Visceral Strands by Madeline Mackay, etching, 18 x 24", 2017
January 11th, 2019 to February 8th, 2019
Opening: January 11th, 5-8pm
Artist talk*: Saturday January 12th, 2 pm
Read Kelly Campbell's text response below
These events are free and open to the public
*If you are interested in attending the artist talk on January 12th and require ASL interpretation, please reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 204 779-6253 by 5pm on Wednesday January 9th.
Not Yet Earth explores the materiality of the body and the lines between sense of self, body, and inanimate material. Flesh and materiality permeate the exhibition, which is based on the artist's experience of illness. By repeatedly reconfiguring strips of discarded butchers' meat into patterns and structures, and interpreting this process through drawing, print and video, Mackay interrogates flesh as a material and asks questions about where the self ends and at what point the body ceases to be of the self and becomes other. Every series addresses a different aspect of these questions; CMYK screenprints break down colours so that one substance leaks into the next; videos animate the meat, giving it agency as an entity in its own right; a bank of etchings evidence the artist's repeated attempts to instill coherence into chaotic flesh. The show explores the anxiety that comes with recognising the otherness of the body and renegotiating a relationship with it on new terms.
Madeline Mackay is a Scottish visual artist currently living and working in Calgary, Canada. She recently completed an MFA in Printmaking at the University of Alberta, Canada, and received her BA (hons) from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee, in 2012. She has exhibited in juried, group and solo exhibitions in the UK and Canada and has received awards from institutions including the University of Alberta, the Royal Scottish Academy, the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. She has taught drawing and printmaking at the University of Alberta as well as in community venues in Scotland and Canada. Her work is held in collections including the Royal Scottish Academy, Northlands Creative Glass, SGCI Archives, and University of Alberta Art Collections.
Martha Street Studio gratefully acknowledges the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council and Winnipeg Arts Council for their dedicated support of our professional programming.
I explore the nature of flesh in the context of my own changing relationship with my body following illness. Two years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that caused my body to turn against itself and attack the platelets in my blood. I have never been more aware that my flesh has an existence that is independent of mine, or felt more mortal. This work seeks to understand the unique dual character of flesh, which is both body and not body, self and other, and regain a sense of control over it.
Flesh is everywhere in my images. It is sometimes barely suggested and sometimes overt: a hand, a knee or a whole body, or a pile of visceral strands that evoke flesh obliquely. I generate my imagery by recording interactions between my living body and strips of discarded butcher's meat that I twist, knot and arrange in pools of water and mud. The dead flesh is my drawing tool and my creation. Through manipulating it I impose my will on its existence, and also by implication upon my own living flesh.
I work with meat because it occupies an in-between place. It is not animate but it is not yet earth, although it is already in the process of breaking down. It is not a body but we attribute the kind of potency to it that we would to a body, feeling it to be similarly abject, uncanny and uncomfortable. Meat marks the transitional moment between animate and inanimate; it is dead and yet it is permeated by a history of being alive. Through this liminal substance I explore the mortality of my own body and its inseparable relationship to matter.
Not Yet Earth: The work of Madeline Mackay
Text by Kelly Campbell
While I live, my body is flesh. When I die, it will be meat. My consciousness will cease to exist, but my corpse will persist. It will be buried in a box in the ground. The chemical bonds that hold the organic materials of my meat together will be broken down, their energy released and repurposed to suit the needs of whatever living thing consumes my remains. Just as I digested the meat of countless plants and animals to fuel my earthly vessel while I was alive, my carcass will pass through and become part of thousands of bugs, bacteria, and plants, until it is unrecognizable as what it once was. It will become part of the environment; traces of me will be spread throughout the soil, the air, the grass. I will no longer be a single entity, but a small piece of everything. I will be the earth, and the earth will be me.
While poetically compelling, the process of rot and decomposition is often viscerally disgusting in practice. A dead body is sad. A decomposing body is repulsive. Why?
Troubling the line between what is self and what is not in the context of the body creates disgust. For example: on your head, your hair is beautiful, luscious, and thick. You toss it from side to side as though you are in a shampoo commercial. Enjoy this moment, puny human, for several weeks later, balled up in the drain, removed from and perversed of its original context, it is revolting. That you used to find it so appealing makes its present state all the more vile. Look at what it has become! Look at what you have become.
* * *
I am watching a video. A thin person with long brown hair, wearing a white t-shirt and underwear, arranges irregular strips of a stringy grey material in a muddy puddle. The video is titled Meat Drawing. Without this titular designation, I doubt I would recognize the pale flesh in the artist's fingers as such.
The creator of and performer in this work, Madeline Mackay, doesn't think of meat as food – she's a lifelong vegetarian. I'm not. Is this why I find the video so difficult to watch? I rarely look at meat this long even – especially – when I'm eating it. Raised on fish sticks and chicken nuggets, I prefer my meat pre-butchered, shredded, dyed, and pressed into familiar shapes and textures. The wet crunches of tendons between my teeth and the jiggling wetness of fat on a bone makes me lose my appetite. I didn't grow up thinking of meat as dead creatures and I don't like to be reminded.
While it is true the meat we see comes from an animal intended for human consumption – the sinew, fat, and skin in Not Yet Earth's video and print works were pulled from a butcher's trash and cut into strips by the artist – to fully understand the discomfort and impact of the work we must look further than meat's relationship to food. Juxtaposed with the artist's living body and a muddy pool, the meat shreds are forced into relationship with both. Recognizable as an indistinct part of an animal body, but not yet unrecognizable enough to be part of the earth, the flesh exists in a transitory state.
The artist was compelled to create this work after contracting a flesh eating disease wherein her immune system attacked her own blood platelets. In reference to her illness, she states, “I have never been more aware that my flesh has an existence that is independent of mine.” Sickness, much like gore and guts, has a way of forcing one to recognize the disconnect between a sense of self and the bodily vessel within which it is carried. The body and the mind become two distinct parts of the self, one over which we might have dominion and another over which we do not. Mackay's artistic investigation into dead meat manipulates this unique substance in an effort to regain control and understanding of the materials of which she is made. Through observing this work, we gain a new understanding of self – what we are made of, where what we are made of ends, and what happens when what we are made of is no longer us, but not yet something else.
Kelly Campbell is an artist, musician, and songwriter. Their artistic interests include labor, gender, color, craft, disposability, horror, fantasy, and cute pictures of animals. Find them on the internet @kellygrub.
Kelly grew up in so-called Nova Scotia, territory of the Mi'kmaq people, and currently resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which sits on land lived on, travelled over, and protected by Anishinaabe, Néhiyaw, Dakota, Dené, and Métis people long before Kelly or any of their ancestors knew it existed.