Marisa Olson

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Marisa Olson
Born 1977
Frankfurt, West Germany
Known for New Media Art Artist, Curator, Critic, Professor; Contributing Editor & Columnist for
Notable work "Marisa's American Idol Audition Blog", "Black or White", "Time Capsules"

Marisa Olson (born 1977 in Frankfurt) is a new media artist, curator, critic,[1] and media theorist.[2] In 2004 she auditioned for popular American television show American Idol as an artistic project.[3] In her blog, she describes her feelings and the entire process that she must go through in order to look presentable to the producers and other staff. In the end she does get rejected from the show due to producers discovering her blog and hidden agenda for auditioning.[citation needed] She previously taught Film Studies and New Media classes at UC Berkeley and NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program graduate program in the Tisch School of the Arts. Currently, Olson is Assistant Professor of New Media at SUNY, Purchase,[4] and adjunct faculty at the Digital + Media Department of RISD.[5] Her work combines performances, video, drawing and installation to show technology's history. Olson is a founding member of the Nasty Nets' "Internet Surfing Club", a web-based work documenting and remixing their experiences online. Through Nasty Nets and with the sponsorship of Rhizome she premiered a new DVD at the New York Underground Film Festival and was the subject of an exhibition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.[6]

Creative practice[edit]

Marisa Olson's work combines performance, video, net art, sound, drawing, and installation to address the cultural history of technology, the politics of participation within pop culture, and the aesthetics of failure. Her own work has recently been presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art, Centre Pompidou-Paris, New Museum of Contemporary Art, 52nd International Biennale di Veneia, National Museum of Contemporary Art (Athens, Greece), Edith Russ-Haus fur Medienkunst, Nederlands Instutuut voor Mediakunst/Montevideo, the British Film Institute, the Pacific Film Archive, a solo show at the Hessel Museum of Art, and the New York Underground Film Festival. She is a founding member of the Pro Surfer internet collective NastyNets ( She sculpts older technologies, such as cassette tapes and floppy disks, to be submitted to museums.


Black & White[edit]

In this colorless video, Olson listens to Michael Jackson's "Black or White." The audio signals of the song triggers disturbances, with aid of a "wobulator" by Nam June Paik, in the video's appearance. In Jackson's video, the faces of characters morphed into others, which left Olson with a deep interest in digital effects and later media change and the "performative aspects of spectatorship." She comments, "The new question, here, is about the similarities and differences between the ways that people and machines "hear." [7]

Time Capsules[edit]

In this piece, Olson resurrects "endangered units of time" and transforms them into golden sculptures with paint in "Fort Knox-style". Locations of the sculptures' display are made to resemble landfills or garbage piles, from which they were saved and are able to regain value.[8]

Assisted Living[edit]

Assisted Living was a futuristic parody of Martha Stewart's TV show focusing on the coping with the health & environmental challenges of living a life prolonged and polluted by technology. As hostess, Olsen devised craft projects and recipes for 150-year-olds, taping the show on-site before a "live studio audience." The show incubated at Wooloo's New Life Berlin festival and took an expanded form at PS122 in the Fall of 2009.[9]

Curator and critic[edit]

She has organized exhibitions and programs at the Guggenheim, SFMOMA, the Getty, White Columns, Artists Space, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and elsewhere, including SF Camerawork, where she was previously Associate Director. She's written for Wired, Mute, Afterimage, Flash Art, ArtReview, and others, and has written commissioned essays for the Walker Art Center, the Banff Centre's New Media Institute, Eyebeam, and LACMA. She was previouslyis the Editor & Curator-at-Large for at the New Museum[10] and is currently the Contributing Editor & Columnist there.[11]


Olson holds both a BA and MA in Rhetoric from UC Berkeley, where she is a PhD Candidate and where she created and taught classes in new media in the departments of Film Studies and Art History. Olson has taught several courses in tactical media at NYU's ITP program. After earning her BA from Berkeley she began a PhD in the UC Santa Cruz History of Consciousness program, before leaving with an MA, spending a year studying Fine Art at Goldsmiths College-London, and starting her PhD at UC Berkeley.

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