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Visiting Artist Jillian Mcdonald
May 8, 2007, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Write Ups

Jillian Mcdonald is a Canadian performing and media artist currently based out of New York. Her best-known piece titled “Me and Billy Bob” explores America’s extreme celebrity-obsessed culture in a light and humorous manner. In the video section of the project, Mcdonald inserts footage of herself into a variety movie scenes involving Billy Bob to create the saga of a dramatic, fantasy relationship that eventually runs its course. Initially, she intended to end the video with a romantic kiss, but she opted for the alternative ending after developing a real crush on Billy Bob.

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This fascinated me because I recently heard that the human brain might actually be hardwired for gossip. The theory based on evolutionary psychology holds that the brain, for the most part, developed when humans lived in small tribes, so all recognizable faces were inevitably an acquaintance. At this time peoples’ actions had a direct impact on everyone else in the tribe. Consequently, gossip was functional. However, as tribes grew and then technology allowed us to “know” people outside of our respective tribes, gossip lost its functionality and eventually fed the celebrity obsession of today.

I thought it was great to hear her talk about “Me and Billy Bob” because I was honestly a little concerned when I perused her site. I was definitely interested, but at the same time, I was creeped out. It was reassuring to know that she is normal. Not only is she not obsessed with celebrities, she is prone to the same pitfalls that we all are. In other words, she is not crazy, and she is not judgmental. I think this is what makes the piece work so well. Also, I thought that rough quality of the video, while unintentional, worked well. It visually illustrated how fake celebrity crushes really are.

I was not all that interested in her new works that involve the subject of zombies. The question of why some people are attracted to horror movies does not hold the same social significance and seems very meaningless after viewing “Me and Billy Bob”. However, while the project idea as a whole lacks significant content, some of the individual pieces hold potential. For example, putting make-up on in the subway begins to address issue of beauty and personal space.   Also, her video of screams begins to address how women are typically portrayed as weak and helpless. It was really annoying to watch, though.

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