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Cult of Personality



If you're into irony, you'll love "Fanatic," New York artist Jillian Mcdonald's solo extravaganza of postmodern video, multimedia installations and photography at 1708 Gallery. Unfortunately, the recent onslaught of ironic humor in popular culture is frequently enough to rub one's nerves raw, and Mcdonald's pieces fall a little flat. (If I see one more hipster kid who's skinnier and shorter than I am dressed in a Wu-Tang T-shirt and Wranglers, I'll scream.) Maybe Richmond -- which really must rival the über-trendy Williamsburg area of Brooklyn in hipsters per capita — is just inured to this approach to life, making Mcdonald's efforts to bring celebrity worship and horror movies under the microscope a little tame for our town.

Mcdonald must have missed the boat on David Cassidy, Leif Garrett and the New Kids on the Block back in the day, because she insists that she never had a celebrity crush. "Fanatic" is her attempt to mine the psychology of the teenage swoon-fest, and the making of "Fanatic" involved her plastering herself with temporary tattoos of Billy Bob Thornton's name — captured in photographs on the gallery wall — and inserting herself in a montage of his movies, cast as his love interest. (Fortunately for Billy Bob, this may be the first and only time anyone actually watches his romantic movies.)

The choice of Billy Bob certainly offers "Fanatic" a humorous edge — it would be much less entertaining to chart a crush on Brad Pitt in multimedia installations — but the joke, let's face it, isn't that funny. Ooh, I have a crush on an only mildly attractive, aging Billy Bob! How ironic.

What's surprising is that the show is so shallow. One might expect an explanation of performance and video art itself, but the multimedia presentation seems almost incidental. Mcdonald has little interest in using performance and video art to their full, shocking potential and instead focuses on her banal subject matter altogether too much.

Likewise for her video and photographic work that was born of a desire to demystify the horror-movie genre — there isn't much behind it. There's only one word for it: cheesy. Of course, Mcdonald is going for just that — she's trying to be the Mayor McCheese of horror-movie production and interpretation, inserting herself screaming histrionically in the face of Freddy Krueger, precisely to neutralize the horror element and to understand what's purported to be a recent craze for blood and guts on film (i.e., the "Saw" franchise).

So if you're thinking that her "Vampire Hunt" video installation — made up of two separately shot "short films" shown on opposite walls of the gallery — is only vaguely scarier than a Halloween-themed rerun of "Dawson's Creek," that's partly the point. And man, it is cheesy. Mcdonald, um, shows her range by portraying both vampire and stake-wielding scaredy cat as they enact a bizarre ballet through a grove of trees. Why the artist chose to stage a vampire hunt in midday remains a mystery — perhaps it adds to the cheese. If this is the case, then we may have also found an explanation for her unfortunate predilection for twirling the skirt of her salmon slip dress — and nothing says goth like a salmon slip dress — as if she were preparing to perform the pasa doble with her doppelg„nger.

As any true horror movie fanatic will tell you, there's bad, really bad and so-bad-it's-good. While Jillian Mcdonald seems to suggest that virtually all horror fits into the last category, her installation, unfortunately, is simply bad. S

"Fanatic" runs through March 1 at 1708 Gallery, 319 W. Broad St. Call 643-1708 or visit

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