Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Alone Together in the Dark – the BOOK

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

jillian mcdonald

The beautiful catalogue for my residency and exhibition at ASU Art Museum in Arizona is available from Blurb, featuring an extensive interview by curator John Spiak and an essay by Stefan St Laurent.

“Better off Dead” – scholarly treatise on the walking dead

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Better Off Dead

Better Off Dead is a new scholarly book edited by Sarah Juliet Lauro and Deborah Christie (Fordham Press). It features a chapter titled Zombies Invade Performance Art…and Your Neighbourhood, featuring Thea Munster’s Toronto Zombie Walks and my own artworks. Cover art and other images from my recent work. Well written and researched, the book is not another campy zombie book; this one considers the post-human archetype from some surprising angles.

Zombie Writers

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

dawn of dreadfuls

During my sabbatical I am taking a creative writing class. Oh yes, I’ve been moving the brain in new and mysterious ways, highly recommended. I may one day need to write a play about philosophical zombies and sock puppet identities, for example. Perhaps it will be a musical, featuring bands of ukeleles. I am stockpiling skills.

Friend and gallery owner Michael Rosenthal recently sent me a story by Donald Barthelme (1981) titled Zombies. It brings to mind the lesser but greatly hyped Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

And speaking of that marketing success, Dawn of The Dreadfuls, the prequel to Pride and… is coming hot on its heels next month, following the “post-script prequel” trend haunting all manner of horror lately. The cover for Dawn… is above.

Diarama drama – another review (sight unseen)

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Off the radar for the past four months, I’ve probably missed a lot of important information. Waiting at the Greenpoint G train station last night I was ill prepared for a poster advertising the upcoming TV series, Vampire Diaries. Reading later about the main characters who are either “beautiful and popular” or carrying “dark, deadly secrets of their own”, two thoughts raced through my mind:

1) how refreshing, it’s high time someone made melodramatic books and motion pictures about beautiful young vampires.
2) Dear Diary, I am beautiful and in love with the dangerous vampire next door – it’s complicated, what shall I do?

Vampire Diaries is based on a series of young adult novels. For those who can’t get enough of Twilight and True Blood – hold your breath; here comes more of the same.

As much as I disliked Diary of the Dead, Romero’s recent zombie film (2007), at least the zombies have some character, albeit rotting and unpleasant. I might actually read their diaries.

I Had My Facebook Portrait Painted by Matt Held

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

matt held jillian mcdonald

Listening to the archives of my favourite radio show, Q, today I caught an interview with authors Lianne George and Steve Maich, whose book The Ego Boom talks about “The You Sell”. Advertisers and marketers no longer tell us we’re not good enough / beautiful enough / thin enough and therefore need their products to become better, but rather affirm we are perfect the way we are and nevertheless need these products to maintain our perfection. Because kids are taught that everything they do is special and excellent, narcissism and a responsibility-deficient culture suffuses the generation.

An article titled, Enough About Me. Like My Portrait? Appeared in The New York Times a few days ago, suggesting that Hollywood figures who commission their own portraits are narcissistic, though they sometimes feel guilty or awkward about displaying the results. But is everyone who has their portrait painted a narcissist, in an age where we can and often do take any number of photographic portraits, and even Photoshop ourselves into perfection?

I don’t consider myself a narcissist, although I appear in a lot of my own artwork. And although I’ve known many musicians, writers, and artists I have never before been the subject of any one else’s artwork, poem, story, or song. To the best of my knowledge. Which is probably a good thing. Unless you count Mike Peter’s Stolen Kisses, which I would count except that the subject is arguably not me, but rather the character I play in my video, Screen Kiss.

A longtime proponent of participation-based artwork, particularly when the participant gains something in the process in a generous gesture by the artist, I read with interest some press about painter Matt Held’s Facebook portrait project earlier this month. I joined his Facebook group, “I’ll have my Facebook portrait painted by Matt Held”. Held’s portraits in general are absurd, unlike the typical Hollywood portraits – there’s self-assured Angie in a blue fun fur bird-monster suit; bald Ardalan licking a larger-than-life pink ice cream; and wide-eyed Jessica drinking a glass of wine bigger than her head. But more that that, his project opens up portrait painting to ordinary people, his “friends” – real and virtual. At the moment I’m writing this, the group has 2,100 members, most of whom – unless Matt donates the rest of his life to the project – may never see their portraits. Somehow I got lucky – you can see my portrait above and the original photo avec Billy Bob tattoos, below.

Visit Matt Held’s website for more info, and join his group quick, while there’s still room.

jillian mcdonald billy bob tattoos

A Zombie Pride and Prejudice

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

zombie pride and prejudice

I can’t imagine zombies caring much for pride or prejudice, but that didn’t stop Seth Grahame-Smith from re-imagining a classic novel. My friend Roger emailed me a link to the not-yet-released book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, which I imagine to be a bit like “lions and tiger and bears”, with more gore. I think it’s a great way to kick some life, so to speak, into a classic novel. Stay tuned!

Here is the editor talking about the book, without giving anything away.

Living Dead overkill? Never!

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

night of living dead

You can never have too much of a good thing. That applies to one of my favourite horror films, Night of the Living Dead.

I just finished reading “Night of the Living Dead” by Ben Hervey, a great little book rife with anecdotes and trivia which contextualizes the cult classic firmly in its historical moment. This is a film that has never gone out of video print since being released, according to Hervey.

That this film relies on non-actors, a low budget, and the resourcefulness of an ambitious crew makes it all the more worthy of story-telling.

When my friend Jenni Quilter friend invited me for a screening last night I jumped. Accidentally she rented Tom Savini’s 1990 colour remake which I’d never seen. Suffice to say it is almost the same film, based on the screenplay by Romero and Russo, but there are some significant character changes, mostly in the female roles. Barbara is heroic, not catatonic; Judy wants to help, not just “stand by her man”; and little Karen is neither little, endearing, nor as angry at dad. The ending is different too but I won’t spoil that – any fan of the original will surely enjoy the updates and the references to other later zombie films (eg. the hunting posse bullying the zombie in the ring à la 28 Days Later). Oddly, the ghoul’s barbeque feast and the dead farmhouse owner upstairs are toned down gore-wise, where everything else is ramped up.

Say Something Meaningful

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

1944 new yorkers

I don’t expect all advertisements to be truthful or even transparent – no ma’am. I am not easily fooled by animated cars that are made of skin, reflect the landscape, chase down wildcats, and fold into my pocket. Fooled – never; enchanted – absolutely. Jeanne Randolph in Ethics of Luxury: Materialism and Imagination points out smartly that in advertising, “reasoning is assailed by unique rhetorical charms: Cherry, Strawberry, Grape. Three reasons to buy Froot-Loops” (pp 9 – 10).

But who does the MTA think they are kidding? 1,944 people saw something and said something, meaning 1,944 incidents – some percentage of which were non-incidents – were reported and processed and counted. It’s reassuring that there are people watching out for us, or at least themselves, here in the Big Apple. But cradled in this false assurance are only more questions – how many saw and said something the year before this snitch campaign urged commuters to remain ever vigilant? Did any of those sightings and sayings avert disaster, or do we simply have a tiny army (1,944 is not that many in this city) of slightly paranoid individuals who reported suspiciously abandoned plastic bags and soda cans to the already harassed MTA workers? [An asside: I assume they are harassed since they are so nearly impossible to locate when I am lost and need answers to why the L, G, and 7 trains are simultaneously not running, and how I can get home from my stranded position. Far be it from me to criticize the MTA - I know their employees are very hard at work strategically posting informative signs about transit changes in the most clever hiding spots.]

“If you have nothing useful to say, say nothing at all!” – That’s my proposal for next year’s campaign.

Speaking of advertisements, I am mesmerized by the animated ads for the current roster of anxiety drugs – the animations are so inert and relaxing as to lull me into a dreamy state where I do not hear the speedily spoken list of side-effects including death, stroke, and heart attack. I feel the drugged sleep of poppies coming on, à la Dorothy en route to Emerald City. I feel myself slowly curling up on the train tracks with a speeding train hurtling towards me – i’m…just…so….sleepy……
sometimes it is all I can do to change the channel before I start to drool and mumble incoherently.

Artist Justine Cooper, whom I blogged about before, has a great piece called Havidol which is itself an ad campaign for a fictional drug using the methodology, language, and gentle imagery favoured by the pharmaceutical industry. Also check out this group who wants to end such pseudo-educational drug campaigns.

Title This

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

better living through reality tv

The title Better Living Through Reality TV, by Laurie Ouellette and James Hay, drips of sarcasm in the ears of those like myself who inherently harbour suspicion of the media, especially TV and advertising.

I am not a fan of Reality TV programming, but I am interested in the enormous fan base and the genre as an example of expanded (though controlled) participatory viewing – the new model of media entertainment. I am also fascinated by the compulsion to participate in the game of voting, and the more complex game of contestant-hood, where the stakes are high and the 4th wall increasingly thin. The variety and discomfiture is enormous in Beauty and the Geek, Joe Millionaire, Tila Tequila, The Biggest Loser, and The Swan – to name just a fraction of Reality TV’s offerings, each upping the ante on the next.

Beyond voyeuristic impulses, viewers have long desired to participate, to be the star of TV drama – however tawdry and brief. Talk shows like Oprah and Phil Donahue in the 80s and 90s aired a nation’s laundry, never wanting for guests with dirty secrets and viewers with eager appetites. Artist Bjorn Melhus’s operatic installation, Primetime from 2001 dissects this drama brilliantly and with uneasy humour.


The book, which I have only just begun, delves head first into the political, educational (yes educational), economic, social, and ideological affects of the phenomenon that is Reality TV. TV as a privatized and homogenizing body now purports to speak to the public good. The TV shows and their agendas essentially become a replacement for the government’s interest in social programming, providing entertainment and a resource for self-improvement, albeit with the hefty price of commercial endorsements. In the introduction the authors write, “It is a sign of the times that, in the absence of public welfare programs, hundreds of thousands of people now apply directly to reality TV programs for housing, affordable health care, and other forms of assistance”. Sign of the times? Sounds like high time to petition the government and vote in a candidate who truly stands for public good before the poor are washed away in the next natural disaster -slash- act of god. I’m not sure that a designer wardrobe, liposuction, jaw implants, and dental veneers (a modest example of The Swan contestants’ prizes) are going to help the public good.

House makeovers, the perfect mate, and extreme elective surgery are not beyond the reach of the disenfranchised, but only the precious few are awarded a chance at the prizes. American Idol was for a time America’s #1 TV show in the ratings – the prize there a recording contract awarded for the performance of unoriginal music. Anyone can do it!

Reality TV is presided over by moderators, consultants, and experts – the authors argue that they are patronizing yes but empowering too. These roles champion an active, self-possessed, and entrepreneurial citizenry – “at a time when privatization, personal responsibility, and consumer choice are promoted as the best way to govern liberal capitalist democracies, reality TV shows us how to conduct and “empower” ourselves as enterprising citizens”. TV has become “the quintessential technology of advanced or “neo” liberal citizenship” (17). The authors weave In Foucault’s view of government and the self-governing model. TV takes governance into the home through a hard-hitting educational stance – but there is no place in this model for individuals who wish to reject femininity or masculinity as presented on screen, or who prefer a subcultural lifestyle (p 116).

Some shows speak to the political process – your vote counts. Polled by Pursuant Research, Inc, 35% of American Idol voters in 2006 believed their vote counted as much or more than their vote for the president (p 215), and an Idol moderator claimed that the 2006 winner received more votes than any president in history. Maybe the government should take notes – this is what the people want – voting at home, popular (generic) music, and big self-improvement prizes. The media pays attention – fans are the customers.


Another TV genre that lets contestants dream big, financially if not cosmetically, is the game show. In related news, Mark Kostabi’s latest vanity project, Title This. For those unfamiliar with Mark Kostabi, he is a New York artist whose Kostabi World factory workers churn out endless dime-a-dozen paintings. He’s infamous for this factory approach to art making (not unlike artstar giants Jeff Koons or Damian Hirst), lack of originality, selling works on eBay, and his media persona.


Said Kostabi, “My paintings are actually more interesting than the conceptual hijinks [which he is famous for], but you’d have to be a painter to understand that. It’s much easier to be entertained by anti-establishment intellectual slapstick than it is to understand what’s going on in a painting.” Unfashionable championing of painters as the pinnacle of fine artists aside, Kostabi’s Public Access variety TV show, Title This, is in my opinion, the most interesting thing he does.

To the tune of his own piano playing, he invites celebrity and artworld friends to title his paintings, rewarding them with $25 for successful titles. I have some ideas for the (untitled) image above.

Reading Horror

Monday, June 2nd, 2008


I just finished reading The Horror Film by Rick Worland, published by Blackwell. It is superbly written and potentially fascinating even for the horror anti-fan.

Worland discusses social factors that influence what horror films get made and repeated, and the ways in which horror has affected it’s audiences historically. He analyses the production of horror films during wartimes of the 20th century, also applicable to contemporary wartime horror film production.

The author gives excellent analyses of several pivotal slashers including Hallowe’en and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

He writes about horror and humour, referring to Le Théâtre du Grand Guignol which ran from 1897 to 1962 and featured bloody one act stagings of stabbings, rapes, electrocutions, and other horrors. Typically Le Grand Guignol mixed horror with humour. (p 111)
Suggesting that horror and humour can be combined only carefully to avoid a failure of both, he champions the bizarre 80s film Re-Animator for succeeding in creating a balance.

Maybe I’ve seen too many horror films, but the writing is so compelling that this book begs a sequel.