May 13th, 2008

Scientific Observer

justine cooper

Justine Cooper‘s new exhibition Terminal at Daneyal Mahmood Gallery is not for the faint of heart. Juxtaposing her decade-old video and installation titled Rapt with colour photographs of distressed medical mannequins from 2008, the show considers the body pictured through science.

Rapt features animated imagery of the artist’s real body, expressed via black and white MRI imaging slices, and takes the viewer on a surreal tour of her interior in cross-section. Stripped of humanity and outward signs, this body seems more meat than person, more imaging data than flesh, more avatar than Justine.

Conversely, the obviously artificial bodies of medical mannequins Wilbur, Sally, and friends, subjects of the recent photographs, are positioned in naturalistic throes of physical trauma. On a gurney with a mass of tubes set to extrude or intrude; in a post-childbirth semi-shock; or in agony with bullets lodged in gaping head and chest wounds – they seem somewhat human despite the overwhelming lack of blood. Though such mannequins exist for medical practitioners to sharpen their skills, their rubbery masks, bad wigs and unblinking eyes suggest Michael Myers from Halloween, Chucky from Child’s Play, Cindy Sherman‘s portraits with doll parts and prosthetics, post-traumatic reconstructive surgery, strange hybrids, and mutation in the case of poor Sally whose baby face came off to expose her mouth hole, lidless eyes, and strange insect-like thorax.

Cooper’s previous works, including Havidol and Saved By Science also investigate science – specifically pharmacology and scientific classification. Her complex aestheticized subjects include questionable practices such as marketing techniques favoured by the pharmaceutical industry, and the collection of animal parts that not only educate scientists but leech the natural world.

pictured above, Sally.

May 13th, 2008

Camp Fear

A few nights ago, I watched Jesus Camp, a documentary by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady about a Christian training camp for children in North Dakota. The preacher and her crew use metaphors of war and fear to ignite passion and political fervor in this veritable army of tiny preachers, evangelists, and religious warriors. It is far more disturbing than any of the horror films I’ve seen lately, including the camping themed Friday the 13th, The Blair Witch Project, and Sleepaway Camp.

The most astonishing scenes are the children’s veneration at the feet of a life size cardboard likeness of smiling George Bush, as though he were Jesus himself and the children the original mourners; and the rapture of young children who babble in tongues and convulse on the floor – faces streaming with tears. The children in the film are bright, but terribly sheltered and warned against the wrongs of science, and there is not much choice offered in this ideological path.

I can’t remember the last time I watched a film that had to be paused so often for discussion. Fortunately the rental allowed this punctuated viewing. The indoctrination and mis-education of children under the age of 13 by their parents and others in positions of trust and power, in the name of “taking back America for Jesus” (as if that were conceptually possible), is heartbreaking. The film is inherently objective and non-judgmental, a generosity on the part of its filmmakers.

May 9th, 2008

Superfan in Vancouver

Third Avenue Gallery

My solo show in Vancouver opened at Third Avenue Gallery on May 1, and will run through May 31. Minutes by foot from Granville Island, Third Avenue was awash in pink from blossoming trees all last week.

Including work from the past five years which can best be described as culture-jamming, the exhibition also features 2 new videos, Superfan and Staring Contest with Brad Pitt. I finished editing the latter a couple of hours before the show opened, the video equivalent of hanging a wet painting. The sweat was dripping from my brow.

Third Avenue Gallery
Third Avenue Gallery

From the press release:
Superfan stars Jillian Mcdonald riding in vehicles with costars Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent Gallo, and Donald Sutherland. Despite their attempts at conversation, the trio of male leads cannot shake her concentration on the Superbowl game. Staring Contest with Brad Pitt finds Mcdonald and Hollywood’s leading heartthrob locked in an endless gaze of a familiar childhood game. In To Vincent with Love“Mcdonald inserts herself digitally into scenes from Vincent Gallo’s film Buffalo 66” playing the ingénue opposite his socially awkward male lead. In Me and Billy Bob, she digitally manipulates romantic scenes from Hollywood films starring actor Billy Bob Thornton, creating a soft critique of celebrity obsession.”

Thank you to Michael Bjornson and Camille Graham for all their support and hard work on the installation!

Third Avenue GalleryThird Avenue GalleryThird Avenue GalleryThird Avenue GalleryThird Avenue GalleryThird Avenue GalleryThird Avenue GalleryThird Avenue Gallery

May 9th, 2008

Dreams of the Coast


I left the west coast 2 days ago, and I already have separation anxiety. Although it’s great to be home, Vancouver is a hard place to leave. Who wouldn’t fall in love with the dreamy mist and the moist rain forest? I watched these motionless ships for hours, with my father. They seemed to multiply while I slept nearby in English Bay.


Stanley Park’s old growth – some of the trees are 800 years old. Strangely, herons roost above the park atop more spindly trees, a mere 30 feet overhead. Parts of the city are bursting with blooming, twisting vegetation. Although we do have a weird overgrown weed-tree in our backyard, Brooklyn’s vegetation is depressingly sparse and neglected.

April 28th, 2008


There is a spider in my cup at the studio, it’s been there at least an hour. How am I supposed to drink? Is this a sign of luck? So many questions.

April 26th, 2008

Searching for Vulva


According to Mint, the web stats application I use, the most popular search term that brings people to my site, following various right and wrong spellings of my name, is “Vulva”. Considering there is only 1 mention of Vulvas on my site – the above intervention titled “Auto Sex Change Operations” for which I placed “Vulva” stickers on hundreds of parked Volvos in New York City years ago, I can only conclude that people are searching far and wide to expose the vulvas.

April 26th, 2008

Ode to a Prairie town; and Doing it, bug-style


The Tribeca Film Festival’s screening 2 nights ago of Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg was delightful – particularly enhanced by his own live narration in Winnipeg twang, and paired with Isabella Rosellini’s hilariously funny Green Porno micro-shorts describing the bizarre sexual practices of common bugs. She plays the costumed male of each species as well as various hermaphrodites, and is subjected to all manner of physical trauma. The low tech effects are enchanting. Beckley and I agreed that these should be shown to kids, and also would work well in a gallery installation. Rick Gilbert, Green Porno‘s producer who I recognized from somewhere (Winnipeg, it turns out), told me they have been trying various configurations as they tour the work. Stay tuned for her second series featuring sea creatures!

Maddin’s signature blurry style of a bygone era in endless snow grace this documentary/travelogue of our shared prairie home town. Its highlights include a hockey match between historical hockey greats amidst the wrecking ball demolition of their beloved arena; a reenactment of Maddin’s childhood living room complete with dead father exhumed like a mound of dirt beneath the carpet; a steamy coming-of age in arena locker rooms and the subterranean levels of a public pool; and Golden Boy pageantry in the otherwise dull and fading Paddlewheel family restaurant.

My favourite line references the newly erected MTS building looking “like a zombie in a cheap new suit” where Canada’s iconic Eaton’s department store once proudly stood. I’ve been away from home for a long long time – thanks for the memories, however self-deprecating.

April 26th, 2008

A Late (not-so-great) Biennial


I finally saw the Whitney Biennial last weekend – between traveling madly and pneumonia, who had time? According to the Whitney’s website, The Biennial “characterizes the state of American art today”: some of the artists are repeat inclusions, some don’t live in The U.S., and the show is void of new media work. Hmmm.

The only work on a computer that I noticed used an ibook to display a slide show about a character and the text of a book. The computer was a strange choice and decidedly irrelevant.

There are a few good works. Conceptual artist Walead Beshty‘s shatterproof glass boxes made to fit into Fed Ex boxes and sent are fascinating, especially those that had shattered, their shards precariously hanging. Beshty’s low brow investigative travel photos subjected to Xray damage are smart too.

Phoebe Washburn’s self-sufficient Gatorade golf ball flower factory-slash-ecosystem is weird and compelling. Mike Smith’s photos of himself in Sears studio portraits with his students are characteristically ridiculous. Stephen Prina’s installation of recorded singing, dirty carpet, weird pink light, and home decorating tile is nauseating and addicting. I had the sense that I might be lulled to poisonous sleep à la The Wizard of Oz‘s dreamy poppy field. Mika Rottenberg’s installation Cheese, though seriously (pun intended) less humourous than her previous works in the same circular homespun style such as Tropical Breeze and Mary’s Cherries, is nevertheless visually lush and strange. Due to the farm setting and costuming of multiple young female subjects in long cotton dresses, the work is lent an accidental and tangible creepiness by the recent topical state seizure of 437 children from a Texas polygamist compound.

Otherwise the museum seems largely free of content, messy, forgettable, and almost entirely bland. I’ll take my art with much more humour, thank you.

Notes: I assumed the Whitney’s website would list work titles but I was wrong. It also lacks images of the work on display. Therefore I’ve left out titles I don’t know. I also missed the Armory installations which have completed their exhibition run.

April 22nd, 2008

Staring Contest


Here’s a still from my new video, which is in progress for my show opening May 1 in Vancouver. It’s a Staring Contest, between Brad Pitt and yours truly. Brad’s performance as Death Incarnate from the film Meet Joe Black.

April 10th, 2008

ThreeWalls show


Horror Stories, my new show at ThreeWalls in Chicago, opened on Friday. The Sparkling, an interactive video installation, is the highlight – shown above and below. The haunted chandelier gets eerier as visitors approach, a reference to chandeliers in films like The Amityville Horror, and also non-horror films like The War of the Roses. Thanks to the wonderful artists and administrators at ThreeWalls for all their support, especially Shannon, Lucy, Elizabeth, Andy, and Liz. Also to Josh Rose and Cesar Cornejo who helped me in New York with programming and putting together the chandelier.


Also on view are:

tv = evil

TV = Evil which juxtaposes little girls and TVs from Poltergeist and The Ring. Playing on a TV in a room all alone, it’s creepy.

vamp it up

Vamp it Up, a companion piece to Horror Make-up, filmed on the Chicago elevated train. More info about this work in my Performance section. Special thanks to Beckley Roberts and Liz Hood who secretly filmed these performances, and to Elizabeth for driving me half way around town in search of fangs, size XS.

everyone will suffer

Everyone Will Suffer, an animation featuring taglines recited from popular horror films and a low-fi animated country sunset.