Mary Oliver is a Performance Artist and Reader in Performance at the University of Salford. Her work often explores the simple human activities of family gatherings, eating and banal conversations, but the certainty of such events is put into question as Mary tells these stories with the aid of digital performers. Her shows include Mother Tongue where she performs as all the members of her family simultaneously, Wednesday, Wednesday in which she argues with herself for the right to perform, Almost features the world's smallest 'human' performer, viewed with the aid of opera glasses and Blue is a poetic duet between a woman and a phenomenal animation, that can do anything but leave the screen.
Mary also creates work for gallery spaces, using sensing technologies to activate the spectator's engagement with the work. In Push (2012) the audience pushes the seat of a playground swing, activating a random set of perverse incidents filmed in public parks. In the Screaming Head (2009) the spectator triggers an increasingly abusive range of responses from a disembodied head that responds according to how hard it is hit. Her current project Talk to me is using sensing technologies to create conversational interfaces with inanimate objects.
She has collaborated with a range of artists and engineers in the making of her work. They include animator Rozi Fuller, artists Niki Woods and Steve Gumbley, computer programmers Joe Brindle and Kenny Lozowski, musicians Christian Weaver and Matthew Wood, video editors Sara Robinson and Michael Clements. Mary has been directed by Mem Morrison, Mark Whitelaw, Teresa Brayshaw and Rob Thirtle. She has presented her work throughout Europe, Canada, USA and Australia and has been funded by Arts Council England, the British Council, the AHRC and the Canadian Cultural Council, to create and tour her work.
Mary collaborates with an international network of organisations and artists. She leads the As Yet Impossible research project which is exploring the application of performance methods in unusual industrial and experimental applications. As part of this development she organizes the As Yet Impossible Public Lecture Series, at the University of Salford MediaCityUK campus. The aim is to bring Artists and Scientists to present on ideas that are pushing at the edges of current knowledge. The speakers have included Kevin Warwick - Cyberneticist, Mike Joroff - Media City expert MIT, Steve Benford - Computational Scientist, Daniel Glaser - Wellcome Trust and the Artists: Ali Hosaini, Gibson and Martelli. She is an experienced consultant and event organisor.
Mary Oliver’s collaborative partners include:
The following publications can be downloaded from usir.salford.ac.uk:
A sonic tea party for large numbers of participants, created as part of
Rules and Regs at Southill Park Art Gallery, Bracknell – 2009.
The Rules: Love the extraordinaire, React, Develop a dialogue, Vox populi, vox dei. I asked the people "If you were God, what would you say to the people?" They said "be kind". I asked the people that "As God what would they say to me the artist?" and they said "do what feels right.
So I sat a food hygiene exam, passed it, and in the restaurant kitchen of the Arts Centre I made provocative cakes: mosques, churches, missiles, twin-towers and chocolate oil barrels. I devised a tea party, a quintessentially English event, with its performed conversation and politeness, whilst surreptitiously recording the participants voices and "feeding" them back slowly and insidiously. Finally after enjoying their tea and cakes they were rendered silent by the 'Babble' of their own chatter. Performed with the assistance of professional waiter Andrew Buchannan, sound Recordist Sam Weaver and gallery interns. Curated by Outi Remes, Series Producer Seth Kriebel Funded by Arts Council England http://www.rulesandregs.org/moliver.html
- 2013 - 2014 Guest editor of a special issue of the International Journal of Performing Arts and Digital Media on Hybridity: the intersections of Performance and Science.
- 2012 Push ‘At Play’ Exhibition, Southill Park Art Gallery.
- 2009 Selected Artist Liminal Screen International Artists Fellowship, Banff New Media Institute, Alberta Canada.
- 2009 Selected Artist ‘Rules and Regs’ Artist’s Residency, Southill Park.
- 2008 Editorial boards of the ‘International Journal of Performing Arts and Digital Media’ (Intellect Press) and ‘Performing Magic Journal’, (Huddersfield University Press.
- 2008 - 2012 Co-convenor TaPRA’s (Theatre and Performance Research Association) Performance and New Technologies Working Group.
- 2007 Best Paper award Re-actor: Women in digital live art conference Leeds University.
2001-2002 Mother Tongue
Controlled by computer in this work Mary performs as her mother and three sisters in an exploration of why we speak as we do. The five characters performed in synchrony, with Mary reliving moments from her families past and bringing her mother’s voice back to life as the five women laughed, cried and sang in harmony one more time.
This performance premiered at the Sensitive Skin Festival in Nottingham before touring to venues including the ICA, BAC, Royal Exchange Studio and Alsager Arts Centre.
"A well performed, gentle examination of her own identity"
2006 Never Work with Animals, Children or Digital Performers
Another conflict based double act, where the two Mary’s banter away with on stage Mary trying not to be upstaged by her irascible onscreen self.
"I had come to believe that such performances were inevitably doomed to failure. Mary Oliver proved me wrong. Her auto-performance is tremendously effective theatre: funny, deeply thought provoking and surprisingly moving."
David Saltz, Editor, Theatre Journal.
2005 Wednesday, Wednesday
In this duet, Mary argues with herself for the right to perform. In life, Mary is obsessed with food, sex and singing, on TV, she’s perfect, well spoken, has conversations with God, and able to move her hair in slow motion. Playing partly ideas of liveness and mediation but mostly just being daft, this show plays with the very different performance styles of the TV personality and the painfully embarrassing musical performer.
"Mary Oliver is one of the sharpest and funniest performers working today."
Philip Auslander, author of Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Society, on, Rhode Island USA
In a real house, nine inch high Doris is fastidiously decorating, cleaning and hoping that there will be a reprieve from the council order to demolish the street and with it her beloved home. Her giant of a husband takes matters into his own hands and finds a way to save Doris from the nightmare that will inevitably come. Almost is a modern fairytale with a sad ending, of the family who live in the last house on the street. It’s an allegorical tale – she is too small to notice and he’s too big to fit in.
"Doris can be seen with the aid of opera glasses moving from room to room with the aid of composite hi definition video in a beautifully crafted house"
Artist Steve Gumbley.
"Mary Oliver's razor-sharp observations of the everyday are brought to life in her stunning and touching theatre performances that oscillate between rationale and reverie, humour and melancholy."
Andrea Zapp, curator of Story Rooms, on Almost, Manchester."
"One of the highlights of Liminal Screen."
Susan Kennard, Director of Banff New Media Institute, on Swimmers, Alberta, Canada.
"Nothing unoriginal comes out of her mouth!"
Comedian Jenny Éclair, Comedy Writing Workshop, Lancaster University