March 1st, 2009

Day of the Dead, Risen Again

day of the dead

Courtesy of fellow zombiephile and student Sean Colon, I watched a lot of zombie flicks during a recent flight to Saskatoon. This made me think about the claustrophobia built into horror films and what it would be like if zombies were on the plane – throw in a shark and you have my three worst fears. I write this in my notes about the zombie film I want to make one day.

The Day of The Dead remake (2008) was the only one of the films I hadn’t previously seen. The update embraces the “uber fast zombie” trend which if you are not familiar goes against the stiff lumbering archetype of zombies past and gets your heart feeling a might racy.

I have only one thing to say to the badly cast female protagonist on keeping the zombie boyfriend – which seems a shallow reference to the original film where our big oaf zombie guinea pig turns friendly neighbourhood allie in an endearing twist.

“Please, if you’re waiting for him to chill out (and look better) when this all blows over, it never blows over, haven’t you done your research?”

*image from

February 22nd, 2009

I Had My Facebook Portrait Painted by Matt Held

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

February 16th, 2009

Williamsburg Odyssey

DIY Brooklyn

Marcin Ramocki’s new documentary, Brooklyn DIY premieres at MoMA in New York on Feb 25th.

From the press release,
Brooklyn DIY is a long overdue examination of the creative renaissance in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Home to underground warehouse parties, anarchistic street creativity, and artist-run galleries and performance spaces, Williamsburg gave birth to one of the most vibrant and rebellious artistic communities to arise in the 1980s, permanently changing the city’s cultural landscape.
Featuring interviews with a host of artists and neighborhood characters, Ramocki’s film captures life in a utopian universe made by artists, for artists alone with its inevitable decline in the face of real estate development, gentrification, and the post September 11 market collapse.”

Brooklyn DIY features interviews with the likes of Joe Amrhein, Mike Ballou, Ken Butler, Don Carroll, Lauren Cornell, Matt Freedman & Jude Talllichet, Jillian Mcdonald, Aron Namenwirth & Nancy Horowitz, Ward Shelley, and other artists and developers.

Details here.

February 7th, 2009

A Zombie Pride and Prejudice

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.

January 28th, 2009

Snow Day

snow balls

According to the Apple weather widget, I’ll be killed by bouncing ice balls if I venture out today. That’s what I call a “snow day” – where are my toboggan and toque – Central Park anyone?

January 26th, 2009


red worm

Last night I was with my sister Jennifer in the back of a huge moving truck, sifting through boxes. We came across a long thin jar of coffee and I asked if she’d seen the film, a Disney movie about coffee – I said, “it’s not the usual Disney-pretty story, considering the conditions on coffee plantations.”

Jennifer said no, but she wanted to see it. We started to unwrap it from its jar and then she pulled out a long flat box full of sugar cubes. We sat with the film on our lap while she held the sugar box for us to snack from. I saw something lying across the cubes that looked like a mouse dropping – then it moved. It was a worm or caterpillar, and very fast. I swatted it away – then another one – suddenly the box seemed alive with them under the white cubes. I said “Jenn careful, very careful, move that box away and throw it as far as you can”. She didn’t hear me or was too slow and the air or scene around us went quivery as though there was a layer of worms beneath the surface and the sky exploded with dark red flying worms. Worming in my face, eyes, ears, mouth.

Finally I woke up, hot in my bed.

*image from Princeton’s Genomic labs – check out their wonderful worm research movies.

January 25th, 2009

Living Dead overkill? Never!

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.

January 23rd, 2009

Shivering in the Bronx

My solo show, Shivers, went up at The Bronx River Art Center last week – and runs through March 14. Visit if you dare! I’m showing video and photo work related, as usual, to horror films. There is a brochure essay by guest writer Erin Sickler, available at the gallery.

jillian mcdonald sparkling
The Sparkling is an interactive video installation from 2007. Special thanks to Josh Rose and Andy Mueller for programming and electronics assistance.

jillian mcdonald apparition
The Apparition is from 2009 but features footage shot in 1997 and forgotten until now.

If you’re like Billy Bob Thornton, famously phobic of antique furniture (not to mention in denial of your love for me which is another story entirely), you probably won’t like these haunted chandeliers.

There’s one in my studio right now and it’s freaking me out.

January 14th, 2009

SCREAM in Saskatoon

scream billboard

In Saskatoon at the moment it is minus twenty-seven degrees Celcius, a temperature that deserves more than a tiny number in order that you can savour it, contemplate it, or at least try to fathom it. Luckily we humans have very little capacity for recalling pain which is why, in the words of my undergraduate art school professor Sharon Alward, people can live in extremely cold places like Winnipeg or Saskatoon year after year without going insane*. While minus twenty-seven degrees Celcius is reason enough to evoke screams in many people, it scares neither me nor Jo-Anne Balcaen – my billboard project collaborator and friend from Montréal. Jo-Anne and I were actually born within hours of one another and grew up separately in Winnipeg**, but that aside is another story of which I will spare you the details. The daunting temperature also doesn’t scare David LaRiviere, director of Paved Arts who facilitated and helped tremendously to oversee our two-person show.

Scream opens January 16th – come see it if you dare. There will be screaming. You have been warned. The billboard is silent but it requires 3-D glasses – available at the gallery.

scream billboard

From the press release, “Scream is a two-person video installation and collaborative billboard presentation. While Jo-Anne Balcaen studies the scream from the perspective of ecstasy, Jillian Mcdonald approaches the same subject as a device in horror films. The exhibition project arises from the affinity that the artists recognize in each other’s work, and is thus culminated from an ongoing, long-distance creative dialog.

Jillian Mcdonald’s video work entitled The Screaming challenges the horror movie genre’s damsel in distress by inverting the power dynamics and charging the scream with a potency that overcomes any would-be menace…. Jo-Anne Balcaen’s Screaming Girls appropriates famous film images of teen-aged girls enraptured by rock ‘n’ roll performance. Stripped of sound, Balcaen’s subtle manipulation of this familiar pop adulation becomes a study of mass hysteria, oddly foreign to any kind of rationale that Beatlemania may have once produced.”

*Keep in mind these are select few people, you may not want to attempt this yourself.

**According to Wikipedia, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Winnipeg was −47.8 °C (−54.0 °F), on December 24, 1879. The coldest wind chill reading ever recorded was −57.1 °C (−70.8 °F), on February 1, 1996. I was not alive in 1879, but I’ll point out that the last winter I lived in Winnipeg was 1996.

December 30th, 2008

A Swedish Vampire Christmas

Reversing the roles of Twilight, that other teenage romance disguised as a vampire film, comes the dark and creepy-sweet Swedish film, Let the Right One In. I saw it on Christmas Day. The new girl in town enchants the lonely boy next door with her powers – namely, she flies, does a mean Rubik’s Cube, and does not mind the cold – and he cannot resist her awkward ice-cold intimacy. They want so much to be friends that she feigns eating human food though it makes her sick and he overlooks her necessary evil.

Like Claudia in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles our vamp Eli is frozen in the body of a pre-teen girl, her monstrousness disguised in big-eyed innocence. For a vampire, Eli seems very rough around the edges and filthy fingernails, but this isn’t Hollywood. The film has it’s share of blood, but the most graphically violent moments are not classically vampiric and only some involve the fanged exploits of our darling monster. Be prepared for a failed suicide by acid, clumsy bloodletting by an aging yet loyal companion, and a massive revenge fantasy that you smell coming without remotely sensing the magnitude of its enactment.

This is a tale of revenge and friendship, yet that icing barely covers an immoral taste of immortal pedophila.

The ice-encrusted trees and wintry landscapes are gorgeous and recall another vampire film, without the relentless horror. It’s good, and will leave you chilled.