Marianna Williams | 04-16


Psychogeography. Continuity. Restlessness.

I often wonder what about a given environment will still exist over time, and what memories or histories we might lose by the loss of a house on stilts in the Southern Lowcountry.

I am walking in the Lowcountry. One foot in front of the other, walking to the end of the land. Walking straight into the water. It takes me almost two hours to get here. I look up at the bridge my grandfather helped build to connect our island to the main land; it’s now being taken apart, piece by piece.

We’ve salvaged one of its small, twisted steel joints to guard our fireplace. It’s a twisted, broken fragment of a bridge. But it is a powerful symbol of a connection between two places. It is a connection formed over water. It is a physical trace of something that my grandfather helped build for others. The meaning is not in the twisted steel, but in the fact that it marks a gesture of contact. Bridges imply openness. I look at it and feel that I can create points of contact by working in my studio, although at times I struggle to connect these foundations. As an expression of recollection and response, time-based and interactive formats provide the space to re-examine what is observed, imagined, and remembered.

I am currently expanding my understanding of time-based media by working with 3D modeling and material to create an installation about my history with climate change and migration with giant Styrofoam blocks and a series of animated particle physics.

I remember watching the water meet me at the front steps of my house on stilts. Closer day by day. An attraction. A repulsion. A magnet. I sit with the foam surfboard that my grandfather gave me. I can float out, and I’ll wash back in with the tides. I am confident when I am in the water. I used to go out every day alone – I’d paddle or windsurf for nearly an hour, until the house seemed like a deck of cards on the horizon. Only once I worried about not making it back, and when I did my initial adventure and focus on the direction of the wind and my balance on the deck melted into a sense of extreme urgency, and the waves that at first seemed to play became aggressive.

I was always taught to let the tide carry me should I be sucked under. If you resist you will be pulled farther down. I knew that the only way to escape an undertow is to hold your breath and hope that it will spit you out of its mouth. But being too far out on the water feels a lot like being sucked underwater. I had never thought how much security I found within a boundary of close waters. This boundary slips farther and farther out each day as I sail a little further and further, just as the tides shift slightly further towards my house on stilts. One farther and the other closer every day.

I feel shifts in language and in context in my life back on shore. I have moved around often – between my parent’s houses following their divorce, traveling for extended periods of time when my mom re-married, traveling so often that my first college dorm room felt like the most permanent place that I had ever had. I was unsure of what home meant, and I thought to use drawing to define a sense of place and community despite isolation. I thought, I can create work to build bridges that might give voice to someone.


Still searching for a place to be several years later, I find the pieces of a small point n’ shoot on the banks of the Tiber. A bird poops on me. Birds… are… so… rude… Someone tells me this is good luck. It’s just that it now looks like someone spilled gesso on my shoe. Wouldn’t be the first time – I’d been working as a painter for several years by now and had already mistakenly lacquered myself several times. I don’t notice it, but the water is rising a bit every day. The river itself was once known for its floods – the Campus Martius is a flood plain and would regularly flood to a depth of 2 metres – but the river is now confined between high stone embankments, begun in 1876. Today it seems just like watching the tides that I’ve always watched. A soccer ball is in a constant feedback loop with a weir in the river as it is continuously sucked in and shot back out. Sometimes, I think, we need detours, or a delay, to decipher meaning in an image that is more familiar to us. In this delay, the stillness in which our active thoughts translate meaning from images cast by the light, we become the media of the metaphors that are expressed.

The cyclical soccer ball at play with the weir is an abstraction which begins to embody a concept of life, or at least our ability to revisit our hopes and memories as we move forward in life. The sense of scale is both intimate - as you personally look at the image, in the moment - and immense, drawing back to your accumulated interactions and history.

Embodiment might be described in some ways as how we develop our bodies through the change of a certain physical environment or condition, like a geographic condition or socioeconomic status, but this process also translates to cognition. When I create work, I take with me a new idea or symbol which makes me question what I would normally see as familiar or as a given social condition. It’s as though the light had been casting a shadow on a certain place all along, but someone has only just pointed out the image in the shadow. One of the reasons for my belief in the power of art is that you see familiar things differently following the artwork’s event. Here we begin to reconsider how we see and what we are seeing, and how parallel histories might emerge.


I am drifting in 2013. I am north of everything. At this latitude my GPS has stopped working. I spot debris migrating towards a piercing shoreline. Is that trash a Starbucks cup floating by over there? The water rises around the hull of our tallship. We cannot get any closer to the shore for fear of causing reverberations which might cause a surrounding glacier to calve, triggering a massive tsunami that might take us up in its swell, so I jump out into a zodiac boat and taxi to shore. Ten people are here working to restore a Russian coal mining community called Pyramiden. The site itself was tragically abandoned after it suffered economic hardship following the Cold War and is now being restored for tourism. The coldness is not so much about the weather here, but in the indication of the shell of the homes within the village and the preserved histories within. I wonder if the people working here are also in search of the meaning of home.

After returning from the Arctic in the fall of 2013, I wanted to create a piece which would talk about a landscape ecology which is still developing while also expressing an index of sound recordings that I had taken within the Arctic over the course of 6 weeks. The sound was directly recorded from ice, moss, rocks, the structures of the settlement itself, and the hull of our ship as we sailed northwards. Like memory, the score becomes slightly different each time the delicate discs are played. The indexed recording, like the Arctic itself, is slowly changing states.


Perceived encounters with the land.

Years later, I land where I began. Every day the water inches closer and closer to our front steps. I’m standing in an inch of water twenty meters in front of the house. I look at the dramatic shifts in the shoreline and consider an imbalance in climate, or shifting magnetic forces deep within the earth’s core. In a few months we’ll need to fly in some sand and rocks to build artificial dunes. Are we simply responding to symptoms without paying respect to their roots?

-         If a city you grew up in were no longer there, or if sections of your local environment were incrementally lost, how would you remember it?

-         Do most people feel that they are observers, victims or lone survivors in terms of our environment?

-         In public thought are institutions, systems and arrangements of power seen as active influences?

Our sense of scale is shifting. In terms of time, my encounter with the land is most likely shared simultaneously by someone across the world. I feel that perhaps someone else far across the world is also standing in front of their house-on-stilts, wondering whether or not to leave or to stay.

Our sense of scale is shifting. We’re tiny in comparison to the water. There is an unspoken relationship to the elements that we all share and have lived, and I am marking the traces of our encounters with the land.