Model Killer (R+D Residency)

March 13, 2021 was the conclusion of my 2021 Research and Development Residency at home for Model Killer through Los Angeles Performance Practice.

At the conclusion of the residency, I made this final report:

Reprinted from Los Angeles Performance Practice:

February 14-March 13, 2021 // Artist’s Home Studio

For their self-guided 2021 R+D Residency, Marsian De Lellis spent time developing and researching the script for Model Killer: Giant Crimes + Tiny Cover-UpsModel Killer is a solo immersive puppetry and performing object installation centered on a disgruntled dollhouse maker turned investigator, Vivian Nutt, who builds dioramas of unsolved murders, only for it to be revealed that she is in fact, a serial killer. 

In a moment where what was once considered “real” has become suspect, I have begun erecting models that capture the truth in the fictitious and reveal the artifice of reality. In Model Killer, I’m tearing down the idea that models are simply miniaturized representations of physical space and building them up as transformative sites to manage weighty abstract concepts. Once scaled down, I contain the out of proportion excesses of a worrisome, dangerous world, so they can be better understood.

Model Killer: Giant Crimes + Tiny Cover-Ups

Model Killer: Giant Crimes + Tiny Cover-Ups is a solo immersive puppetry and performing object installation centered on a disgruntled dollhouse maker turned investigator. Vivian Nutt builds dioramas of unsolved murders, only for it to be revealed that she is in fact, a serial killer.

The narrative centers on a small town where nothing is as it seems. Ripton Falls is a present day dystopia marred by growing violence. During the unveiling gala for the Institute of Crime’s Murderabilia Wing, the chief curator discovers a mysterious package.  A threatening letter incites a series of flashbacks that illustrate how Vivian, a middle-aged woman in plastic comfort footwear and a fanny pack, transforms herself from lonely crafter to one of the most notorious killers of our time.

I spent most of my time researching the biographies of 2,275 female serial killers (and notable one-time murderers) and just began scratching the surface at 6,514 male killers. And contrary to what “Silence of the Lambs” might have you believe, trans and nonbinary killers were few and far between. 

I was interested in the sensationalism of crime, how stories of killers are told in popular culture, and differences on how we view aggression through the lens of gender. There were clear contrasts in the ways female and male serial killers were covered in the media. The FBI even had separate classification systems.  I searched online, found their names, read their stories, and organized data points. 

[representation of Marsian’s active research for Model Killer: Giant Crimes + Tiny Cover-Ups]

I went way beyond Aileen Wuornos who many mistakenly believe was America’s first female serial killer. I looked for murderabilia (collectibles related to violent crime) and the unusual people who buy and sell them like the blue chip art market commodities. I kept an eye out for cases of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP), in which attention seeking caregivers cause illness or injury to a person (often a child) in their care by manipulating the medical system. MSBP was becoming an ever-popular storyline with cases like that of Gypsy Rose Blanchard of “Mommy Dead and Dearest” fame. 

Sure there were plateaus – days where I kept running into unoriginal cases of black widow after black widow who poisoned their intimates with arsenic, or a husband killing syndicate here or there. But then I’d find gems, like Leondra Cianciulli, known as the “Soap-Maker of Correggio”. In 1939 her favorite son was set to fight with the Italian army in World War II and so like any loving mother, she came to the conclusion she needed human sacrifices to protect him. So she lured in spinsters, killed them, and made soap and cakes out of their bodies that she then fed to the neighbors. I found something oddly relatable to her unconventional logic. And at least she was creative and made her crimes into craft projects.

I wanted to be as much of an “expert” as possible and have elements of these stories seep into and inform the writing and character development and I can already see that happening.