Martha Wilson

Image taken from the recording of event no. 168 of the Open Practice Committee

March 2, 2020
Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago
“Martha Wilson and the Franklin Furnace”

Martha Wilson is an American feminist artist and gallery director who began her career in the early 1970s in Halifax while studying English Literature at Dalhousie University and teaching English at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Working in a male-dominated Conceptualist milieu at that time, Wilson generated pioneering photographic and video work that explored her female subjectivity through role-playing, costume transformations and invasions of male and other female personas. She further developed her performative practice after moving to New York City in 1974 where she also founded and continues to direct Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc., a downtown artist-run center dedicated to the exploration and promotion of innovative installation, performance and time-based art practices.

This lecture chronicles the interwoven stages of Wilson’s creative contributions within the context of early feminist and socially engaged studio practice as well as her dissemination of the work of like-minded individuals through the auspices of Franklin Furnace. Central to the discussion is Wilson’s presence as an agent of transformative change, initially in her artwork and then her facilitation of cultural change through her leadership of Franklin Furnace. Wilson’s selection of 40 projects from 40 years of programming at Franklin Furnace also becomes a self-portrait of sorts as she highlights works that are historically significant for pushing boundaries within exhibition and display culture as well as society at large.

Martha Wilson as Nancy Reagan, 1985