Do you think you could spend 14 hours in an open room, overnight, quietly contemplating yourself, your life—just waiting for the sun to rise? That’s exactly what Boston-based contemporary artist Marilyn Arsem, invites you to do on Friday January, 13 from 5:04pm – 7:48am the next morning in the Gladstone Hotel’s Art Hut.
We sat down with Marilyn over black coffee in the Gladstone Hotel’s Café to learn more about Waiting for Sunrise presented by FADO Performance Art Centre at the Gladstone Hotel Art Hut.
Your performance is part of FADO’s Monomyths series, can you describe what that is?
Monomyths is a very long process. It looks at the structure that is written about by Joseph Campbell. He’s looking at mythology, fairytales, religious structures throughout cultures and identifying a particular journey that someone takes. In his book he identifies it as someone male, and obviously in this version FADO is trying to look at each stage from a feminist perspective.
How does Waiting for Sunrise tie into the Monomyths series?
My project starts at sunset at 5:04pm on Friday and finishes at sunrise on Saturday at 7:48am. So it’s 14 hours and 42 minutes. Shannon Cochrane[Artistic + Administrative director of FADO Performance Art Centre] called me and asked if I’d do this with them and said that this particular stage [ of Monomyths fits in with your work: Apotheosis Journey into the Inmost Cave. You can read a lot of material connected with that stage, not just what Joseph Campbell wrote but what many other people have written from different perspectives. I very quickly decided to do it overnight, that was my first choice because I did think of caves, and darkness. At the heart of it I really think that the inmost cave is your own mind and how you grapple with questions that you can never answer, especially at midnight, or at 2am—that’s where I went with it.
Most of your works are durational performances, what drew you to this art form?
I’ve always been interested in time, and it’s been a topic I’ve gone back to over the years. When you do durational work, you literally have to confront time and its impact on your who, your body, your action, the materials you’re using and the viewer. It takes you past a certain kind of theatricality where 20 years can be compacted into 3 hours. I’m much more interested in the literal effect of time and not to manufacture it, or perform it, not to fictionalize it, but to work with it.
How do you feel in the last 2 or 3 hours of a durational performance? Is it easy to lose focus?
You have to deal with time. And to me, that’s what’s interesting. What is it like after X amount of hours? What choices do you make? What do you let go of? That’s often the real question: what becomes less important and what becomes most important? You can’t anticipate that in advance. Life is like that.
So would you say your work is very improvised?
I wouldn’t say its improvised because I design a task to pursue, but it has its own life and you have to honour that, and follow it, and let it speak to you. It’s not about knowing, it’s about learning.
Are you ever surprised at the end of a performance about what just happened?
Yes, almost always. And I really purposely create performances that have a known and an unknown that take me somewhere that I haven’t been before. I’m not interested in performance where I’m trying to tell an audience what I know. I’m much more interested in having them join me in some pursuit of learning something. There’s nothing to watch in this performance. It’s all going to be inside people’s own minds, and we’re going to be there together, and try to last.
What can passersby expect to see through the Art Hut’s windows during your performance?
People thinking. People sitting and thinking about their own lives. It will be me and whoever choses to join me. There will be instructions at the door and people are invited to come in and sit in silence. I’m hoping that people will stay long enough to turn inward. We often don’t take time to think about our own lives and think about the questions that haunt us—we spend more time trying to avoid them.
Would you say the process is highly meditative?
For me, it’s more contemplative. Meditation is a term that we associate with very specific practices and I’m not interested that. I’m just interested in people taking the time to think.
Join Marilyn on a journey inward on Friday January 13, 2017 starting at 5:04pm and ending on Saturday January 14 at 7:48am. Learn more here!