From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Posts Tagged ‘performance

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 @ 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.

Scenes of Surveillance

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A few scenes from the Bearing Witness Show of the pieces, artist talks and performances.

I’ve just added Digital Breadcrumbs (M.I.S.S.T)  and Online Profile to my website.

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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