2019, photo: Austin Young
2019, photo: Austin Young

Marsian De Lellis is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary artist who investigates contemporary forms of animism, desire, and neurodivergence. In their work, they employ artificial figures, cutouts, pop-ups, performing objects, and wearable architecture.

As a young queer person growing up in 1980s Greater Boston, De Lellis experienced an intense sense of otherness. They became preoccupied with the nuclear arms race, the search for extraterrestrial life, and the sense of hysteria at the onset of the AIDS epidemic.

In the early ‘90s, they organized rallies and lobbying efforts in Massachusetts, which led to some of the nation’s first anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ students in public schools. Their activism was covered by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and included an appearance on Oprah.​

In 1994 De Lellis moved to the Midwest to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photographer Barbara De Genevieve mentored De Lellis, encouraging their study of the body and its excesses, which spanned a range of visual and time-based mediums. De Lellis became fascinated with artist-doll makers who disorient bodies when they were introduced to the work of Greer Lankton through her protege, local nightlife personality, Jojo Baby. They also began curating projects at artist-run spaces like N.A.M.E. and Randolph Street Gallery with the Radical Faeries.

Blood from a Turnip – 5/19/06, poster ©2006 Marsian De Lellis

In the 2000’s De Lellis briefly lived in New York City and subsequently moved to Providence where they created installation work at the Dirt Palace, a feminist art space located in a repurposed abandoned library. In ​Finocchio: The Holiday Classic, they reimagined the idea of the commercial holiday window with a twist on Pinocchio: a sequential visual narrative focused on a marionette “trapped” in the body of a non-binary human and hir journey to self-actualization.

Zyprexa #46, Abilify #6, Seroquel #11, ©2003 Marsian De Lellis

De Lellis’ next installation, ​Side Effects was a series of digitally altered portraits of pharmaceuticals (antibiotic, antipsychotic, and antidepressant medications). Of ​Respirdone #12​, Petra Kuppers wrote that ​“the flash of science, and its miraculous color effects, beams, transpositions, and traversals, glistens on the photo paper” in ​The Scar Of Visibility: Medical Performances And Contemporary Art​.

De Lellis exhibited puppets, dolls and related ephemera for a solo show at AS220 and became the host of a prolific late night puppet cabaret, that happened to be next door at Perishable. In 2005 they launched an international website networking the community of artists, performance spaces, and audiences interested in short-form puppetry and object theatre for adults, which they produced for the next decade.

photo: Sean Dennie

During a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, De Lellis assisted experimental filmmaker and one of the pioneers of the renaissance of American avant-garde puppet theater, Janie Geiser, with lenticular prototypes. T​hey also broke ground on ​Growing Up Linda​an ensemble puppetry performance in which the daughter of a famous ice cream mogul must come to terms with her troubled past. Compelled by Geiser’s approach to object performance, De Lellis relocated to Los Angeles for graduate study at California Institute for the Arts. In Los Angeles, they continued developing ​Growing Up Linda, w​hich was noted for its ​“fusion of trashy and glam” by Three Weeks during its run at the Edinburgh Fringe.

photo: Nicholas Shoob, design: Marsian De Lellis

After school, De Lellis created a series of solo puppet and object-based performance art pieces that champion the stories of unconventional people whose private manias become public fodder for tabloids and reality television. De Lellis’ next major piece was a musical inspired by the life of Jocelyn Wildenstein – the real life ​‘catwoman’​ . Described by Flavorpill as ​“demented, touching, and inherently strange”, Bride of Wildensteinexamined the making of a monstrosity when an aging socialite grows fur and claws to recapture the attention of her philandering game hunter husband. ​Bride of Wildenstein toured throughout the United States before premiering at the Velaslavasay Panorama..

photo: Rafael Hernandez

Next De Lellis developed ​Object of Her Affection​, an unconventional love story centered on a woman who, in her search for true love, develops intimate relationships with inanimate objects. The performance followed the emotional journey of protagonist, Andrea Lowe (an object sexual) after she has mysteriously fallen from a building. In her last moments, she reflects on her meaningful relationships starting with her first love, a baby’s blanket. As an adolescent, she loses her virginity to a bad-boy hunting rifle and subsequently becomes infatuated with the Berlin Wall. As Andrea evolves, so do her desires. In adulthood, she forms doomed relationships with monumental structures: a high-profile statue, tragic twin skyscrapers, and a bridge who cheats. Each of these relationships has a profound effect, shaping Andrea’s views on life and love. Finally, she finds solace in Roy, a crumbling tenement who ultimately fails her. In a critical essay for Fabrik, Jackie Apple observed that, ​“the unconventional lives and obsessions of the characters that populate the artist’s performance works echo De Lellis’ own artfully projected persona and unique perspective.”

photo: Alex Griffin

In 2016, De Lellis was awarded a C.O.L.A. Fellowship for ​(In)/Animate Objects,​ an installation that formed the second half of a diptych with ​Object of Her Affection. F​or its initial showing at Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, a mountain of decaying rag dolls towered to the ceiling, upon which their maker, the grandmother, presided from the throne of her wingback chair. Years have passed since her granddaughter, (Andrea, the protagonist from ​Object of Her Affection), ​fell from the crumbling tenement she was in love with. In sorrow, the grandmother has amassed thousands of dolls that testify to the insatiable need for love at the heart of the obsessional life.

(In)/Animate Objects Panel #1, 2019, photo: Track 16
fabric and thread, hand sewn with mixed media on wood panel,
66″ x 55″ x 11″ inches

For ​(In)/Animate Objects, ​De Lellis mass-produced over a thousand handmade decaying ragdolls with a pop-up community of collaborators which formed locally in Los Angeles and remotely in Louisville, Brooklyn, Providence and Amsterdam. Their process appropriated aspects of quilting bees. As their hands collectively stitched irregularities, their minds contemplated the idea of identity: a repetition of a repetition for which there is no original. Versions of ​(In)/Animate Objects have been displayed at Automata, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Track 16, and Rosalux (Berlin).

De Lellis has been the recipient of funding from The Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Center Theatre Group, The Jim Henson Foundation, The Center for Cultural Innovation, The Durfee Foundation, The Anna Sosenko Assist Trust, UNIMA-USA, and has been an artist-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neill Center and the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

photo: Richard Termine

Currently, De Lellis is developing an installation-performance hybrid, ​Model Killer: Giant Crimes + Tiny Cover-Ups, a morbid comedy 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.