Room is an interactive multimedia installation, performance, and speculative retelling of historical narratives inspired by the lives of three women, enslaved in colonial America. The project, developed by Marisa Williamson during her residency at SPACES, is a variation on the pop culture “escape room” phenomenon offering players the opportunity to compete against the clock to solve puzzles using clues, hints, and strategy.
This multi-disciplinary platform provides cross-historical and contemporary context for considering the lives of three extraordinary women: Phillis Wheatley, Tituba of Salem Village, and Sally Hemings. The details of their lives are unique, but not widely known or even knowable. Yet, as black women in colonial America, enslaved for the majority or entirety of their lives, the challenges they faced can be assumed to share some common themes. Room takes up these themes - blackness, privilege, genealogies of resistance, and the possibility of escape - as they may, or may not be compatible with the escape room structure, rules, and form.
Room is a research collaboration between artist, Marisa Williamson, and scholar, Sarah Jessica Johnson. Sarah Jessica Johnson is a Provost's Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Chicago. Her current book project explores how historical marronage is represented in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reading particularly for how the strategies and practices of individual maroons shape archival and fictional texts. Her work examines francophone and anglophone U.S. and Caribbean texts. Room incorporates the research, scholarship, and creative work of Johnson as well as University of Chicago students enrolled in the class titledBlack in Colonial America: Three Women, developed by Johnson alongside this project.
Room is a design collaboration with Lauren Williams, a Los Angeles-based designer, researcher, and writer who works with visual and interactive media to understand, critique, and reimagine the ways in which social and economic systems distribute and exercise power. Her work seeks to expose and unsettle power and often prioritizes engaging people through design in service of imagining and manifesting a more equitable present and future. Lauren is currently an adjunct associate professor at ArtCenter College of Design, teaching a course on design-led research methods that prioritize engagements with people and places in Detroit. Previously, she led numerous initiatives aimed at addressing economic inequality while working at Prosperity Now: Qualitative research studies, federal and state policy advocacy efforts, and program-related partnerships with community-based organizations. She received her MFA from ArtCenter College of Design and BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
After Kara Walker / Before Clifford Owens was staged at Chinatown gallery, Invisible-Exports. The work required a black body, clothed in black, and painted black, to perform in homage to KaraWalker and in anticipation of a performance by artistCliffordOwens.
The Fire (2017)
CONGO SQUARE (2017) Sweet Chariot
In the late 1600s, when the city was young, Congo Square was a burial ground for enslaved Africans who had lost their motherland. An interpretation of Congo Square, a poem by Lamont B. Steptoe, is performed by artist Noelle Lorraine Williams.
MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (2017) Sweet Chariot
Margaret Forten was a domestic worker, single mother, and former slave. While little is known about her life, her legacy lives on through the impact of her children, among them philanthropist and activist, James Forten. She is brought to life by actress, Dena Bleu, and by the poetry of Yolanda Wisher.
CalArts Monument was a collaborative project that involved creating a monument in the likeness of what we determined was ‘the average’ CalArts student. We erected it on the front steps of the school’s entrance on the occasion of the Institute-wide graduation week.
The goals of this project were to have fun, and at the same time draw attention to the declining respect for and acknowledgement of the students’ role in making the institution the reputable, rigorous, soulful, and unique place that it had been for decades. Some of us had felt a shift in attitude, and a marked change or obfuscation of protocol regarding informal gatherings on campus, treatment of students by security officers, and access to modes of self, group, and communal expression.
We were interested in foregrounding issues of space, institutional memory, community, and representation, through art, action, and collaboration.
We requested a grant from the art department to build the semi-permanent monument and to explore, by doing so, what it means for us, and for the institution to build a legacy--both within its walls, and beyond them.
CalArts, Valencia, CA, 2013
In the Imagination of the Other
The Black Dinner Party Video
Institute Line-Up Fuji Instant film
White Study Collage
Black Box Boy / Black Box Girl Stereographic Video, Mixed-Media