselves on the line, our ideas, our thoughts, our work, and those of us who are willing, our loves and lives and beliefs too.  Of course, the current fashion is cynicism and snarkyness (which doesn’t call on people to put themselves out so far) but for me being on the line it is what makes the art have a soul,  and while Soul doesn’t matter to some, and there is some good purely intellectual/aesthetic art, it matters very much to me.
After the thesis show I had immediate offers for shows and commissions- wonderful opportunities,  but not the breath of air I needed.  For a full year after it I was busy, during which there was another death, the final grandparent. They all lived full lives, all died over 94, but the loss is ours and never easy.  The situation of being in constant physical pain was one factor I had throughout all three years, as was being the main caretaker of my young daughter during a period where my husband was so busy he rarely even got weekends off.  There were other significant pressures I won’t list.  It was a hard three years.  It was also intensely productive and important.

At the same time I was incredibly fortunate.  I didn’t have to pull my hair out over money.  I had love and good friends and whether I wanted a break or not I those commissions and shows just dropped into my lap- nearly every vacation during the MFA program as well as after it.  I didn’t have to look for a single show after I graduated- I didn’t have time for any more, but when I saw the pause in the stream, I took the break instead of hunting for the next one.  I shut down the blog and set out to take care of everything in my life that had been held together with sealing wax for three years. I did things for the fun of them, I saw the people I love, I experienced new things and got new ideas.
Like many artists, I have depression.  I have anxiety and panic attacks.  It is almost a cliche that artists are tortured souls and some of us think we can’t work without that (I disagree, but it is different).  Chronic pain adds its own layer to one’s process.  Most people looking at me would have no idea about the first two and many would never know about the pain either.  There were many classes and critiques where I was clenching my fists not to scream from the physical pain in my back and concentrating hard on keeping a normal face.  I have many strategies for dealing with it all.  I kept on, put one foot in front of the other, did all the things I needed to do and held everything together and met every deadline, did my best work… and when I had an opening I did the sane thing I would not have done 10 years ago, and rested.


You see two other people died during that time, acquaintances, but each with a compelling message.  One was another suicide from depression- someone who worked himself into the ground and didn’t acknowledge the care he needed to take of himself, he pushed himself too far.  The other was a car crash, a terrible random thing that could take any of us at any moment.  When I resurfaced those deaths reminded me again not to take a moment for granted, and not to put taking care of myself last.  I even discovered something to help my back and for the first time in seven years I’m having multiple days without serious pain.  I’m breathing again.


So here I am, back at work.  My mind has been plotting new art, my hands have been busy, sketches and ideas form.  It’s time to step back in to show my work and share my thoughts again.    I leave you with this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on creative genius and depression.


***Addition:  Wonderfully, when I moved on to check my email I found an invitation to include a specific piece in an exciting museum show in another country waiting in my inbox.  A well-timed confirmation to stepping back in indeed.

Artists Discussion Panel- Endangered Languages in the Information Age next Thursday

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Tomorrow night is the opening reception for Living With Endangered Languages in the Information Age! We are also having a panel discussion centering around the role of technology in Languages and Art on the 15th.  Please join us!


Living with Endangered Languages in the Information Age (curated by Hanna Regev)
2nd Sat Reception: Saturday, January 10, 2015 – 6:00pm to 9:00pm
Exhibition Dates: Jan 7, 2015 to Jan 31, 2015
3rd Thursday Artist Panel Discussion: Thursday, January 15, 2015 – 5:00pm to 8:00pm
Including CREATIVE STATION, free all-ages art activities in our Classroom.

More on the show here:

Gala Night

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The Gala fundraiser opening for SFAI’s graduate thesis show. 

last participantThis photo is right when things were closing down.  I liked the stillness and being  able to clearly see all three pieces without the crowd.  It was a really great night.  I love  seeing people interact with the work!

My work for this show included Identity Tapestry (iteration#9)Write Me for Art/Do you read me? (Disintermediation), and Write Me for Art/ Do you read me? (digital mediation)

I poked my head out a little, but I haven’t seen the whole show yet.  I’m looking forward to a quiet viewing tomorrow.

Spring Shows and Events!

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     April 19th:         Open Studios 12-5PM   2565 Third Street (between 22nd and 23rd), SF, CA
May 2-4th:             Print Show at Mullowney Printing   933 Treat Street, SF, CA 94110

                                    * Opening on Friday the 2nd.

     May 14th-18th:      PRINCIPAL:  SFAI’s Graduate Thesis Exhibition


SFAI Graduate Open Studios:

This is your chance to get a peek into the process.

Navigational Tip:   There is an entrance at 22nd street.  Go to the second floor.  Every Orange door on the floor is an SFAI facility. 

I am in Bay C (just to the right of the lounge) in a lovely corner spot in #7 in the back right. 

I will send out more information on the second two events as they approach.  I hope to see you at the Open Studios!  I will have an interactive piece running in the studio as well as a Participatory piece you can contribute to.


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In other fantastic and inspirational news, I just had a really wonderful studio visit with Michelle Grabner.  It is so great to meet more people in the art world who are community/education/ and *gasp* Art oriented rather than commercially or ego-oriented, and so great to see that attitude towards art  getting a voice (she’s one of the Whitney Biennial’s curators).

Her talk last night cheered me right out of my slump and got me back into the studio in an excited way (I will always keep working, but it’s different when you’re electrified).  Her commitment to and patience with “saying yes” to art is impressive.  She is very generous in her spirit- opening her home to artists, creating spaces where artists can show and experiment without commercial pressures… it’s encouraging.

I love her weaving/drawings and the meditative quality to her work.  I feel like there is a lot of common ground there.  Also, her comments on one of my paintings gave me new steam to finish it.  I would love to work with her.

Written by Mary Corey March

November 23, 2013 at 5:17 am

Posted in art, artists, personal

The lllusion of “when I have time” (in honor of Lisa Bufano)

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Usually, generally, in every moment we anticipate the next moment without recognizing that the next moment may not come.

Lisa Bufano

Lisa Bufano- I cannot for the life of me confirm the title for this piece, but it’s my favorite.  (source:

Today I looked up a friend to show her artwork to another person who I knew would love it and discovered an obituary notice attached to her name 21 days old. She was an inspiring person, a talented artist, a shining, glowing human being who took the most frustrating and difficult things and made them beautiful, challenging art.

I knew her in my program at the SMFA 11 years back. She had been an animator, but lost her fingers and her legs below the knee- so she became a dancer. A performance artist. She used her loss to create and become something new and unique. She used the lack of her legs to make constructed, sculptural legs a part of her work. She was incredible. I did not take the time to build a strong friendship with her, but each time we talked and connected, visited a museum together, etc. it was so clear how well we connected and worked together.

She wanted me to collaborate on a performance. I was pregnant when we met again in San Francisco 6 years ago and she actually found me a dance to perform in while pregnant (by virtue of being pregnant) at the Yerba Buena Center. I didn’t feel comfortable getting up on my stilts while pregnant to collaborate with her though (yes, I stilt), so I thought “later”. Just as my back injury from labor got manageable and my kid started daycare she left town for a while and we lost touch. A little over a year ago I bumped into her again. She was back in SF! We talked and “yes, let’s get together” “lets collaborate on a performance”. I didn’t seize the day. I missed the opportunity. Just the way so many days I miss seeing a friend, catching up, having dinner or going to a museum, I missed this chance to be with her and work together. It wasn’t a huge window before my MFA program and being swept up in that. I kept thinking in the back of my mind “I’ve got to get ahold of her when I’m done, this will be great.” There were moments I could have done that, could have connected, talked, planned, done.  I didn’t.  I was having ideas for a piece together when I looked her up again today.


She will be missed.

**later note  After writing this (and having a cry) I actually got up on stilts to try out a performance piece I’d been working on for my critique class.  My first one involving stilts.  Somehow it felt like a little tribute and I felt like a little of her was there.  I may never get to do a stilting dance with her, but it and when I do performance art on stilts, I will think of her.

Written by Mary Corey March

October 25, 2013 at 12:27 am

Posted in art, artists

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pixels emerge…

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wednesdayWell I finally got to the fun part of the weaving!

It seemed like whatever could go wrong did, but now that it’s going it’s looking just as I hoped, even better in some ways.  The textures are fantastic.  Sadly the LEDs have not arrived (one month late!) so while the piece itself will make it into the at the Diego Gallery Sunday (Interwoven Connections- Contemporary Fibers) it is unlikely that it will have the lighting element aspect of it operating yet.  For this show it will hang free the way Binary Girl does, creating a shadow.  Soon, though It will have a glow through the fiber optic parts of the warp, giving a glow to all the white in the image.

I am really looking forward to that show.  The reception will be Tuesday 5-7 with an artist talk at 5:30.

It’s funny, when I’m actually close enough to weave I can’t really see the image, but in a photo it’s incredibly clear.




Written by Mary Corey March

April 25, 2013 at 8:45 am

Nonsense Text

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backsMy work has increasing amounts of text in it.

These are the backs of the embroidered “postcard” parts of the piece that came out of my Aurora-hunting trip to Norway and Sweden.  Something about the cadence of writing, the gesture without the meaning is very attractive to me.  There are a number of artists working in imaginary text in this way.  I recently saw Gu Wenda’s united nations — babel of the millennium at SF MOMA that really struck me and stayed with me.  I saw another piece by an Asian artist- I think Korean, but I’m not sure that consisted of a room full of open texts which were in a generically Asian-looking text that was also nonsense characters.  I need to track that artist and his work down!  *

For some reason as soon as I start to get interested in text I became interested in text failing to reveal the sort of meaning we expect from text and retaining only the visual language of gesture.

*later note, thanks to Melinda I have the name I was searching for- Xu Bing and the piece is “Tianshu” (book from the sky)

Written by Mary Corey March

April 17, 2013 at 11:30 am

Digital Warping

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IMG_5712There is no sign of the many yards of silk ribbon I hand-dyed for the weft or the last skein of white cotton for the warp.  Today was one of those days that all the little things go wrong… until I finally got the materials sorted out and started work.  That makes everything better.  Warping is so meditative.

The first layer of warp (the up and down bit you weave the weft/across bit through) is mostly in place now.  New yarn arriving Wednesday to finish that.  The optical fiber comes next, then some near-invisible mono-filament for structure.  Then some loo/warp setup-stuff, THEN I can start weaving.  I don’t think I can really hook up the LEDs to the optical fibers to get them to glow until the whole thing is woven.

I was testing the optical fibers again the other night.  They are meant to only pass light from one end to the other without you seeing it out the sides.  By abrading the surface you get a side-glow.  If I abrade any single fiber evenly the whole way the light won’t make it- it will go dark in the middle, so what I’m going to go for is an almost rainfall-like effect- individual fibers abraded differently.  The tricky thing here will be that I will have to apply all the abrasion before actually seeing any of it lit or woven, so I will only see a slightly more opaque bit to tell me where the light will be.

I have mountains of concept behind this work, but as usual I’m reluctant to talk publicly about it while the work is in-progress.  I want to hear people’s experience of the work before telling them what I think is important or what my intentions are.  A lot of it in this piece is about the meanings within the materials and their history, and the methods employed to produce the piece- drawing from a painting, digitization, cropping, weaving.  The image itself is around the 6th version of same.  Days and days of work and artistic decision-making have gone into a deceptively simple derivative image.

In other news tomorrow I’ll be meeting with the other artists in the show I organized for the Diego Gallery at SFAI (selected by an outside jury).  Interwoven Connections– contemporary fiber (April 28th-May 4th).  So far so good.  Four awesome women (Dara Rosenwasser, Jacqueline Buttice, Heather Jones and myself) working at the intersection of fiber, photography, chemistry and technology.


Written by Mary Corey March

April 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm