Martha Wilson: "Composure" (1972) in
the exhibition. Photograph: Andreas Süß
Martha Wilson (USA *1947)
Martha Wilson is an artist whose first performances were for an audience of one – her Pentax camera. She began working as an artist in 1971 while teaching English at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Canada. She moved to New York in 1974, performing for real audiences at venues such as The Kitchen, the Whitney Museum, P.S.1 and many other places. In 1978 she founded DISBAND, an all girl punk band of women, none of whom could play an instrument. DISBAND disbanded in 1982, after which Wilson focused on political satire, performing as Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Tipper Gore, to name a few. Martha Wilson is also the founder and director of Franklin Furnace, a documentary, archive, exhibition and performance space, which since 1976 has as its mission "to make the world safe for avant-garde art."
In her early conceptual photo-performances, some of which are shown here, she either masquerades as a man in female drag, parodies the stereotypes of femininity in society, manipulates her appearance with makeup, or explores how the camera’s presence affects representation. These performances of identity and embodied subjectivity are not only a critique of female objectification and oppression in mainstream society, they also question the notion of identity as something fixed, stable and homogenous. The stylized mask does not hide a true self that needs to be rescued, but an absence that is perceived as empowering.
"Routine Performance' (1972) is an early video piece in which Martha Wilson, in the fashion of a newscaster and/or press relations woman, reads out texts discussing the role of art, the artist and the spectator.
"Art Sucks' (1972) is an early video performance in which Martha Wilson, in the fashion of a newscaster and/or press relations woman, reads out texts discussing the role of art, the artist and the spectator.
"Appearance as Value' (1972) is an early video performance in which Martha Wilson, in the fashion of a newscaster and/or press relations woman, reads out texts discussing the role of art, the artist and the spectator.
Cauterization is a surgical procedure in which heat, cold or acids are used to destroy human tissue. The performance "Cauterization" (1974) shows a woman with a wig and no clothes and a white, life-size doll. The woman sprays the doll's pubic area, chest and face with an aerosol can and then singes the doll with a burner until it bursts into flames.
Martha Wilson: "Cauterization" (1974).
image copyright Martha Wilson
"Posturing (drag)" 1972.
"Captivating a Man" 1972.
"Posturing: Age Transformation" 1973.
"Posturing: Male Impersonator (Butch)" 1973.
"I make up the image of my perfection / I make up the image of my deformity" 1974.
"A Portfolio of Models" 1974.
In the Video Archive:
"Routine Performance", 1972, 2:12min
"Art Sucks", 1972, 1:22min
"Appearance As Value", 1972, 1:54min
"Cauterization", 1974, 6:44min
In the Conference Programme
"From Presenter to Preserver: Martha Wilson reviews 30 years of events and their documentation, Artist talk
Martha Wilson Website