Marilyn Arsem has been creating live events since 1975, ranging from solo performances to large-scale interactive works incorporating installation and performance. She has presented her work throughout North and South America, Europe, the Middle-East, Oceania, and Asia.
In the last decade, Arsem has focused on creating works in response to specific sites, engaging with the immediate landscape and materiality of the location, its history, use or politics. Sites have included a former Cold War missile base in the United States, a 15th century Turkish bath in Macedonia, an aluminum factory in Argentina, an abandoned tuberculosis sanatorium in Poland, and the site of the Spanish landing in the Philippines.
Recent performances by Arsem have taken place at 'Art in Odd Spaces,' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; at Latitude 53 Gallery in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; at the 3rd International Sokolowsko Festival of Ephemeral Art, in Poland; at Fem_12 International Festival of Performance in Girona, Spain; at Blow!8 Festival in Ilsede, Germany; at Live Action Sweden and Infr'Action, Paris. In 2011 she participated in the PALA project and performed at 'undisclosed territory #5,' Solo, Indonesia.
Arsem received her BFA from Boston University in 1973. She is a member of Mobius, Inc., an interdisciplinary collaborative of artists, which she founded in 1977. They currently operate a gallery in Cambridge, MA.
I consider performance art as both a context and a process. It is a dialogue with materials, physical space, time and other people. It is an opportunity to engage in embodied thinking and make use of all my senses. I use performance to challenge my assumptions, to ask questions, to examine ideas through different lenses, to test my limits, to explore new realities, to experiment with processes whose outcomes I can't always predict, and to take risks in a context that is framed and contained within real life.
From the beginning, I have been concerned with the unique properties of live performance - the possibility of direct interaction between performer and viewer, and the opportunity to activate all the senses, including taste, touch and smell. I often implicate the audience directly in the concerns of the work, using different strategies to design a distinct role for the viewers so that their experience is both visceral and intellectual.
Creating site-responsive performances allows me to intensively engage with a particular place and people, to challenge myself to be changed by what and whom I encounter, and to design an action that reveals that process. It forces me to pay attention, and to operate fully in the present.
Integral to performance is the question how meaning is constructed from the memory of an ephemeral event. A witness to the work gains knowledge that is different from what I learn as the practitioner. The two perspectives together form the fullest reading of the work, and neither should be privileged over the other. Moreover, without an object to revisit, the understanding of the work continues to transform over time for both the maker and viewer, as it is recalled in memory and retellings.
I am committed to a practice where I cannot avoid knowing the impact of my actions, and where an exchange between people is of primary value. It is a practice that remains anchored in the here and now, keeping me grounded in the limits of my body and the reality of time, reminding me always that nothing remains.