Marianna Williams is a graduate student currently studying in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Pennsylvania. Her undergraduate education was at the Rhode Island School of Design, and Brown University. Marianna is originally from Augusta, Georgia, but she lived in multiple locations growing up. She has spent time in France and Italy, and has worked in the Arctic Circle. Her website is: www.mariannawilliams.com
Interviewed by Bryn Friedenberg
Edited by Amy Goldfischer
What kind of art do you do?
Much of my work is about transitions, and transformation of materials. I will start with one medium, and then take that idea and move it into another medium. Or, I will start with the idea first, and then choose the medium that best suits the idea. I think that all the different media are like tools. You have a toolbox, and you pull out what you need and use that. The lack of limitations means that you can be interdisciplinary.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am working on the last paragraph of Marcel Proust—the very last part of the very last line. I’ve been working on passages from his texts for two and a half years.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on two projects. For one project, a piece is about interference, I’m figuring out how to get glass panels to work for a video projection. The piece features two different videos that come together linearly. They meet in the center from each side of the glass. The sound pans from stereo to mono as the piece goes on. The other project that I’m working on involves giant foam blocks that appear to be made out of marble. The idea behind this piece is to have objects that are twice your size and seem to be extremely heavy, but you could pick them up with your pinky finger.
What kind of things inspire you?
I just read a book by Dave Eggers called How the Water Feels to the Fishes. It’s a book of short stories. They’re really irreverent and awesome, but they also talk about how it is to be alive. Music inspires me a lot. Whether it’s classical or experimental, rock or hip hop, music is a huge influence. Being in athletics is something that also inspires me, especially the idea of having a daily practice that you have to be consistent with, and that you can meditate throughout. I think that kind of commitment really relates to the studio.
How did you start doing art? What made you choose to be an artist?
I came from a family of creative people, so I thought it was a normal job until I got to college, and then I realized that people don’t just do that. I grew up around a lot of musicians and some storytellers. We also had some people who did medicine, and some who were engineers. The house was a jigsaw puzzle of people and what they did. I never really chose to be an artist. Art was a way for me to express my ideas or communicate with people. The first time I felt that it wasn’t just something that I did as a hobby or naturally as a way of relating to the world was when I was 15 or 16. I had a friend who owned a gallery in Georgia. They saw a drawing that I made and they said, “Hey, if you make ten more you can have a show.” And I had a show. I think I ended up making two thousand dollars, but for me at the time, that was like two million dollars. I was like, I could live off of this! This is totally doable! You can’t really live off of that, but somehow it made sense, and I just went from there.
What are you doing when you’re not creating?
I think it’s important to always have it on the back of your mind. It’s not like most jobs where you’re in and out, on and off. It’s constant. When I’m not directly making stuff, I’m usually riding my bike or hanging out with people, or cooking, or sleeping. I think sometimes it’s fun to go through the library and find random books, or play around with robots and learn different skills.
Who are some of your favorite artists/artworks?
I think similar to people’s music tastes, taste in art changes over time. I was really into conceptual art as an undergraduate. Some of my favorites are Hans Haacke and Glenn Ligon. I have friends who are artists whom I like just because they’re my friends. I guess they would count as favorites.
Is your identity as a women something you think a lot about when you create art?
Usually with age, gender, and race, I just assume that I’m the same as the people I’m talking to, and then it’s like an afterthought like, ‘oh, wait, there’s this.’ For the most part, I don’t think about it. However, when I was living abroad and working for a really important curator, I ended up quitting because of the position I was put in as a woman. That was really frustrating. I think that’s one of the major issues. In this country, there are a lot of things that are obviously more important, that are life or death things–but I think equal pay is very important. In a general sense, I think about it, but I don’t feel that it’s a limitation.
What are the best and worst parts about being an artist?
The best parts are the people you get to meet, the fact that you can build things, and that you have tangible evidence of thinking. The actual experience is wonderful–you can explore things or go seek stuff out. The downside is that it’s not a very stable job to have unless you are very lucky. So a lot of it is being creative with how you manage your life and how to make it work. But at the same time that’s a good thing, because if it is like that, then the only people who really stay in it are people who really want to be there.
How do you want viewers to interpret your art?
I don’t really know. There’s not much to interpret, I think. It’s a strange thing to say, but how would you interpret it? Whenever my work is shown, there’s always an artist’s statement which explains it. The artist’s statement says that the drawings are of images created through language. I’m trying to be as precise as possible in describing what I do because I don’t think it’s so much about interpretation.
How can we find your art?/Do you sell it/where?
I have work up now in the Noyes Museum in New Jersey. I have a website. I’m not represented by anyone, but I have sold work through galleries. Every year I make sure to do something for that. It’s a lot of applying to things in order to keep that part up. I also have done quite a bit of commission work. My commissioned work is usually design-based, drawing-based or film-based.
Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I feel like you couldn’t live as an artist without your mind, but that’s part of you. If I had to have certain things, they’re not important to making things, but they’re important for me emotionally. For example, I have my great-great uncle’s binoculars that he used in World War II. I have a tuning fork that a sculptor friend gave me. I really like this tiny t-square I have; it’s useful for measuring small increments in wood. I have these flattened pennies that I ran over with a train. They look like butterfly wings, but they’re pennies. The only other thing I would take with me are glass panels with residues of oil paint on them. They represent all the years I spent painting–like the memory of that experience. Even though I don’t necessarily paint all the time anymore, I like to see that.
Where did you study?
I went to Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University for undergrad. I worked for a lot of artists, which I think is school in itself. I’m here at Penn right now for the Master’s of Fine Arts, focusing on time-based and interactive media. However, it’s an interdisciplinary program, so you can do a lot of things. I did a residency when I was in the Arctic Circle. I’ve also worked for an advertising agency. Even though it was a business environment, I learned so much because you have to make a lot of good decisions very quickly all the time, and also understand different levels of finish with your work. Those guys there were really creative and doing cool stuff, so I count that as school.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for female artists or art students?
When you’re working for someone else, you want to make yourself indispensable or irreplaceable. And if you are working for yourself, you have to be super genuine and all-in about it. Everything you make has to be something you’re really proud of or excited to show people. There might be two or three years where your work sucks. But if you really want it, it’ll happen.