Marisa Olson

Star Trek TNG/TLG

Star Trek TNG/TLG is an enquiry into the performative aspects of the act of searching the internet and its relationship to the cultural values expressed in the popularity of science fiction phenomena, which also revolve around narratives of searching for intelligent life, or for answers to deeper questions about ourselves. In this case, it is also a re-creation of the last gift my mother gave me while she was alive: A collection of Star Trek The Next Generation .wav audio files she'd scoured the web to find in the early-internet era. While I regretfully discarded the gift in my teens, I now see it as anticipatory of the postinternet work I'd come to make, years later. In the gallery, this piece manifests as a stack of floppy diskettes containing the search results of a performative effort to rewrite a negative memory. Despite its small scale, the data-totem is almost monolithic in its containment of symbolic data and signification of cultural and technological change. The data inside these shells is merely suggested, but not truly available to viewers who are only confronted with the residue of this memory.



Permasigns was an exhibition at REFERENCE launching a new series of icons, totems, and impressions of popular forms. - Made For TV Styrofoam packaging, Chinese newspapers used as wrapping at my neighborhood dollar store, weavings and braids that combine the techniques of so-called "women's work" with the visual language of the so-called "boy's world" of pixelated computer screens and skate culture, the positive and negative forms phallicly enculturated as vaginal vessels in the world of the plastic arts and yet referred to as "male" and "female" parts in the world of electronics--or even "master" and "slave" in computing parlance. The series takes up offline forms of media, mediated practice, and memes of which life in internet culture has raised our awareness, and extends my research interests in postinternet art practice, postbinary feminism, and occupational therapy.

Time Capsules

These sculptures, often exhibited in site-specific assemblages resembling landfills or garbage piles, are endangered units of time otherwise destined for burial, but instead rescued, taken out of circulation, and painted gold (Fort Knox-style) in reclamation of their value. See photoset.

Double Bind

A double bind is commonly known as a paradox or conflicting set of demands. But it also has a specific meaning in the world of cybernetics, where it refers to messages that conflict with each other at different levels of meaning, making it difficult for the recipient to determine the nature of the paradox, to confront the inherent dilemma, or to escape the conflict. Double Bind is a two-channel internet video project involving two clips simultaneously and perpetually linked to each other as YouTube response videos. While the webcam-recorded clips clearly represent the before-and-after actions of me wrapping and unwrapping my head in pink vinyl bondage tape, their recursive linking and synced looping problematize their chronology. This perpetual feedback loop takes the word 'tape' as a double entendre, as it plays back the tropes of early feminist video art, while venturing into the stickier, tapeless world of digital memes. Despite the cause and effect narrative structure embedded in the work, there is a glaring lack of motivation beyond the recitation and unraveling of these pre-recorded histories. Double Bind embodies a desire to both participate-in and critique cultural phenomena. My parallel research practice explores the ways in which the internet and other social media enable such forms of critical parody. In this case, I take on what I perceives as the relative "prohibition" of art history (its own form of pop), and explores the public platform of the internet as a viable site for cultural critique. Both channels of Double Bind are presented side-by-side on a dedicated webpage; however, behind this screen the videos are subject to the unanticipatable YouTube comments and response videos of a viewing public predominantly unaware and unconcerned about the work's status as art or its participation in art historical discourse. Relinquishing control over the reception of my work in this way is just as pleasurable to me as any of the more classical forms of masochism implied in the videos. Essentially binding myself to broader digital culture, the true impulse in my critique is a desire to pierce the confines of the white cube so as to engage more directly with participatory media. Double Bind therefore positions us between the false dilemmas of high and low culture or utopic and dystopic views of media culture.

Figure Studies

Figure Studies is a series of large-scale giclee prints of crystal figurines floating in exaggerated relief against a digitally rendered "painterly" backdrop. Each machine-cut facet of these lifeless creatures blings in the light of an unseen flash, even as they are expanded into larger reflecting pools of watercolor-like high-tech inks. They are double-takes: digitally re-photographed photos (not by me, but by the machines I use) of relatively unrealistic, yet uncannily perfect crystal caricatures of mostly domesticated animals. They sit in huggable proportion to the human figure, awaiting the embrace of a viewer whose only double-take might be at the subtle splotches of jpeg compression artifacts; blurry glitches examinable upon zooming-up to this hyperscale. If one performs a Google Image Search for "crystal figurine," they will find results identical to these images across numerous e-commerce pages: uncredited photos of uniquely faceted, gem-like (and therefore rare-like), preciously (mass)produced "animals" floating in an abstract space, free from shadows, pollutants, shrubbery, and hunters--an unnatural environment pure enough for these precious creatures to shine to the fullest. These mass ornaments are blinged-out, figurative stand-ins for their biological counterparts, representative emblems (of both their master forms and their crystal clones) that can be ordered, embraced, and polished for display by any one of us. The photos, too, become archetypal. The rare figure in our Google search that is not presented against this backdrop appears tired, sad, and less real. The farther the floating figures are disseminated, across the web, the more ubiquitous they become as the definitive representations of the captured crystal representations. The pictures, themselves (particularly in their blown-up state) are rather obvious. Vernacular cut-"crystal" figurines made to appear as if floating against matching seamless backgrounds. But the actual figures occupy a precarious indeterminate space between autonomy and cluelessness.

Noise Pollution

The Time Capsules series has led to a broader body of work revolving around the pollution produced in the wake of upgrade culture. One assembling of these works was exhibited in a solo exhibition at Bard CCS, entitled Noise Pollution. Click here for images and a PDF of the ASDF-designed catalogue.

Performed Listening: Boomerang

The newest in a series of works about the performativity of spectatorship, this two-channel video installation merges Richard Serra and Nancy Holt's Boomerang with my own YouTube response video to the work. The former is a longtime favorite of mine and I made this piece specifically for a VVORK-curated show called The Real Thing, at MU.

Monitor Tracings

After performing Google Image searches for defunct technologies, the images are traced directly off the computer screen, onto office paper, using a mechanical pencil. The search results indexed highlight the objects we choose to recall, our means of organizing them, and the visual rhetoric of these products' presentation. Meanwhile, the monitor follows the camera obscura, overhead projector, and other mechanical devices previously used to assist in drawing. See a photoset.

Assisted Living

Assisted Living is a futuristic parody of Martha Stewart's TV show focused on coping with the health & environmental challenges of living a life prolonged and polluted by technology. As hostess, I devise craft projects and recipes for these 150-year-olds, taping the show on-site before a "live studio audience." The show incubated at Wooloo's New Life Berlin festival.

Some Nice Looking Sound Files

This large-scale series of prints began with a collection of tiny web-based images offering a visual representation of the sonic qualities of the sound files to which they linked. The series is a continuation of my interests in archives, the list as a visual form, and word/sound/image relationships. See the original list.

New Flowers (Tanlines Music Video)

This is the music video I made for Tanlines' first single, New Flowers (Young Turks). They made the song in response to my poem "Flowers for the People," which was included in my artist book, Poems I Wrote While Listening to The Doors...

Poems I Wrote While Listening to The Doors, 1992-1994 (Before I found the internet)

Designed and master-printed by Robert Bolesta, this artist book includes 52 of my best high school poems: my first creative work! The book offers evidence of my longstanding obsession with music, genre, psychology, and personal narratives as well as a previous obliviousness to the internet, despite the fact that network culture has ultimately had a huge impact upon my practice. The book was released at an event at Light Industry that pushed my ongoing interest in public humiliation and the aesthetics of failure, featuring readings by poets Thom Donovan, Stephanie Gray, Christian Hawkey, and Dorothea Laskey, and filmmaker Esther Bell. The bands Tan Lines, Taigaa, and Aa also used the poems as lyrics for original songs, for which I made music videos.

Nasty Nets

Nasty Nets is an internet surfing club in which members create web-based work documenting and remixing their experiences online. The collective was recently included in Professional Surfer, an exhibition co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, which posited internet surfing as a creative act. In 2008, Rhizome sponsored our DVD, which premiered at the NY Underground Film Festival and went on to show at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Break-Up Album (Demo)

Break-Up Album (Demo) is a four-channel "video album" (excerpts) about pain as a medium, the breakup album genre, and the notion of a demo: something that shows what an artist may (or may not) have to offer or be capable of, in hopes of getting "picked up."


Oh.Yeah.I.Love.You.Baby. is an album that remixes pop samples from my personal MP3 collection that feature these "greatest hits of lyrics." The samples are arranged to the tune of pop songs whose own lyrics exemplify the words' popularity. Listeners can also download the credited samples to make their own remixes.


Netacronyms (NSFW!) is a vaguely noirish, darkly humorous narrative in which the lead (and only) character speaks mostly in acronyms used in email, IM chat sessions, and text messaging. Failure ensues.

Golden Oldies

In this performance video, I attempted to instigate communication between a CD boombox, child's record player, and various defunct media: vinyl records, VHS tapes, cassette tapes, and CDs. Like the garbage that piles up as we upgrade our phones and computers, the detritus accumulated in these efforts gets blindly swept aside in this ultimately fruitless effort.

Black or White

In this video, I perform the act of listening to Michael Jackson's song, Black or White. The song's audio signals trigger shifts in the appearance of the video, thanks to the help of a "wobulator" built by Nam June Paik. The piece was inspired by Jackson's original video for the song, in which characters' faces morphed into each other--the first moment in which I remember taking a deeper interest in digital effects. Black or White traces my ongoing interests in media change and the performative aspects of spectatorship. The new question, here, is about the similarities and differences between the ways that people and machines "hear."

Marisa Olson's work combines performance, video, net art, drawing & installation to address the cultural history of technology, the politics of participation in pop culture, experiences of gender, and the aesthetics of failure.

Her work has been shown at the Venice Biennale, Centre Pompidou, Tate(s) Modern + Liverpool, the Nam June Paik Art Center, FACT, the British Film Institute, Sundance Film Festival, PERFORMA Biennial, and has been commissioned or collected by the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Experimental Television Center, and PS122. This work's been reviewed in Artforum, Art21, Liberation, Folha de Sao Paolo, the Village Voice, and elsewhere. New York Magazine has called Marisa one of the Top Five video artists working online, Wired has called her both funny and humorous, the New York Times once called her "anything but stupid," and the Wall Street Journal considers her their "Walkman Historian" of choice. She has also been supported by a Master Artist Residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and Residencies at the Banff Centre, Eyebeam, the Experimental Television Center, Wave Farm/Free103Point9, the Houston Center for Photography, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and the Institute for Electronic Arts/Alfred University, and project support for the NEA, NEH, United Nations, NY State Council on the Arts, and Goethe Institut.

Marisa's critiques of contemporary art and digital visual culture have extended to writing for Flash Art, Art Review, Afterimage, and Art on Paper and to curating exhibitions and programs at the Guggenheim; White Columns; Artists Space; the Performa Biennial; Zero1; SFMOMA, where she co-founded their media arts group, SMAC!, and edited their eponymous zine; SF Camerawork, where she was Associate Director and edited the Camerawork Journal; and Rhizome, at the New Museum, where she was an active collaborator for over ten years, and was Editor and Curator.

She studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz, and Rhetoric & Film Studies at UC Berkeley. She has recently been a Visiting Artist at Yale, SAIC, VCU, Oberlin, and the Brakhage Symposium and Visiting Critic or Faculty at Bard College's Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, Ox-Bow, NYU's Tisch School of the Arts/ITP, and Brown University's Department of Visual Arts. Previously Assistant Professor of New Media at SUNY-Purchase's School of Film & Media Studies, she is currently Visiting Critic at RISD.

Marisa was born in Germany and lives in New York.
For more information contact mo{@}marisaolson{.}com

This site is currently Under Construction. Please come back for more updates.
To see more of my older projects, please visit this page.