School of art students star in NYC artist’s latest work

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Students at the University of Manitoba’s school of fine art comprised the majority of cast and crew at a recent shoot by a visiting artist. Jillian Mcdonald, a Winnipeg-born artist who now works in the United States, returned to Manitoba to shoot her latest video early this month. Mcdonald is an associate professor at Pace University and curator of the Pace Digital Gallery in New York City, and she often recruits students for her videos. Deena Guffei was one of the students who volunteered. “I decided to do it because I had never done anything like this before,” said Guffei, a third-year fine arts student who played a zombie victim.

Like much of Mcdonald’s recent work, the new video was conceived and produced somewhat pragmatically. “It’s a bit experimental the way I work,” she said. “We’ll shoot and we’ll see what happens [ . . . ] I think that for me, that’s the exciting part of the process.” The cast was composed of U of M fine art students and other volunteers, few of whom had any acting experience. Nevertheless, they lined up to help. “We were overwhelmed at the interest from students,” said Cliff Eyland, the director of Gallery One One One. The volunteers served as actors, makeup artists and gaffers under the direction of Mcdonald. Even the owners of the abandoned building where one of the scenes took place volunteered their time as actors.

Mcdonald chose several sites in rural Manitoba as the setting for her latest work, a zombie-themed video which she has tentatively titled Prairie Horror. It was shot over three days at locations north of Winnipeg, including an abandoned store near Clandeboye, Man.

Mcdonald has focused on elements of horror films in her recent video projects. Her video RedRum, which is showing until Oct. 31 at Gallery One One One in the Fitzgerald building, draws from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Like many of Mcdonald’s videos, RedRum attempts to take horror clichés out of their usual setting. “There’s a lot of other references,” said Mcdonald, “but it’s more about [ . . . ] clichés or quotations from horror films.”

Many of Mcdonald’s other works have led her into unfamiliar geographic territory. During a residency at the Arizona State University Art Museum, she staged a confrontation between zombies and vampires in the desert. In Malmö, Sweden, she recruited volunteers for an outdoor performance in a forest called Undead in the Night. Though her latest work was shot here in her home province, the specific locations were still unfamiliar. “I’ve never been to the location before,” she said, “so it’s going to be a question of [ . . . ] discovery.”

Unlike some of her previous works such as Vampire Hunt and Slasher Cycle, which employ multiple channels (projections) to convey different perspectives, or Field of the Dead and Undead, for which Mcdonald created her own digital effects, Prairie Horror will be a lightly-processed, single channel projection.

Mcdonald’s brief residence and the RedRum exhibition are part of a whole season of video projection art at Gallery One One One. According to the gallery’s website, One One One director Cliff Eyland and school of fine art video professor Alex Poruchnyk will curate video exhibitions until March 2011.

“We have never had a season of video art at Gallery One One One, and I thought it was overdue,” said Eyland. “Video and film making are at an interesting turning point right now. Artists are able to do technical things now — for example, high-res — that they could not afford to do in the recent past.”

The next exhibit in this series will be an early video Carolee Schneemann, an American artist famous for her scroll-concealing aptitude. See the gallery’s website for upcoming exhibitions and more information.