Marilyn Arsem has been creating live events since 1975, ranging from solo performances, to large scale, site-specific works incorporating installation and performance. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Arsem has also presented work in 30 countries, at festivals, alternative spaces, galleries, museums, universities and conferences in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Oceania and Asia.
Many of her works are durational in nature, minimal in actions and materials, and often located in peripheral spaces in the context of larger events, and where viewers discover the work on their way to seeing other performances. Arsem regularly creates performances for galleries, but in the last 20 years she has focused on site-responsive performances. They are often designed for audiences of a single person, and respond to both the history of the site, as well as to the immediate landscape and materiality of the location. Her performances are designed to implicate the audience directly in the concerns of the work, to create an experience that is both visceral and intellectual. She incorporates a broad range of media, and often engages all the senses. 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, the grounds of an abandoned tuberculosis sanatorium in Poland, the site of the Spanish landing in the Philippines, and a deserted Russian mining outpost in the Arctic Circle.
In 2019 she presented Water Moving, a twelve-day performance at Arti et Amicitiae, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, as part of the exhibition ‘Maalstroom.’ She also performed at the IN>TIME Festival in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Upcoming performances in 2019 will take place at Performatorium, in Regina, Canada; the Salt Lake City Performance Art Festival, Utah, USA; the 14th Curitiba Biennal, Brazil, and CuerpAs International Festival, in Santiago and Valparaiso, Chile.
In 2018 she participated in the Performance Train of Transart Communication 30 International Performance Art Project, traveling by train from Budapest to perform in Prague, the Czech Republic and Krakow, Poland. She also conducted a performance workshop entitled ‘Crossing Borders,’ on the train and in each city. She also performance in the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as part of an exchange between Mobius Artists Group of Boston and Bbeyond Performance of Belfast.
In 2017 she performed in Toronto, Canada, as part of FADO’s Monomyths series. She also performed at Galeria Labirynt in Lublin, Poland where she also taught a workshop. She taught an intensive workshop for artists at the Venice International Performance Art Week’s Co-Creation Live Factory Prologue 1, Venice, Italy. She also performed in Taipei, Taiwan, in a program with Riverbed Theatre Company.
In 2016 she completed 100 Ways to Consider Time, the 100-day performance she began in 2015 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She also performed at Festival La Plataformance: Resistência em Rede, primeira edição, Sao Paulo, Brazil; Grace Exhibition Space’s 21st Suffragettes: International Performance Art by Women, finale weekend at Rosekill, Rosendale, NY; in Binario #1 presented by PerfoLink in Santiago, Chile; in Conflicta 2016: 4th Laboratorio Internacional de Performance, Patagonia, Chile; in Arctic Action Live Performance Art Festival Spitzbergen 2016 in Svaldbard; in the Salt Lake City Performance Art Festival, Utah; and presented an exhibition at the Venice International Performance Art Week.
In 2015 she performed at Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival, Defibrillator Gallery, Chicago, IL; TIME SPACE BODY OBJECT – Part 4, as part of Isles Art Initiative 2015, Spectacle Island, Boston Harbor; Streetlevel Performance Art in Public Space, Helsinki, Finland; the Belfast International Festival of Performance Art, as part of the Ulster University Festival of Art, Belfast, N. Ireland, UK; at Viva! Art Action, Montreal, Canada; and began her 100 day performance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
In 2014 she performed a week-long piece at Palazzo Mora in the 2nd Venice International Performance Art Week. In 2014 she also performed at the 7th Zagrebi! Festival in Zagreb, Croatia; the Future of Imagination 9 International Performance Art Event in Singapore; taught a workshop and performed at the PALS 2014 International Festival of Performance Art in Stockholm, Sweden; and participated in the Performance Art Laboratory and Performance Festival at the Centre for Community Cultural Development in Hong Kong. She also performed in Salt Lake City, Utah, and at Mobius events in Boston at Mills Gallery and 808 Gallery.
In 2013 she performed in “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; in Near Death Performance Art Experience at the Cyclorama in Boston.
In 2012 she performed at Fem_12 International Festival of Performance in Girona, Spain; at Defibrillator Gallery in Chicago, USA; 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; and at Live Action Göteborg, Sweden and at Fylkingen, Stockholm, Sweden.
Arsem has also participated in national and international exchanges. In 2009 she and her husband initiated the ‘If to Drift’ week-long residency, of which three have taken place, focusing on durational performance practices by international artists. In August 2003, she traveled to Poland to participate in a Mobius exchange project with artists from throughout Poland. In 2002 she participated in “The State of Breath,” a residency at the St. Norbert Arts Centre, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, working with five international durational performance artists. In August 2001, she traveled to Croatia to participate in a Mobius exchange project with artists from Zadar, Croatia. In 1999, she also traveled to Croatia for another Mobius exchange between Boston and Istrian Croatian artists entitled ‘Usvajanje slobode/Taking Liberty.’ In 1998/1999 she was part of an exchange between Boston, US and Tainan, Taiwan artists and architects responding to waterfront development in both cities. In 1996 and 1997 she participated in the Mobius-sponsored Liquor Amnii project with women artists from Boston and the Republic of Macedonia, creating work in both countries.
She has been the recipient of awards and grants, including the 2015 Maud Morgan Prize from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; a 2017 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship; a 2017 City of Boston Artist Fellowship, project grants in 2017 and 2018 from Boston Foundation’s Live Arts Boston program. Previous awards include a Finalist award from the Artist Fellowships Program of the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2015, an LEF Foundation grant in 2004; 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 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; and a Massachusetts Artists Foundation Fellowship in New Genres, 1991.
Arsem has also been awarded residencies at the University of Newcastle, Northumbria, UK, 2002; Dartington College of Art, UK, 2002; The MacDowell Colony, 1997, 1992, 1986; and in Macedonia at the International Art Colony of Kumanovo, 2000; International Art Colony of Kicevo, 1998, and International Plastic Art Colony of Strumica, 1997; and a Research Fellowship for Creative and Performing Artists and Writers, at the American Antiquarian Society, 1997.
A forthcoming book on her work, Responding to Site: the performance work of Marilyn Arsem, edited by Jennie Klein and Natalie Loveless, will be published in 2020 by Intellect Press of the UK. In 2015 the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston published an I-book, The Performance Art of Marilyn Arsem, which includes essays by MFA curators as well as images, video and audio excerpts of her work. Arsem has also published articles on her work in Lynette Hunter and Shannon Rose Riley, eds., Mapping Landscapes for Performance as Research: Scholarly Acts and Creative Cartographies. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009; in Roxanne Power, ed. Interventions: A Trans-Genre Anthology. Berkeley: Viz.Inter-Arts, 2016; and in PerfoPuerto 2002-2007: Arte de Performance en Chile. Valparaiso: Ediciones PerfoPuerto, 2007. Arsem’s articles on teaching performance art have been published in translation in Germany, Spain, Canada and Poland, as well as online in Total Art Journal. An article by Cherie Driver on Agency, the collaborative group of Marilyn Arsem, Sandra Johnston and Susanne Bosch, was published in Tipton, Gemma, ed., des/IRE: designing houses for contemporary Ireland (Cork: Gandon Editions/National Sculpture Factory, 2008). Her work is in DVD collections, including liveartworkDVD, issue 5, Mar 2007, and Aspect: The Chronicle of new Media Art: Performance, vol. 9, 2007.
She has taught performance workshops around the world, including at the Venice International Performance Art Week’s Co-Creation Live Factory Prologue 1, Venice, Italy; for Festival La Plataformance, Brazil; the Winter School of the National Review of Live Art, UK; for Bbeyond’s ‘Operation Ambassadors,’ in Belfast, Northern Ireland; for IPAH, in Hildesheim, Germany; at Chiang Mai University, Thailand; at the Living Landscapes conference in Aberystwyth, Wales; for the Facultad de Artes, Universidad de Playa Andra, Valparaiso, Chile; at Live Action Sweden, at the ZAZ International Performance Art Festival in Tel Aviv, Israel; at the University of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; at Fire Station Studios in Dublin, Ireland; and at the 3rd International Sokolowsko Festival, Poland; She has given lectures on performance art and her work at universities in the USA, as well as in Argentina, Canada, Chile, Germany, Finland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Macedonia, The Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Taiwan, Thailand, UK, and Wales.
Her work has also been reviewed in publications in Croatia, Germany, Finland, Macedonia and Taiwan; and in the USA and Canada in The New York Times, Parachute, Afterimage, Performing Arts Journal, Text and Performance Quarterly, Women and Performance Journal, P-Form, New Art Examiner, and High Performance.
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 1975. 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.