The first thing you’ll notice is the eyes. Whether goggled, bug-like, or comic stripesque, the eyes are obscured. But behind Mary Reid Kelley’s signature prosthetics, the characters seeand sayvery much.
Composed of live action and stop-motion animation, the South Carolina natives narrative videos present historical or myth-based stories. At the center of each is a main character or narrator played by Reid Kelley, who appears costumed, bewigged, and practically unrecognizable, her face painted white with features defined in black. A trained painter, Reid Kelley creates all of her costumes, props, and sets in black and white, creating a kind of three-dimensional drawing. Everything is drawn and painted, and intended to look so.
Along with a sprinkling of auxiliary characters, many of whom she also plays, Reid Kelleys narrators bring to life eras of significant historical change, often moments when womens roles were transformed, in playfully bawdy, pun-laden verse. In Sadie the Saddest Sadist (2009), we hear from a World War Iera woman who goes to work in a munitions factory, meets a sailor, and contracts the clap. In The Syphilis of Sisyphus (2011), a pregnant Parisian prostitute extols the virtue of cosmetics, reports on the French Revolution, and is carted off to an asylum to be treated for hysteria.
Aesthetically, the works draw inspiration from such varied materials as newspaper comic strips and Futurist manifestos, and artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Fernand Lger, while intellectually, sources range from poetry to philosophy to history.
The exhibition includes four videos created between 2008 and the present, with progressively higher production values thanks in part to the contribution of Reid Kelleys collaborator and husband Patrick Kelley, who digitally assembles elements shot on green screen. Among the works is Reid Kelleys most recent, Priapus Agonistes, an adaptation of the Greek Minotaur myth that recasts Priapusa god of fertility and protector of livestock known for his large, enduring erectionas a volleyball player.
Pitting religion against myth, Priapus represents a shift for Reid Kelley, although as in all of her works to date, humankinds perennial desire to escape the roles assigned by nature and culture remains at the heart of the work. Reid Kelleys work makes this plight palpable through history, and palatable through comedy.