Jillian McDonald – The Rock and the True Believers

Taking place May 21 through June 28, 2019, The Rock and the True Believers by Jillian McDonald will be on display in the Philip J. Steele gallery on the campus of Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design in Lakewood, CO

Valley of the Deer, 2013, 3-channel video, running time 21:35 minutes

The COAC team had such a wonderful experience at this exhibition, we wanted to give our own take and review on the work. If you are interested in seeing the work yourself, want to learn more about the artist or exhibition, please see the information below:

Artist Website
Location: Philip J. Steele Gallery on the RMCAD Campus
1600 Pierce Street, Lakewood, CO 80214
Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday 11am-4pm

Alex Baldoz – Thoughts on The Rock and The True Believers

At first glance, viewers are given varying senses of still characters and scenery, both in painting and illustrative ways as well as video installations. Combined together the still imagery and moving visuals, the entire exhibit provides a sense of anthropomorphic narratives. There are both human and animal characters portrayed in the artwork in differing, yet similar ways.

The actions of characters in the video installations provide a narrative that is first indistinguishable, however due to the excellent cinematography and editing, just enough information is provided that a strong interest arises and viewers immediately want to know more. The videos play out in a way that as time passes, a little bit more information is given through simple actions of the characters and their surroundings. Almost as if the artist is revealing chapters of a story. With many of the human characters wearing animal masks, the narrative opens the idea to the viewer on how to interpret what is being told. Some questions that came to mind were “Why masks? Do these animals have specific meanings?” There are also subtle nods to varying topics throughout the videos and other artworks, or at least what some might assume to be about such. A strong example of this for myself is the visual of an iceberg appearing and disappearing in a large body of water, this gave me a feeling that this particular moment in the video was a nod to a major topic of modern day, global warming.

Left: The Birds (After Audubon and Hitchcock), 2017, pen and watercolour on cut paper
Right: Ghost Reindeer 2018, pencil crayon and paer on wood panel 48 x 36 in

One strong aspect of the video installations was how certain visuals were adhered to different scenes. There is plenty of focus on animals, many of which resembled deceased figures resting in grassy or rocky areas. The interesting thing about these bodies is how they felt both out of place, yet at the same time felt they were meant to be there. The composition of characters, land, foreground, and background really played a large part into why this was such a successful aspect. Upon moving from the main video installation to the more illustrative paintings and drawings, the sense of animals becomes much stronger, although still not becoming more clear on the narrative. Visuals of dead animal bodies, landscapes, and birds give the viewer a sense of knowing these animals play a particular role in the entirety of the theme. To what extent exactly is up to the viewer. The work gives each viewer an opportunity to interpret the full story.

A more technical aspect of the installation viewers should take note of is how parts of the exhibit were installed. Understanding why specific areas were so effective can most definitely help aspiring artists with their own work. Some strong examples to note, without giving too much of the experience away, are the sizes of the projected videos and the sound work. One of the reasons the video works were so strong were the sizes of the visuals. For example, if they were instead played on multiple small monitors, the experience would have changed completely. Tie that into the sound work, the sounds coming from the speakers were just high enough to the point that the sounds didn’t combat with the visuals. On that note, if you are able to stop by and visit, we highly recommend experiencing the video works when it is a bit more silent in the gallery.

Claire Simpson– Thoughts on The Rock and the True Believer

My first reaction upon entering the West side of the gallery, where Valley of the Deer and Spirit are displayed, was a deference that pulled me into a respectful silence. The 3-channel video of Valley of the Deer completely fills the vision field of the viewer, while the audio reinforces the awe of the changing landscapes.

Spirit, 2013, video, running time 12:30 minutes

After a brief conversation with the artist, Jillian McDonald, some of the insight she provided on her process and the considerations she made while building this body of work enhanced the magic of each piece. McDonald spent 9 months in the local towns of Scotland to film the locals reenacting folktales from their heritage in their natural landscapes. The narratives are so subtly woven into the films that their presence is almost imperceptible. The remaining effect is a combination of the uncanny and the graceful as the ghostly figures in animal masks perform ritualistic actions in their environments.

The mystical interplay between the animals and the constantly shifting landscapes work together to help regain the Scottish heritage. From the beautifully uncanny voices, to the child actors, to the sites, to the stories, they all have one thing in common, which is a connection to the land and its history. This substantial amount of mindfulness, is reflected across all of McDonald’s work.

Valley of the Deer, 2013, 3-channel video, running time 21:35 minutes

In regards to the piece Rush, located in the East side of the Gallery, the focus of the work centers itself on the Yukon gold rush that still leaves effects on Canada. In a beautiful cycle of growth, the figures in this piece slowly transform into gold themselves before dissolving into an illuminating powder before settling back down to the Earth. The effects are completely mesmerizing and encapsulate both the humility and grandeur of gold-panning.

I could not help but walk out of this show still feeling entranced by what I had experienced. The colors of the Earth felt surreal, as if they held the same magic as the scenes in McDonald’s videos. If You have any opportunity to view Jillian McDonald’s work, I highly recommend an extensive contemplative viewing to absorb every second of it.

Alexander Baldoz Written by:

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