Tess Martens’ performance art serves as a self-portrait of her childhood, through to adulthood, as well as times of mental health and illness. In her four-part thesis show, 1, 2, 3, 4, Tess invites her witnesses– termed this way because in performance art theory active participants witness revelations that are shared– to explore her experience as a young woman artist in a world that can be misogynistic and that objectifies female bodies. This is done as she interacts with objects from her childhood in the new context of her adulthood.
As Tess progresses through performances, she becomes more exposed, both in the details of her life she reveals to her witnesses, and physically with the skin she bares. She performs before her witnesses despite major stage fright including visible shaking and her difficulty speaking.
Supported by her supervisor Professor Boyana Videkanic, a performance artist herself, Tess executed an interdisciplinary fine arts thesis by utilizing several mediums including performance art and painting. Professor Videkanic reflects, “Tess is very good at tapping into the space and place of performance and therefore can successfully reach and touch the witnesses who are present. This is where performance is at its best.”
After she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Guelph in 2013, Tess completed a Recreation Therapy post-grad college certificate at Georgian College with an internship at Toronto Rehab.
For Tess, the idea of a Master’s degree in Fine Arts was always on the horizon, it was only a matter of time. The program has included some exceptional opportunities, including a trip to the Venice Biennale earlier this year with her classmates. She says “Looking back, I’ve enjoyed being able to meet practicing artists, receive constructive feedback to better my work, and I’ve liked being in a place where I’m constantly inspired by other artists.”
All MFA students are invited to pick an artist anywhere in the world with whom they would like to work, learn from, and be mentored — this is unique feature of Waterloo’s MFA program funded by the Keith and Win Shantz International Research Scholarship. Tess ended up in Brooklyn, New York, to work with Todd Bienvenu, an artist who her peers had likened her to for the pervasive confessional theme in their art and the similarities in their painting styles.
Tess has applied to present her work in one show in New York where she hopes to perform 1, 2, 3, 4 for a new audience. She will also continue her work as a Recreational Aid in Waterloo Region where she executes seniors programming that integrates recreational therapy with her fine arts background.