My friend and colleague, Jean Marie Keevins, who is a puppet artist, milliner, and Associate Artistic director of the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, recently interviewed me for her blog, Little Questions, Big Thoughts.
The work of Marsian DeLellis isn’t just “unique”. It’s important. It’s original. It leaves room for all of humanities “humaness”. As the “labeling” and “otherness” that has brought America comfort for too long, continues to be dismantled and proven wrong, Marsian DeLellis points out how our idiosyncrasies can be quiet right. The world needs more Marsians. In a time where we get our “best thoughts” from micro-influencers, we deserve to be influenced by a wholly individualized point of view with purpose. Here is “5 Questions with artist Marsian De Lellis”.
JMK: If you had the chance to thank someone who didn’t realize how important they are to you, who would it be and what would you say?
MD: My first foray into theatre was a musical adaptation of a book on dinosaurs. I designed and performed shadow puppets as a first grader in Mrs. Amidon’s class. In the process we explored our creative differences and worked with all kinds of people, including musical director, Ms. Houk. Ms. Houk was strict and uncompromising. She ruled the piano and glockenspiel with an iron fist. She may have been moody but she just wanted to get the best work out of us. And although she sometimes instilled terror in children, the parents of our suburban Massachusetts town were pleased with the end product (and so was I).
Mrs. Amidon also had us write and illustrate our own stories. Years went by and the stories evolved into screenplays that spawned installations and time-based visual narratives that became ever more elaborate. I’d like to thank Mrs. Amidon and Ms. Houk.
JMK: Like so many puppet-centric artists, you are an excellent mimic. In particular, you often reference your family when talking about your process. How has your upbringing effected your art?
MD: I love interviewing people and seeing things from different perspectives and I don’t have to get everyone to agree with me. In the social media sphere labeling something as “problematic” has become a shortcut – a way to brush off further discussion of something complex, potentially triggering, or that falls outside a binary – – Or to label something as oppressive without actually doing any of the work to think about what the problem is or why it exists. But where some see “problematic”, I see “problemagic” – an opportunity to welcome dialogue and generate new ideas and solutions in a world where tweets have all too often supplanted discourse. My dad was a pathologist, and I’ve always found what can go wrong to be far more interesting than what can go right. At least that’s part of my particular brand of worrying. I find it valuable to hold space with people who have differing viewpoints – this is something collectively we could make a better practice of in the current political climate – where people have been manipulated by an algorithm that wants to keep us continually outraged and polarized.
My work celebrates the stories of unconventional people whose private manias become public fodder for tabloids and reality television. Combining their biographical material with autobiography becomes a means to channel my own personal struggles into something comprehensible.
JMK: When one looks at your body of work, it is hard not to see how broad and yet specific your work is. You embrace and respect humanity’s individuality, strengths and weaknesses in a way that reads true to you as an artist. I would imagine that this unique ability creates a struggle to find a creative home as you grow into your next stage of your artistic life. Where do you think your work could best be nurtured and shown, and why?
MD: I am moving towards creating a space that can hold my work that is somewhere between the gallery world of installation and the theatre world of performance. Ideally I am looking for art spaces that are friendly to performances like Automata here in Los Angeles. As I forge my own way between the shadows of multibillion-dollar entertainment companies in Los Angeles, where I construct my own self-contained, idiosyncratic, queer, miniature universes. I am dismantling the idea of models merely as scaled-down representations of physical space, but sites to examine abstract concepts unencumbered by their epic scope or emotional weight.
I’m hijacking the term, “micro-influencer” – reclaiming it from advertisers and social media starlets who short-circuit our brains with a FOMO on behalf of corporations peddling products. As an artist who re-contextualizes object and puppet-based performance art, I own “micro-influencer”. I wield diminutive cardboard objects in intimate settings to activate small audiences in subtle ways with big ideas that may not immediately go viral, but are at least contagious.
JMK: Marsian, you laugh harder and more openly than most. It’s truly beautiful and contagious. What makes you smile or laugh?
MD: It’s always something different. You’ll know when you hear me laugh.
JMK: How does your spiritual practice relate to your art?
MD: I consider my yoga and gym practice to be spiritual – they both address me in some respects at the body level and my work is concerned a lot with the body and its excesses. I also see a spirituality in quantum physics and the whole idea that when looking at matter as a particle or a wave, the observer somehow by observing, effects the matter that is being observed. Similarly in my work, I am re-contextualizing the idea of the object and puppet-based performance art as form that occupies dimensional space, over time, in relation to the witness who changes what they are observing by their presence.
“The piece, which questions on a cosmic level our artificial divide between the animate and the inanimate, has the appealing, droll humor and structural unity of a David Sedaris story.”
There is a moment when the protagonist as a teenager looses her virginity to a bad boy hunting rifle who tells her about the big bang when matter started to differentiate and some things became living and some things stayed things.
Marsian De Lellis is an interdisciplinary artist who combines sculpture, objects, installation, performance and handmade spectacles to memorialize obsessional lives. Their work celebrates stories of unconventional people whose private manias become public fodder for tabloids and reality television.