University Galleries and Collections

Marion Wilson: The Landscape Is Sanctuary to Our Fears

Court Gallery

January 27 - March 18, 2020

This exhibition is an exploration of Paterson, New Jersey and the Northeastern region through bodies of water­­––an investigation of ecology and landscape that fosters a closer connection to self and place. Through her photographs, paintings, and installations, Wilson interrogates our relationship to nature at a time when extreme climate change threatens ecosystems, livelihoods, and communities.


Press Release

Exploring Paterson, New Jersey and the Northeastern regions through nature, artist Marion Wilson investigates ecology and landscape to foster a closer connection to self and place in her new exhibition at the William Paterson University Galleries, on view in the Ben Shahn Center for Visual Arts from January 27 to March 18, 2020 (shortened due to COVID-19). Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and select Saturdays (March 7,) and Sundays (February 23) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Admission is free. Marion Wilson will give an Artist Talk on Tuesday, January 28 from 2 to 3 p.m. followed by an opening reception for the exhibit from 3 to 5 p.m. A virtual book launch and artist conversation will be held Tuesday, April 21 from 6 to 8 p.m. Marion Wilson’s exhibition catalogue will be released and artist Tattfoo Tan will present his recent publication, Heal the Man in Order to Heal the Land

Through her photographs, paintings, and installations, Wilson interrogates our relationship to nature at a time when extreme climate change threatens ecosystems, livelihoods, and communities. This project emerged along the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey, a city that used its water to power the silk industry and now faces environmental degradation in it’s post-industrial decline. 

Wilson finds further inspiration in William Carlos Williams’ long-form poem, Paterson. “Where Williams declares that the city is a man and is not nature; I reclaim the ‘city’ as a woman and explore its connection to nature and animism,” says Wilson. She endeavors to underscore the role of women as mill workers and labor activists. Her exhibition title is drawn from Williams’ prose; she explains: “My work questions both implicitly and explicitly whether art can save nature—and whether nature can save us from ourselves.” 

Marion Wilson: The Landscape Is Sanctuary to Our Fears will showcase a site-specific installation interweaving Wilson’s paintings and photographs with historical artifacts loaned from the Paterson Museum. The artist creates a narrative link from the industrial revolution to the 1913 Silk Strike and the 1960s, when she was drawn into politics as a child by her activist parents. 

This exhibition draws upon interdisciplinary research that began in spring 2019 when Wilson collaborated with Nicole Davi, a William Paterson University professor of environmental science, as well as undergraduate students to conduct stream studies of the Passaic watershed. Together, they examined macroinvertebrates, which are bioindicators of water quality as well as overlooked and underappreciated aspects of our landscape. Over the course of subsequent months, Wilson conducted field hikes to collect local species and waters. She also studied the archives of the Paterson Museum and the American Labor Museum at the Botto House in neighboring Haledon, New Jersey. 

Looking beyond Paterson, Wilson examined bodies of water in New York, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Northeastern regions share similar histories and ecologies; water played an essential role in the growth of factories and neighboring cities during the Industrial Revolution. Today, these areas are also among the fastest-warming states in the nation. Rising temperatures threaten ecosystems in lakes and rivers as evidenced by the recent algae bloom in New Jersey’s Lake Hopatcong, which Wilson also documented. 

Wilson will also exhibitThe Waters of My Childhood,” a photographic series documenting water collected from lakes that Wilson visited regularly as a child. The exhibition highlights how the exploitation of natural resources leads to the exploitation and degradation of people, which will be further exacerbated by impending climate change. 

Through her art practice, Wilson builds collaborative partnerships with botanists, architects and mostly urban communities by accessing individual expertise and working non-hierarchically. As an associate professor at Syracuse University from 2007 to 2017, she institutionalized an art curriculum called New Directions in Social Sculpture. This curriculum draws upon her belief in the revitalization of urban spaces through the arts, often involving recycled materials and unlikely collaborations. Wilson is the founder of MLAB (Mobile Literacy Arts Bus) and the Mobile Field Station (a mobile eco/art lab in a collaboratively renovated RV), and 601 Tully, the renovation of an abandoned 1,900- square-foot residence that had become a drug house into a neighborhood art museum on the westside of Syracuse, New York. Wilson holds a BA from Wesleyan University, an MA from Columbia University and an MFA from the University of Cincinnati. Her individual studio work uses artifacts of the photography industry in sculpture, painting and printed photographs to explore industrialized landscapes and useful and stress-tolerant botanies with a special interest in moss. 

Wilson has exhibited with New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY; Frederieke Taylor, New York, NY; Herbert Johnson Museum at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Kasia Kay Art Projects, New Orleans, LA; Dorsky Gallery, Long Island City, NY; Exit Art, New York, NY; Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, NY; and SPACES, Cleveland, OH. She has been awarded residencies at Millay Colony for the Arts (Nancy Graves Award), Austerlitz, NY; International Studio Program (NYSCA and Elizabeth Foundation), New York, NY; Sculpture Space, Utica, NY; and, most recently, McColl Center for Art and Innovation, Charlotte, NC. 

Marion Wilson: The Landscape Is Sanctuary to Our Fears is one of three exhibitions on view concurrently in the William Paterson University Galleries. On view in the South Gallery is Ink, Press, Repeat: National Juried Printmaking and Book Art Exhibition, juried by Ruth Lingen, master printer, book artist, and director of Line Press Limited. Casey Gardner: Wonder Might Ignite, on view in the East Gallery, features artist’s books and prints by the Grand Prize recipient of the 2018 Ink, Press, Repeat exhibition. 

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Programs are also made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The William Paterson University Galleries are wheelchair-accessible. Large-print educational materials are available. For additional information, please call the William Paterson University Galleries at 973-720-2654.


Related Events

Artist Talk

Tuesday, January 28

2:00 - 3:00 p.m.

Court Gallery

Opening Reception

Tuesday, January 28

3:00 - 5:00 p.m.

Court Gallery

Film Screening: The Anthropologist

Thursday, February 13

12:30 - 2:00 p.m.

Atrium Auditorium

Marion Wilson and Tattfoo Tan - Virtual Conversation

Tuesday, April 21

6:00 - 7:00 p.m.

Watch the recorded conversation here!


Contemporary Art Series: Marion Wilson (Interview by Angela Cappetta)

A View From the Easel During Times of Quarantine (Elisa Wouk Almino for

Art Into the World: Marion Wilson Interviewed by Louis Bury (BOMB magazine, April 23, 2020)