G111 Exhibitions
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School of Art
University of Manitoba

Introduction by Cliff Eyland

Essay on Kubrick's The Shining
by Stephen Snyder

Essay by John Massier

Essay by Milena Placentile

REDRUM poster (2 MB PDF)

Back to first Jillian Mcdonald

Above: a still from Jillian Mcdonald's Redrum video, 2010.

by Cliff Eyland

Redrum was created by Jillian Mcdonald in residence at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, and was filmed on location in Buffalo, NY homes in late 2009. It includes local teenagers as the cast and crew, and a soundtrack recorded in collaboration with The Buffalo Soundpainting Ensemble. It is a high definition video, 7:44 minutes long, dated 2010.

As Mcdonald puts it [in a statement from her website that I have edited] as a way of explaining Redrum's allusions to Stanley Kubrick's movie The Shining: "...a boy predicts 'redrum' (murder) before a hotel elevator bursts with blood and all hell breaks loose. This video has a haunted horror theme. The scenes take us through a cavernous home where blood -- a predominant prop in horror films -- drips from faucets, runs down mirrors, and pools on stairs. The blood appears disembodied until the camera slowly reveals its haunted source, visiting neighbouring houses that also drip with blood, suggesting a murderous streak."

Reconnecting Jillian McDonald's Redrum to Winnipeg's dark side may be as easy as suggesting that the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is a perfect metaphor for Mcdonald's home town Winnipeg. Kubrick/Stephen King's story about the young family contracted to take care of an isolated hotel during a particularly nasty winter writes the very circumstances of Winnipeg gothic large. As Stephen Snyder puts it in his 1982 essay, reproduced on this website:
If Kubrick's America is a land of inner oriented retreaters, it is also a land of suppressed violence which lingers into the present, like the smoke of the burnt toast in the story which Hallrun offers to Danny as an explicatory analogy to the operation of ghosts. This violence is associated with the history of American conquest quite early in the film, when we learn from Ullman -- in the midst of the follow-the-leader tour -- that the resort has been built on an Indian burial ground. The foundation of the resort rests upon the conquest by a "civilized" group of people over a more primitive tribe. However, the condition of conquest has resulted not in the acquisition of one tribe's consciousness by the other but the complete fracturing of the two. In one sense civilization built on the death of a primitive consciousness is a society split from nature and its organic energies, its source. In America at least, native myths, as Ruth Benedict argues, had a holistic, "animate" view of nature and of the human's place in it. Kubrick employs this sense of division metaphorically, as the rationalists in his film want to place themselves above that which they see as primitive. -- an excerpt from an essay on Kubrick's The Shining by Stephen Snyder
Above: a still from Jillian Mcdonald's Redrum video, 2010.

John Massier also contributes a beautiful piece of writing to our website about Redrum that originally appeared in a Hallwalls brochure:
Perhaps the most startling aspect of Jillian Mcdonald's new piece, Redrum, is not that it is a genre examination, or that it investigates familiar tropes of that genre, or layers a critical perspective upon these familiar, time-worn tropes -- it does all these things. But in doing all the things we expect art to do, critically, it's also just scary. Even though we know the devices being used, even though we know it's an artistic treatment of a popular form, even though the manipulation of image and sound is overt and direct, even though we may believe ourselves too savvy or jaded to buy into the manipulation -- despite our awareness of all these aspects, Redrum contains genuine jolts, haunting atmosphere, and a believable sense of doom.
Jillian Mcdonald has lived in New York for many years, but she's from Winnipeg, and she established herself as a young artist even before leaving for Hunter College graduate school in 1996. She was awarded arts grants right after finishing her University of Manitoba BFA studies in 1993, and importantly, in 1998 her work was included in an exhibition at Winnipeg's Plug In Gallery called Draaw Stranger Draaw, curated by Wayne Baerwaldt.

"Winnipeg gothic" is part of a much wider gothic-influenced scene, and it shares Romantic, Freudian, and popular horror film and fiction influences with a much wider world of art. Mcdonald is a kind of goth artist, but when we reconnect her work to Winnipeg, we know that it could just as easily be linked to Belgian or Sri Lankan contemporary art, or a hundred other art contexts. When I cite, for example, David McMillan's Chernobyl photographs, Sharon Alward's videos and performances, Guy Maddin's films, and Ivan Eyre and Esther Warkov's post-surrealist painting as possible influences on Mcdonald, I don't mean to discount the influence of the wider gothic -- especially 1990s -- scene. (Please see, as a good overview, the book/exhibition catalogue Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in Late Twentieth Century Art, edited by Christoph Grunenberg, Cambridge: The Insititute of Contemporary Art/The MIT Press, 1997.) This thinking also applies to a host of Winnipeg artists Mcdonald's age and younger who engage gothic themes, including Diana Thorneycroft, Sarah Anne Johnson, Krisjanis Kaktins Gorsline, and many others.
Gimli Hospital Image

ABOVE: A still from Guy Maddin's 1988 film Tales From The Gimli Hospital, shown at Gallery One One One in the 2003/04 Gothic Unconscious, exhibition, and seen by Mcdonald in the late-1980s.

In 2003/04, curator Sigrid Dahle curated a set of exhibitions for Gallery One One One called The Gothic Unconscious. That series made a claim about the persistent dark side of much Winnipeg art by means of the inclusion of works such as William Eakin's Ghost Month photographic series, Royal Art Lodge drawings, Rob Kovitz's monumental bookwork Ice Fishing in Gimli, documentation of Sharon Alward's performance, a Guy Maddin film, Sarah Anne Johnson's hybrid photography, and painting by Ivan Eyre, Esther Warkov, Eleanor Bond, and Bev Pike, not to mention much other Winnipeg art. Jillian Mcdonald could have easily been included in this exhibition, had she not become a New Yorker.
Above: a still from a video of Sharon Alward's 1989 Plug In Gallery (Winnipeg) performance Totentanz.

Jillian Mcdonald grew her art in this dark Winnipeg gothic soil. More specifically, she was a student of University of Manitoba School of Art's Sharon Alward when Alward performed her famous -- even notorious -- 1989 piece Totentanz at Winnipeg's Plug In Gallery. That performance, the objects of which Gallery One One One has more recently shown in its Revolver exhibitions of 2008/09, had Alward mopping up blood from the gallery floor in an AIDS allegory. It is a cinch to connect Mcdonald's Redrum to Alward's early work, if only in terms of gushing blood. (I must also speculate only half-fecitiously that Winnipeg's blood-sucking mosquitoes might be a partial source of both artists' blood interest.)

Gallery One One One's Hannes Lárusson exhibition, co-sponsored by our Faculty of Architecture's Arch II Gallery and staged there in 2008, is also related to Mcdonald's work. In that show Lárusson stumbled around the gallery as if in a trance in a zombie-like performance work.

Hannes Larusson

Above: Hannes Lárusson in performance at Arch II Gallery, 2008.

The references to Marina Warner's writing on zombies that I made in my essay about Lárusson's performance are relevant here. The zombie, the motif of much of Jillian Mcdonald's work, is an early product of North American post-contact Haitian culture, an emblem of slavery and slavery's vengeance on the master. More recently, the zombie is often cited as a metaphor for contemporary urban condition of alienated labour. Instead of Metropolis-like robots that haunted the last century's dreams, contemporary urbanites tend to think of themselves as flesh-and-blood zombies who follow their appetites with mindlessly repetitive labour.

Warner, in Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds, cites the philosopher Simon Blackburn on Zombies: "...the Zombie eerily duplicates human behavior, only has no ghost within. Blackburn adduces zombies in a very contemporary way, to press against complacent assumptions about personhood." [Marina Warner, Fantastic Metamophoses, Other Worlds, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 123]

My guess is that Jillian Mcdonald's assumptions about personhood were first formulated in the zombie lore that surrounded the young artist in the 1990s, namely the widely-held fears expressed in so much goth art of the period about the approaching, and possibly apocalyptic, new millennium. These assumptions matured into a personal introspective identification that Mcdonald developed with zombies as expressed in her Horror Make-Up performances, during which she applies zombie make-up while she's on public transit. Most recently, Mcdonald's art is reaching maturity in works such as her architectural blood fantasy Redrum, in which everything is "zombified."