Marilyn Arsem contemplates generation in MFA performance

November 25, 2015 - table lamp

I always take records about a art we see, even if it’s in a dim theater. But when we stepped into a tiny gallery in a Linde Family Wing during a Museum of Fine Arts to perspective “Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time,” a 100-day-long opening art work, a artist done eye strike with me, and we unexpected sensed that holding records competence be wrong.

First, it seemed unpleasant and distracting — like scribbling during a church service. Second, we knew it would intercede and meddle with my possess experience.


I took records anyway. It’s my job. Arsem was walking around a gallery, counting. She’d already been there for 3½ hours, and would be there for six, as she is each day.

That sounds tedious, though we got concerned right away. we knew a script. we found myself expecting big, turn numbers, and silently propelling Arsem forward. we was there when she strike 4,000, and everybody in a room smiled, as if we’d damaged a fasten ourselves.

My initial difficulty says a lot about Arsem’s opening art. She sensitively fosters situations that poke viewers into a unknown, where fundamentally we don’t know a protocol. She does not entertain; celebration takes us out of ourselves. Rather, Arsem’s unassuming, greatly benefaction work throws us behind on ourselves, into a possess persnickety habits of meditative and reacting, in a approach that imagining can.

Arsem, leader of a museum’s 2015 Maud Morgan Prize, has been creation opening art given she was in high propagandize in a 1960s. In 1975, she founded Mobius, a initial artists collaborative. She taught for 27 years during a School of a Museum of Fine Arts, where, as Head of a Performance Area, she determined a propagandize as an general participation in opening art studies.

She has also achieved around a world, creation art about war, amicable justice, and environmental issues. Time, her thesis during a MFA, has always been central; she specializes in durational opening art, that can final several hours and bearing artist and assembly into a approach knowledge of time’s movement, crawling or swift.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Marilyn Arsem behaving in “100 Ways to Consider Time” during a Museum of Fine Arts.

Then, a art Arsem creates currently will be left tomorrow. It passes like a appreciated moment; it passes like life itself. So, even as a artist predictably depends into a thousands, we competence clarity that this knowledge is strangely vivid, and value remembering.

The second time we saw “100 Ways to Consider Time,” we arrived early. When Arsem is not there, audio plays in that she reflects on her knowledge of a prior day. She had spent those 6 hours fibbing beside a rock, perplexing to be ideally still. we thought, oh dear, compared to a highs and lows of a counting, that contingency have been a genuine snoozer.

I sat on one of a benches that line dual walls of a gallery. Arsem came in and took a chair with her behind to me. we reverted to note taking, and anxiously found myself examination people on a other bench. Some dreaming themselves on their smartphones, and we felt superior. Then we satisfied that was substantially no opposite than holding notes.

I changed to a improved vantage point. Arsem sat, eyes closed, and on a chair opposite from her stood a large, theatrically staged rock, with a black backdrop and a spotlight from a lamp. As we watched, we grew quiet. The stone struck me as a source of wisdom. In time, as had happened on my prior visit, we felt soothed and alert. we did not wish to leave.

Imagine my churned feelings, then, when we arrived for my third revisit and Arsem, sitting on a table, welcomed me as if she were hosting a party. She had set several rocks in a true line opposite a building because, she explained, they were in a race.

“I’m watchful to see one of them get ahead,” Arsem said.

Arsem chatted adult everybody who came in. One associate left quickly, apparently put off by her metaphorical questions — that rock, she asked us, did we consider competence win?

This some-more amicable opening fleshed out a meditative behind a one we had seen previously. Rocks final a lot longer than humans, though they, too, spoil in time. Arsem had already approached a thought viscerally, feeling her approach into it with her physique and her stillness. Now she was coming it conceptually, though a accessible review lacked a immediacy of her some-more central performances. we missed it.

Lately, Arsem has sat with a retard of ice melting in front of her; she has blindfolded herself and spent 6 hours confronting a wall; she has lain down with stones on her body, and when one fell, she mapped a transformation and her possess on a floor.

In a smashing e-book chock full of slip shows, video, and more, that a MFA has done accessible for giveaway during a run of a show, Arsem refers to her viewers not as an audience, though as witnesses.

Witnesses are opposite than assembly members. To declare is to attend by observation. It’s active, not passive. Arsem calls her viewers to that kind of discipline, and she does it with her possess magnificent, flawed, heightened, studious courtesy to this moment, now.

Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time

At: Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., by Feb. 19. 617-267-9300,

Cate McQuaid can be reached during Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.

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