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15 April 2008, 4:30 pm No Comments

Interviews: Artist Profile: Mary Coble


Mary Coble, Note to Self
Copyright the artist, courtesy Conner Contemporary Art

(Coble staged a live performance in which she had over 100 names of murdered GLBT hate crime victims inscribed on her body using a tattooing needle without ink.)

Mary Coble is a local performance artist whose works often deal with sexuality. Photographs of her performances are part of the Hirshhorn’s Recent Acquisitions show and are often on display at Conner Contemporary.

The New Gay: What are some of the ideas and themes that your work engages with?

Mary Coble: My work deals with issues which I feel a sense of urgency toward and that I want to bring to the attention of my viewers – social injustices (in the form of individual or community suffering), societal stereotyping and abuses of language (hate speech) have been dominate themes throughout my work. My goal is to make people question themselves, each other and our experience as a community that is part of a larger world.

TNG: How does your work engage with your sexuality?

MC: I’ve created several bodies of work that deal with issues rooted in the Queer community. My community and my identity inevitably influence my work. However, I strive to have my work reach beyond one community to have a universal appeal.

TNG: Who are some of your artistic inspirations or favorite artists?

MC: I get really excited by the performance art that was occurring in the 1970’s by artists such as Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci, Gina Pane, Chris Burden and Yoko Ono, just to name a few. These artists took great risk inserting their bodies and the concept of performance into the vernacular of what would be considered art.

Catherine Opie’s early work within the Queer community is a lasting inspiration because of the exposure and dignity she extended to our community through her beautiful and often blunt images.

TNG: Performance strikes me as one of the most powerful art forms, and I’m always disappointed when museums show stills from performances instead of a video. What do you think is lost when a performance is captured as a photograph?

MC: Seeing a photograph or even a video of a performance is an experience that is very different from being present at a live performance. It’s a second hand experience that leaves out many of the aspects that make performance so powerful. The immediacy and unmediated act of viewing any live event can never fully be expressed through other mediums.

To be fully enveloped in a performance means to experience the atmosphere and setting, the interaction of the viewers with one another and to be aware of all of your senses in the moment. These things are critical to the viewers experience as well as the basic concepts conveyed.

However, I do believe a live performance can be later supported with the video or photographic evidence that documents legacy. I’ve been moved by many beautiful images that serve as documentation of a performance. I appreciate them with the understanding that this is the documentation of the art, not the art itself.

I think it’s important to have the ability to be able to view the documentation of past performances in order to have a visual aid that co-exists with the written or verbal account. This documentation helps serve as a memory, however distorted, or an introduction to historically support the piece.

TNG: How long have you been a performance artist? What attracted you to the art form?

MC: My background is in fine art photography. Four years ago I began incorporating performative aspects to my practice. Photography did not allow me to fully express concepts that I was working with, so I migrated to another way to get the ideas across. I never intended to work in performance but conceptually and visually this medium gives me exactly the tools that I need to convey my concepts.

I’m attracted to the ephemeral nature of performance, the intimacy of the experience for myself and my viewers, the incorporation of all of the senses, the physicality of the act and the power of performance to address contemporary issues to an audience in a very immediate way.

Mary Coble, Binding Ritual Daily Routine
Copyright the artist, courtesy Conner Contemporary Art

TNG: Do you have any performances coming up?

Right now I’m mentally working through a performance I just completed in NYC at the Pulse Art Fair called Blood Script.

In my three past performances called Marker (performed in New York, DC and Madrid) I stood silently and invited viewers to write on my body in Sharpie marker derogatory slurs that had been used against them, they had heard used or had used against others.

For Blood Script I chose 75 of those hateful terms and had them tattooed, without ink, onto the front portion of body in a very ornate script. After each word was completed, watercolor paper was pressed against the fresh incision and a blood impression was created. As a hate speech amassed on my flesh, the wall beside of me also filled with the hate speech.

With this performance I set up a dichotomy between the “beautiful” visual of the text and the nasty meaning behind the word. Once the viewer were drawn in they then considered how these words affected them personally.

Do you have a favorite art spot or event in DC?

One of my favorite things about DC is that there are so many amazing venues available to experience art at and most of them are free. I feel very lucky to live in a town where I get to see such a diverse amount of art and attend lectures by world renowned artists and it cost me nothing to do so.

TNG: What do you do when you aren’t working on art?

MC: What? Not working on art? It never stops but sometimes I can multitask so I do get other things done. I also teach in the Department of Fine Arts at George Washington University and work with children in the arts. When I’m not doing that, I love spending time outdoors with family and friends.

TNG: How long have you lived in Washington?

MC: I’ve lived in various parts of DC around seven years. I moved here from North Carolina with intentions of going to graduate school and then leaving. There is something very unique about DC that I just can’t seem to give up.

TNG: What do you see down the road artistically?

MC: I’
m excited because I see endless opportunities and challenges for myself. There are a lot of ideas that I want to explore.


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  • Ben said:

    Mary was the subject of one of my first posts on this blog: http://www.thenewgay.net/2007/07/marker.html

  • Michael said:

    Ouch, that’s gotta hurt. Are all her “works” so self destructive and/or painful?