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Mary Reid Kelley

Mary Reid Kelley: emerging artists

Despite the undoubted visual impact of US artist Mary Reid Kelley's short films - homespun yet lovingly detailed sets; echoes of early art cinema through a kind of expressionist / cubist black and white styling - it's dialogue that emerges as the real star of her forays into historic fiction.

Sadie, the Saddest Sadist (2009) is set, like all the artist's films to date, against the grim backdrop of the First World War.

Its title character, an English munitions worker, meets and falls for sailor Jack (all characters are played by Reid Kelley), and together they embark on a passionate, poetic intercourse of word play and linguistic cunning.

"The stains on my sheets", sings Sadie, "will come out with some lemon. I know that you care / by these Marx on my Lenin."

Jack, for his part, is less honourable than Sadie believes (hinted at, perhaps, in his claim that "Brittania waives the rules"); the film ends with her heart-broken admonishment "I gave you my applause, and you gave me the clap".

Further films, such as Camel Toe (2008), the saucily tragi-comic reflections of a First World War aviator, and The Queen's English (2008), a more sombre reflection on a nurse's experiences of the Western Front, all partake of the same ludic emphasis on spoken word.

Enacted against a backdrop of cataclysmic history, these miniature dramas point to other, equally profound upheavals that defined the early 20th Century; the beginnings of a feminist movement and, of course, the immeasurable cultural impact of modernism.

Although allusions to modernist visual forms abound in Reid Kelley's work, literature provides the prevailing point of reference, the artist's scripts invoking the experimental penning and punning of authors such as Joyce, Stein, Marinetti and even Eliot.

In this respect, Reid Kelley's practice joins a growing canon of neo-narrational art in which the methods and means of narration itself are privileged as a medium - and for which the modulations of the modernist voice provide a constant guiding principle.

Mary Reid KelleyMary Reid Kelley, Cameltoe - emerging contemporary artists

April 2010


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