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This article was published 13/10/2010 (3286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Let's say you're watching a horror movie. An attractive young woman is exploring a deserted house, and you're expecting the killer to jump out, but no! It's just the cat. Phew. Just as you start to relax, the knife slashes out for real.
These days, media-saturated horror fans know exactly how the genre operates, which can lead to a postmodern standoff between viewers and filmmakers. We like to recognize the scary movie's mechanics, but we also want to be shocked. Into this push-pull of conflicting pop-culture expectations comes the smart, focused work of Jillian Mcdonald.
In her current show at the University of Manitoba's Gallery One One One, the Canadian-born, New York-based artist references the horror genre in a video that is both homage and dissection. Mcdonald, who graduated from the U of M's School of Art in 1993, takes her title and central motif from Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining. In Mcdonald's seven-minute video, which plays in a continuous loop on a large screen in the black-walled gallery, blood drips and pools. It paints walls and slides down windows, slipping uncomfortably between raspberry-bright artifice and rusty, visceral suggestions of the real thing.
A compressed horror movie without the bloody catharsis of a storyline, Mcdonald's work trades knowingly — but with surprisingly eerie effect — in spooky-house clichés. In a decayed neighbourhood in Buffalo, N.Y., Mcdonald shoots the interiors of 100-year-old homes, all flayed wallpaper and flaking paint, creeping mould and sprung upholstery. Lights flicker, doors creak, dusty chandeliers tilt, and the blood runs and runs.
The soundscape is also a catalogue of stock movie cues — the creepy tinkling music box, the relentless wind, the infernal choir.
Mcdonald jams in everything from Victorian ghost stories to Psycho, from the woman in white to the juddery spectres of contemporary horror, everything held together in the layered, peeling history of those houses.
The Shining references aren't overly literal. In one of the catalogue essays accompanying the show, Cliff Eyland suggests that Mcdonald is more concerned with a state of mind. It's not hard to connect Kubrick's film with Winnipeg's tendency to Gothic artistic expression: The Shining's story involves a family struggling through a frigid and isolated winter at an empty hotel whose grandest days are behind it.
Playing in a trancy repeating loop, REDRUM can seem horrific one moment and comic the next. There are ghostly glimpses of the artist's dark humour. (Mcdonald does performance pieces in which she applies zombie makeup while riding public transit.)
The work is intelligent, but it never falls into Scream-like self-referencing, in which primal scares are dispersed by smart-assed analysis. Instead, bloody, pulpy pop-culture clichés are recontextualized in an artist's video, where they take on a free-floating, vaguely unsettling power. Mcdonald's work is haunted and haunting.
REDRUM by Jillian Mcdonald
Gallery One One One, U of M
Until Oct. 31
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.