Magazine article Artforum International

Mary Kelly

Magazine article Artforum International

Mary Kelly

Article excerpt

POSTMASTERS

Mary Kelly's Mea Culpa, 1999, gave the initial impression of being one long, thin gray banner extending entirely around the perimeter of the vast front gallery. In fact, like a film strip that breaks down into shorter segments, the work comprises four separate panels, one for each wall of the exhibition space. Each part is further divided into four sections and displays, against a white matte background, sixteen to twenty swags of light gray material. Uniformly shaped but tonally variegated, the draped material seems soft and ephemeral, like clouds seen through the window of an airplane. The unusual substance Kelly used to produce this effect is compressed lint, into which she embedded a narrow strip of block type. The letters form words, and the words, like exceptionally graphic news stories, narrate horrific stories of war trauma and victimization. "She watched soldiers in a rice paddy beat her daughter with the butts of their rifles until she was dead," begins the narrative to "Phnom Penh, 1975." "Then she had headaches and trouble with her eyes. To distract herself, she worked at the bridge of her nose with a knife. When the pain subsided, she could no longer see."

As with Gloria Patri, 1992, Mea Culpa furthers Kelly's interest in the phenomenological process of reading. But unlike the 1992 work, which displayed polished aluminum shields and trophies to generate a parodic spectacle of masculinity, Mea Culpa is more reminiscent of Kelly's past focus on everyday processes and on the experience of women, both of which characterized her groundbreaking work of the '70s, Postpartum Document. …

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