Fine arts faculty by day, zombie by night
Fine Arts Faculty by day, Zombie by night
You may have heard of Jillian Mcdonald, MFA, Dyson professor of fine arts, or you may have seen her lifeless body reanimated and roaming the New York subway.
Mcdonald teaches video, web art, and animation at Pace and serves as co-director of the Pace Digital Gallery, but there’s another side to her work more gruesome than grading exams and extended office hours. In her spare time, Mcdonald produces a number of zombie-themed performance pieces that have been earning rave reviews, and screams, around the world.
Why zombies? “I started making art that explores horror films about three years ago,” says Mcdonald. “Since that time, zombies and vampires have become insanely popular. A lot of people have been writing about this pop culture phenomenon and how zombies are the perfect monster for contemporary life —people who are lost in between worlds, not knowing the future, and desperate.”
Mcdonald’s Zombies in Condoland, presented at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche in 2008, earned rave reviews and was one of three pieces out of 155 to win the Scotiabank People's Choice Award. Currently on sabbatical, she recently produced a large-scale performance in Sweden, featuring 100 people from the southern town of Malmö, who created “a living horror film” in a three-kilometer stretch of nearby forest. To Mcdonald, a large part of the appeal was working with so many people who were new to performing. In fact, she was surprised at the initial response. After advertising for “vampires and zombies wanted,” more than 500 people showed up for auditions, ranging from students and artists, to local business people and doctors.
“We had a fantastic reception,” says McDonald. “I interviewed all 100 participants after the experience and asked them what they do and why they decided to participate in the piece, and the answers were astounding. Some people said they had just lost their job and wanted to do something with their time, others thought it would be an interesting way to meet people, others had just moved to town, or had never acted before. One person was a doctor who said he had thought he would never do something like this.” She laughs. “People sometimes seek extraordinary experiences.”
The event was also a hit with audiences—selling out within the first two nights and attracting media from around the country, including national television shows.
Other projects on Mcdonald’s calendar included working as artist-in-residence for six weeks in Tempe, Arizona, where she created a large video and photo installation filling the museum with a zombie and vampire showdown in a ghost town and graveyard. She also shot a short film with six Buffalo teenagers who play ghosts in a haunted house.
“There are two parts to my work,” says Mcdonald, “first, working with the community and collaborating together, and second, the finished product—be it film, video, or live performance. That whole process of working with people who aren’t professional actors is a wonderful experience. People who don’t know how to act, don’t know they can perform, once they are able to get into character, they end up creating amazing characters. It’s that discovery process that’s so exciting to facilitate.”
Mcdonald returns to Pace in fall 2010 to pick up her syllabus and put down her fake blood…or so she wants you to think. Like Freddie, Michael, and Jason, she can’t resist a good sequel. With constant requests from students, she will admit “the idea of teaching a performance course from a visual arts perspective, rather than a theatre perspective” has crossed her mind. So don’t be surprised if you find a zombie coming soon to a Pace campus near you.