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Martha Wilson: Staging the Self

Martha Wilson posing as characters. All Images Courtesy of Martha Wilson

The multi-faceted artist, Martha Wilson, will kick off the Mills College Art Lecture Series on Oct. 25 at Lisser Theatre. Known for her feminist and conceptual art, including performance art, photography, video and writing, Wilson is an activist and the founder and director of Franklin Furnace, a seminal fixture in archiving art and supporting underrepresented artists.

During her presentation, Wilson will be talking about her extensive body of work and her recently published book Martha Wilson Sourcebook: 40 Years of Reconsidering Performance, Feminism, Alternative Spaces.

The Sourcebook gives readers an intimate look into Wilson’s work and growth as an artist, from her early days at Nova Scotia College of the Arts to Franklin Furnace in the present. The impressively amassed collection of intricate and engrossing texts took around a year to publish with the Independent Curators International.

When asked to explain to readers what exactly The Sourcebook is, Wilson succinctly said, “The Sourcebook is a collection of texts that made me the person I am today.”

The Sourcebook is, unsurprisingly, meticulous and well archived. The front cover of her Sourcebook features Marcel Duchamp, an early 20th century avant-guarde artist known for his installation piece “The Fountain,”  as Rose Selavy, his female persona. The back cover shows Nancy Reagan sitting on actor Mr. T.’s lap.

The back cover references her pieces in which she “impersonated Nancy Reagan because her behavior was already wildly inappropriate,” Wilson said. “Nancy sitting on Mr. T’s lap is just one example.”

Wilson may strike a chord with young artists as she talks in her written work of her early days as an artist. For instance, in one of her pieces she describes how she “got the gumption to call (herself) an artist around 1971” after her artist boyfriend at the time (who resembled the dashing Marcel Duchamp) dumped her. She also wrote about the time she visited artist Judy Chicago at California Institute of the Arts in 1972 and was asked what she thought of the “tits and flowers” painted on the wall. Wilson blatantly said they were “hideous” and “prescriptive”, and in return Chicago yelled, making Wilson cry.

Wilson’s lecture will begin in 1971 Novia Scotia, with her early “body art,” a term she coined to address performance art.

A series of the artist presenting herself with fading hair as she grows old.

“’Performance art’ is often confused with its opposite, ‘performing arts,’” Wilson said.  “‘Body art’ locates the concept in the body of the artist; I’m sorry this term has fallen out of fashion. Now I like to use RoseLee Goldberg’s term ‘visual art performance.’”

It’s been a busy fall for Wilson as she recently had her first solo show at PPOW Gallery in New York City entitled I have become my own worst fear, which was chosen as Art Forum’s critics’ pick, in addition to the release of her aforementioned Sourcebook. All the while, Wilson still runs Franklin Furnaces, “making the world safe for avant-garde art”, and works on her art when not jet-setting all over the States.