What does it mean to remain? Who are we after the storm, after the love affair, after the political upset? After the defining moment, what defines us?
Kate MacNeil, College of Charleston grad and former studio artist at Redux, wants to look at what’s left behind. In her latest show, residue, opening at Redux this Friday, she does just that, through both visual and performance art. MacNeil, who just received her MFA in studio art at the University of Buffalo, says that residue is a continuation of the work she was doing in that program. “I was doing a lot of research into trauma theory, applying that to my artistic practice,” says MacNeil.
“As a society, trauma is a word we all know — like a traumatic car accident or war incident — but people don’t talk about the after effects of trauma,” she says. “There’s the messiness that goes along with healing, the terrible depressions. It’s something we don’t talk about or deal with very well.” As the show’s description reads, “residue seeks to confront the silence surrounding traumatic events.”
MacNeil says that her work is informed by both personal experience, and by the lives of those around her. It makes sense, of course — we have all experienced some kind of trauma (some tragedies of the everyday variety can hit us harder than we know) and we certainly know people who have struggled as well. Through this personal connection to her work, MacNeil often focuses on the use of her body.
In a short video, “Vicious Cycle,” MacNeil is shown wordlessly rubbing her hands over black material — it’s unclear at first whether she’s picking up the residue of ink or paint on her skin. Regardless, it’s residue. She moves from one screen to the next, where she stands before a large sheet of copper, her reflection looking back at her. Holding her hands by her side, MacNeil pauses. Then she punches the sheet of metal. Over and over again. She returns to the blackness, rubs her fists in some more, heads back to the sheet and punches a few more times. The video is just over seven minutes long. It’s powerful in its brevity.
“Residue is looking at mental illness and trauma, but also looking at performative action and performative mark-making,” says MacNeil. “The word residue means things that remain after something takes place. I’m looking at performance art and actions taken in art, and the residue after these actions.” One image in residue, a hand covered in black (printmaking ink to be specific) is captured from “Vicious Cycle,” a literal manifestation of what remains.
“My hope is that with a lot of the work, you’ll look at it and this series of actions will start to unfold; you’ll start to see a hand or a foot and think about what was being done to make this mark,” says MacNeil.
Looking at pieces like “berry kiss,” “cruel ruby,” and “pink in the afternoon,” you can see the outline of someone’s lips. Each kiss, so to speak, is formed differently. You can imagine the lips pursing, or opening wide before pressing to paper. The moisture from your mouth might cause the paper to wilt or shed at your touch. What does it mean to leave a lipstick stain? The connotations are endless — from a secret lover to a hurried goodbye to an unwanted advance. Each moment could be traumatic, could it not?
There’s “loss of interest in sex,” a piece of paper covered in a line of lip stains, descending from top to bottom. Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship can feel the weight of this piece and project their own feelings onto it, from despair to defeat to perhaps, worst of all, boredom. And MacNeil encourages those who view her work to let the meaning come to them, to see themselves in her pieces.
“I don’t know if my work is there yet but what I hope for my work is for people to start recognizing that messiness in themselves or within people they know. Everyone knows someone who has gone through something or is going through something — I’d like for them to be more open to what those situations might be.”