Marilyn Arsem


Marilyn Arsem has been creating live events since 1975, ranging from solo performances to large scale, site-specific works incorporating installation and performance. Arsem has presented work at festivals, alternative spaces, galleries, museums and universities in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asian. In 2016 she completed a 100-day performance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Many of her works are durational in nature, and minimal in actions and materials. Created in response to the site, they engage with the immediate landscape and materiality of the location, its history, use, or politics. Arsem has often focused on designing site-specific events for audiences of a single person, allowing her to explore the unique properties of live performance: the possibility of direct interaction between performer and audience; the opportunity to engage the audience’s full range of senses including taste, touch and smell; and addressing the implications of the temporal nature of the live event, which can be retained only in memory. The performances often hover at the edge of visibility, creating an experience in which the viewer must stretch her or his perceptual capacities to their furthest limits.

She has been the recipient of numerous grants, including a Research Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society, 1997; a National Endowment for the Arts Solo Theater Fellowship, 1994; an Artists’ Projects: New Forms Initiative Award, 1992, from the New England Foundation for the Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; and a Massachusetts Artists Foundation Fellowship in New Genres, 1991.

Her work has been reviewed in many publications including The New York Times (Dunning, 1994), Parachute (Todd, 1998), Text and Performance Quarterly (Anderson, 1994), Women and Performance Journal (Todd, 1996; Parker, 1988), P-Form (Askanas, 1998, 1994), New Art Examiner (Abell, 1992), and High Performance (Engstrom, 1991; Sparks, 1990; Miller, 1990; Perez, 1986; Pederson, 1986; Sommer, 1985).

She is a member (and the founder) of Mobius, Inc., a Boston-based collaborative of interdisciplinary artists. She taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for 27 years, establishing one of the most extensive programs internationally in visually-based performance art.

THIS is Performance Art

The following text, THIS is Performance Art, was written by the renowned American performance artist Marilyn Arsem in January 2011, with the intention to be published in conjunction with Infr’Action Venezia’11. This manifesto was conceived for a time when performance art’s true and intrinsic qualities are being confused by notions of live art and re-enactment created by the art media, and is drowning in the unclear matter of its opposite: the staged, the theatrical, the spectacle.

THIS is Performance Art

Performance art is now.
Performance art is live.
Performance art reveals itself in the present.
The artist engages in the act of creation as s/he performs.
Performance art’s manifestation and outcome cannot be known in advance.
Re-enactment of historical work is theatre, not performance art.
Performance art is real.
Performance art operates on a human scale.
It exists on the same plane as those who witness it.
The artist uses real materials and real actions.
The artist is no one other than her/himself. 
There are no boundaries between art and life.
The time is only now.
The place is only here.
Performance art requires risk.
The artists take physical risks using their bodies.
The artists take psychic risks as they confront their limits.
Witnessing a performance challenges an audience’s own sense of self.
Sponsoring performance art, with its unpredictability, requires taking risks.
Failure is always possible.
Performance art is not an investment object.
The work cannot be separated from the maker.
It cannot be held.
It cannot be saved.
It cannot be reproduced.
Performance art is experience – shared time and space and actions between people.
The record of performance art resides in the bodies of the artist and the witnesses.
Performance art is ephemeral.
It is an action created by an artist for a specific time and place.
Witnesses are privy to a unique experience that will never happen again.
Performance art reveals the vulnerability of living.
Performance art reminds us that life is fleeting.
We are only here now.

Writing Blue

Writing Blue is the smell of interpretation. Composed of materials that many "know", blueberry candy offers a flicker of nostalgia. Grounded in blue cypress like a hunch that comes from speculation, it is the lavender that offers overwhelming explanations.

Top Notes

blueberry candy

Middle Notes

lavender, mens shaving cream

Base Notes

hyacinth, blue cypress