Other Investigations: Marisa Williamson



Marisa Williamson is a New York-based artist, originally from Philadelphia. She received her B.A. in visual art from Harvard University and earned her M.F.A. from California Institute of the Arts in 2013. Her project as an artist is to explore and describe through performance, video, objects and images, the ways that soft technologies: ‘problem-solving tools’ like narrative, language, and myth, along with hard technologies like the camera, the digital moving image, and the web—facilitate the rendering and surrendering of the physical and psychological body.

Marisa is currently in the Whitney Independent Study Program and has performed in Skowhegan Performs at Socrates Sculpture Park and Brooklyn Fire Proof through NURTUREart. This month, she showed and performed at Find & Form in Boston, and will be showing at Vox Populi on February 21, 2015. At the moment, Marisa is working on several projects, including editing a film she shot in Paris last winter.

This past summer Etta and I met Marisa Williamson and talked with her about the concepts she’s exploring in her work. We decided to expand our introductory feature for the ACRE artists we conducted studio visits with and ask additional questions about what they are working on, their process, and their experience at ACRE. You can read about our visit here – Part 1 & Part 2.

What concepts are you exploring in your current body of work?

“[My] ongoing body of work, is related to the patchwork narrative of Sally Hemings: Thomas Jefferson’s biracial slave and mistress of thirty years, with whom he fathered six children. The work is rooted in an interest in museological and art industrial space and methodology, memory and its opposite, race, gender, sex, labor, and love through a historical lens. The work addresses the aforementioned interests as they pertain to my life: a modern life existing as it does as a consequence of her known and unknown literal and figurative ancestors.”

What projects are you currently working on and what are the relationships between your current and past works? What are you experimenting with in the studio?

Right now I’m editing a film I shot in Paris last winter. In it I perform as Sally Hemings exploring the city in an attempt to decide whether to stay in Paris or return to America. Hemings and Jefferson’s relationship began in Paris. You can see the Kickstarter campaign for the video here. I’m also working on revising existing performance in preparation for future opportunities to show them. I’m also beginning to make mobiles in the studio. They’re still in the brainstorming / material gathering phase.

My past work, which you can see some of here (and below), and in other Vimeo videos and on my website, has dealt consistently with race and gender, media, and history. I’ve been making videos for years. Performance seems to me to be a natural extension of the video practice. I was feeling the limitation of representation and wanted to experiment with putting an actual body in space, in context, and in front of audiences.

What is your research process like?

Research is important but isn’t discrete from my daily practice of reading lots of online articles, texts, news and opinion pieces. Like many Americans my age who grew up with the internet, I use it as my first and primary source for information. Right now I’ve been rereading Linda Williams and Laura Mulvey for ways of interpreting cinema. I’m reading a lot of neo-Marxist text for the ISP seminars, and that’s having a huge influence on my practice. We just watched Chronicle of a Summer, by Rouch and Morin, and that really got a lot of gears turning for me as far as how to edit my film. I am surrounded daily with friends and fellow artists who share my curiosity, engage and challenge me. It is my greatest resource and the one for which I’m most grateful. I pull inspiration from a lot of areas in my life, which seems to me, given the extent to which I personally identify with and am featured in my work, to make sense.

How was your experience at ACRE and what were the most valuable aspects of this residency in particular?

ACRE was above all fun! The participants and staff were awesome, incredibly supportive, generous in all ways, really sharp and at the same time warm and open. I felt I struck a good balance for myself of taking it easy and also focusing when and where it mattered at the time. For me the summer was full of transition. ACRE was my halfway stop on a road trip across the country, moving to New York from Los Angeles where I’d been living for the past three years. For me, the experience was pretty poignant and magical for that reason. As an artist, I really benefitted from the positivity energy, sense of communal purpose, and commitment to exploration and experimentation that drives the ACRE community. People made that experience what it was. I continue to be impressed, inspired, and edified by their love and passion.