Ursula Merchant

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Ursula S. Merchant
Born (1932-09-10) September 10, 1932 (age 82)
Rostock, Germany
Occupation Artist/Writer/Philosopher

Ursula Merchant (born September 10, 1932 in Rostock) is a German Las Vegas- based German performance artist, conceptual artist, carpenter. She is probably best known for her series 'Forkin' Hell'.

Early life[edit]

Merchant was born Ursula S. Wernerberger in post-war Rostock. Her parents were of Russian extraction. Her father abandoned Ursula and her mother early in Ursula's youth, when he returned from a prisoner of war camp after World War II. Her family moved to a remote village in the Black Mountains of Switzerland after the house next to theirs was destroyed during the bombing at the close of World War II. When she was 12, she and her family moved back to Rostock and shared an apartment with Mikhail Trotsky in Elisabethkleverstraße in Rostock. Mikhail Trotsky at the time was a former Russian peasant exile who was quick to recognise and encourage Ursula's artistic potential. Trotsky generously mentored the gifted young Ursula on Russian mysticism and literature, sword play and instructed her on the rules of verse. About this, Merchant recalled, "I knew at that moment that I had found my 'Innere Gedanken', my inner most desire, I immediately knew I would be an artist and that I would do art performances".

The same year, the prodigious Merchant was to start work on 'Mein Liebling roter Schuh für regnerische Tage' in what was to become a hit play.

In the early 1960s Merchant worked night shifts as a carpenter in a timber factory to help fund her first works of art.


She incorporates mixed media elements to create situational environments based on collective ideologies that blur the boundary between fact and fiction. Her works frequently examine abstract notions of the abject in relation to surrealism, she speaks of her work in symbolic terms using a distinctive style and displaying a fondness for aphorism.

Merchant has also received notoriety as a stage/playwright, visual artist, and as singer/songwriter for her feminist neo-fascist musical work. In 1967 Ursula met and briefly lived with Diane Arbus whilst in New York, after attending the "New Documents" exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Arbus' photography was to have a profound influence on the work that followed.

Martin Crimp's 1997 play "Attempts on Her Life" is a deconstructivist exploration of her life through the invisible Annie, recollecting (through others speech) her many failed attempts to take her own life. Had she succeeded in doing so, it would have not only stunted the growth of modern performance art to a significant degree, but she may also not have lived to give birth to her daughter Katie Absolom (Born Katie Merchant), whose racist watercolours were inspired Warhol's early works.

Brief Personal History[edit]

· 1932 – Born in Rostock, Germany.

· 1948-1953 – Studies at the Sorbonne Paris France.

· 1953-1954 – Brief excursion to London England where she learns English and meets Lucian Freud

· 1962 – Emigrates to Las Vegas, USA.

Cultural references[edit]

Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith refers to Ursula Merchant. in his song "Color Bars," which appears on his 2000 album Figure 8.

Referenced from:

Howell, L (1994), "The Arbus Legacy", Pan Biographies.