Artist
Martha Wilson

b. 1947, USA
www.marthawilson.com
www.franklinfurnace.org

Martha Wilson is a pioneering feminist artist and gallery director, who over the past four decades created innovative photographic and video works that explore her female subjectivity through role-playing, costume transformations, and “invasions” of other people’s personae. She began making these videos and photo/text works in the early 1970s while in Halifax in Nova Scotia, and further developed her performative and video-based practice after moving in 1974 to New York City, embarking on a long career that would see her gain attention across the U.S. for her provocative appearances and works. In 1976 she also founded and continues to direct Franklin Furnace, an artist-run space that champions the exploration, promotion and preservation of artists’ books, installation art, video, onliine and performance art, further challenging institutional norms, the roles artists play within society, and expectations about what constitutes acceptable art mediums.

Wilson, a native of Newtown, Pennsylvania, who has lived in New York since 1974, is esteemed for both her solo artistic production and her maverick efforts to champion creative forms that are “vulnerable due to institutional neglect, their ephemeral nature, or politically unpopular content.” Described by New York Times critic Holland Cotter as one of “the half-dozen most important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s,” Wilson remains what curator Peter Dykhuis calls a “creative presence as an arts administrator and cultural operative.”

As a performance artist she founded and collaborated with DISBAND, the all-girl punk conceptual band of women artists who can’t play any instruments, and impersonated political figures such as Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Tipper Gore. In 2008 she had her first solo exhibition in New York at Mitchell Algus Gallery, “Martha Wilson: Photo/Text Works, 1971-74.” In 2009, “Martha Wilson: Staging the Self,” an exhibition of Ms. Wilson’s early photo/text work and one project from each of Franklin Furnace’s first 30 years, began international travel under the auspices of ICI (Independent Curators International); and in 2011, ICI published the Martha Wilson Sourcebook: 40 Years of Reconsidering Performance, Feminism, Alternative Spaces. Martha Wilson joined P.P.O.W Gallery, New York, and mounted a solo exhibition, “I have become my own worst fear,” in September, 2011. 

How Many Performance Artists Does it Take to Eat Brunch?

Join Jess Dobkin and Martha Wilson for an intimate conversation and reflection on the performance, How Many Performance Artists Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb? (For Martha Wilson) and discussion of the relationship between contemporary live performance and documentation. 

As the founder of the Franklin Furnace, a pioneering artist-run space that has led the exploration, promotion and preservation of performance art, Martha Wilson has been a trailblazer in preserving the history and documentation of live art practices. Speaking to the role of documentation in live art from the 1970s to present day, topics of interest will include the role of the archive, performing for the camera, and the ever-evolving relationship between live art and new technologies.

Post-performance Brunch + Talk with Jess Dobkin and Martha Wilson
Co-presented by Onsite Gallery at OCAD University and FADO Performance Art Centre



ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE
How Many Performance Artists Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb? (For Martha Wilson)
By Jess Dobkin and 40 volunteer documenters
Presented by The Images Festival

Made in response and as an ode to one of America’s foremost groundbreaking performance artists, Martha Wilson, performance artist Jess Dobkin’s newest work, How Many Performance Artists Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb (For Martha Wilson), is at once a question, a joke, and a reflection on the ways we see. Taking a direct cue from Wilson’s 2005 video The History of Performance Art According to Me, Martha Wilson, Dobkin takes on the complex and riddled history of performance art, defining its terms and conditions, while acknowledging the slippery temperament of her task. Wilson is also the founder and director of the renowned Franklin Furnace, a legendary artist run space in New York City that once served as a venue, and in more recent years, exists as a virtual archive with the mission of “making the world safe for avant-garde art.” 

In Wilson’s oral history of the history of performance art, she by direct address to the camera, relates the following joke: 

Q: How Many Performance Artists Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?
A: I don’t know. I left after 4 hours.

True to the character of the light bulb joke oeuvre where deviations occur over time and regions, Dobkin adds an additional variation of this joke concerning performance artists:

Q: How Many Performance Artists Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?
A: One to change the light bulb and 40 to document it.

As a manifestation of these jokes and as a reflection of our screen dependent culture, Dobkin has developed a four plus hour durational performance where a performance artist (Dobkin) will change a light bulb with at least forty people documenting the piece through an exhaustive list of forms. From the ever-present phone camera, social media fanfare, and GPS locator, Dobkin also turns to the generations of how performance art has been documented, revisiting the various models of photography, video recording, film formats, drawing, writing, along with treaded analogue technologies.

How Many Performance Artists Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb (For Martha Wilson) will be an attempt to overwhelm the definitions and intersections of performance, documentation, the archive and image reproduction to investigate the nature of performance itself. 

Questions at stake include: how is performance shared, transmitted, recalled, remembered? How do we understand the lifespan of a performance? How does the form and quality of the documentation impact our understanding of the original work? How have technological advances in documentation and image making changed our understanding and definition of performance art practices?