From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

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.



#DadaTarot at SFAI Alumni Show

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img_0414-2#DadaTarot at the SFAI alumni show (curator Katya Min of the Yerba Buena Center) was especially interesting because it was right after the election (November 13th and 14th).  There were unsurprisingly a fair number of questions about the direction of the country.  Notably a few of these were answered with a U-Turn sign.  One question about whether “It was going to be okay” (post election) was answered by a picture of Trump making a rude gesture with his fingers, a plane and a car.  Definitely an intense and rattled climate here in liberal San Francisco at an art school.

The gallery environment of the Diego was more open space with people coming into the gallery in a steady stream of singles and small groups for hours.  The pace people approach a piece and how much they see of what other people do first really changes the dynamic.  In this case people were greeting it almost on their own, or one group at a time.  One of the best dynamics in this case was two strangers wanting to do the piece, but lacking a partner they knew.  There were people who looked like they had little in common (age, clothing, etc.) who seemed deeply skeptical of each other, but in a couple cases embraced after doing the piece together and found they had ideas to offer each other.  This was one of my hopes for the piece.  Really, it has worked out to be everything I hoped for and more. While the records are interesting, the interaction itself is the core of the piece.

Written by marycoreymarch

December 13, 2016 at 9:29 am

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#DadaTaroT at Pata Dada for Citylights Dada Anniversary

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#DadaTaroT was at Pataphysical Studios’ special exhibit on the ‘Pataphysics of Dada’ as part of Citylights Dada World Fair.  Here are the participants from the Nov. 5th event.

Written by marycoreymarch

December 7, 2016 at 6:14 am

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#DadaTaroT @ open studios

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I did a less formal version of the #DadaTaroT piece at this fall’s open studios.  I am really enjoying this piece!  A lot of people asked some pretty intense questions, and many interesting interpretations and conversations arose.

A few odd things keep happening:  out of the (4?) times people have asked about Trump winning the election (the piece was made during the primaries), Elvis has been drawn three times out of the nearly 100 media cards.  What is one to make of that?

Another thing that has happened at least three times is that pairs of friends have picked the same card after the entire deck was shuffled.

Two groups went as three people together instead of a pair.

In this iteration, a questioner asked about the nature of the artist as a child, and the person answering was actually quite right.  Another person made an offhand comment that the questioner would get a tattoo on their hand… which it turned out they already had.  A surprising number of people asking about their own mortality.

Narratives upon narratives.

Apologies… the notes on the  two responses seems to be lost.  I’m working on recovery and will post them when and if I get them.

Open Studios Friday the 23rd.

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Come be part of the creative process!

Join me for the Opening Reception at the Art Explosion

Friday night (9/23) only 7-11
2425 17th St, SF, CA
Studio 2A (keep right as you enter, studio door on right side in the first room).

More info at:

Dada Tarot2I take a different sort of approach to Open Studios than many artists- I actually work during it, mostly because most of my work is interactive and part of the process is input from many people.  I like having many different perspectives other than my own when I create these pieces, and I like to road-test them, so the crowds of open studios are ready material.  This means you can not only see art, but be a part of the creative process!

Right now I’m working on a piece about Access, and I can’t wait to see what personal experiences and reactions visitors will share.  What I learn will almost certainly shape how I chose to make the future interactive piece.

#DadaTaroT (my most recent interactive and participatory piece) will also be up for people to experiment with (minus the formal performance).  Unfortunately some of the cards were stolen at the Dada Here and Now show (no fault to the curators, they were fabulous), but perhaps the theft is part of the element of Chance.  You can judge for yourself when you try it.

I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Written by marycoreymarch

September 17, 2016 at 1:15 am

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#DadaTarot: the first readings

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I created this project for a show celebrating the 100th anniversary of Dada.  I made the #DadaTaroT deck out of two sets of images: 21 red wood and laser-etched cardboard symbol cards, and over 200 media image cards on laser-etched cardboard.


The method was simple: a pair of people (strangers, lovers, friends…) would be invited by the performers dressed in carnival-esque gear to each ask a question which they could not at that moment know the answer to.  One person would ask (aloud or in silence) and then select one red card and two brown cards.  The partner would then use the cards to attempt to answer the person’s question.  Then they switch.  I documented each one in rough and ready fashion with a photo and hastily hand-written notes.  These are the results.

The Dadaists were coming out of the horror of WWI that left many of their generation feeling that life was meaningless and absurd: Religion, Government, Philosophy and Art seemed to have utterly failed to provide meaning in the context of that horror.  The Dadaists embraced and exposed the absurdity.

I used Tarot because it seemed to be a perfect intersection of the randomness that a lot of dada art has employed through the use of games of chance together with a random assault of media and symbolism wherein we search for meaning.  In the end it is about what each person brings to it and what they _want_ to find, but as in all interactions it’s not just our interpretations, but the interpretations of those around to us, or even close to us that have an effect.  Our negotiation of those interpretations of our world together are what interests me as an artist.  This exchange provided a platform for mini exchanges and negotiations of how we interpret our shared world.

So many interesting things happened during this project, only a few of which are visible in these records- the best of it was within the interaction.  It is very much is about what people bring to it.

Lost and Found in Translation

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translation lostDoing the translation on the statements for Identity Tapestry at the Vögel Kulture Zentrum outside of Zurich is a very tricky process, one which is pushing against the cultural identity of the place and the German language.  It is doubly hard because I don’t know German and must rely on how well I can convey what I’m after to translators.

There are always problems in translation, and even in English each word must be chosen very carefully.  I have a very small space on the labels to get an idea across and I make use of the double meanings, ambiguity or clarity of certain words in English.  “I just want to have faith” could mean religious faith or faith in oneself or faith in other things in English, but there is a leaning towards religious faith.  In German it seems it is one or the other.  The statement “I get attacked for my beliefs” is doubly difficult, first because in English “beliefs” is very ambiguous.  The beliefs could be religious, political, personal, whatever, but apparently in German religious beliefs and other beliefs are different words.  Secondly “attacked” in English can mean verbally or physically attacked (and I appreciate the ambiguity), but in German they seem to be more separate.

In this case, there were potentially two languages in play, Swiss German and High German (the Swiss speak French, Italian and German depending on where in the country you are).  Swiss-German is spoken, but it is the casual intimate language, not the written one… until very recently.  In the past few years it has shown up in text messaging, but  as my translator put it “only to a friend you would invite to your wedding”, no one else.  Originally I thought it would be wonderful to use Swiss-German for the statements, because it is the language inside people’s minds and more intimate but the problem is there is no standardized way of writing it, so it is very confusing to read.  There are other problems; Swiss German is shocking to see written in a way that might overshadow the piece because it comes across as very grade-school and unprofessional, something people are very unused to seeing in that context and might change the meaning and focus of the piece. The thing that finally convinced me not to use it (after my poor translator struggled through all the statements in Swiss-German with me) was that it would just be too hard to read.

The final thing was that the specter of WWII kept rearing up.  It is completely ingrained in the German language.  Translating “I like to follow a good leader” becomes an issue when “leader” always carries meaning of  “The Leader” (Hitler).  Likewise “I have fought in a war”.  There is only one war apparently, or that is the connotation.  Ideas of cultural or racial identity are similarly thorny with the war (as if that weren’t bad enough here!).

Right now I have my first translator’s second pass at going from Swiss-German into High German which has been marked up by the very helpful curator for the show in red ink.  We will have to talk on the phone at what will be 1AM for me tonight so I get a better idea of the thoughts behind her changes.  The simple, literal translation of the words aren’t always the thing that gets at what I mean.  In English I think of the statements more like poetry: carefully selected words arranged in a way that hits the mind a certain way and can contain layers of meaning.  In translating to a language I do not know I feel like I am feeling around in the dark.  At the same time I am finding a new understanding of the Swiss-German culture and language.



Written by marycoreymarch

May 12, 2016 at 10:26 pm

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