Monday, July 30, 2018

Music for Modernist Shapes: Reimagining Spectodrama

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
Asheville, NC
November 18, 2017

with original score by Laura Baird

Music for Modernist Shapes was a site-specific installation and performance that reimagined a 1936 theater piece Bauhaus alum Xanti Schawinsky made at Black Mountain College. The historic performance, Spectodrama, included folded paper costumes, light projections and live music. Composer/multi-instrumentalist Laura Baird wrote an original score drawing on archival scores from Schawinsky’s performance collaborations with Black Mountain College music teacher John Evarts, 1930s avant garde music and Appalachian folk songs from the Black Mountain region. Laura and I activated my objects and costumes, conjuring the memory of this little-known piece from the experimental college’s rich performance history.  

Commissioned by Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center as part of ACTIVE ARCHIVE: Martha McDonald, an exhibition I curated from the museum's permanent collection and an installation and performance made in response to the collection. 

Photos and video by Michael Oppenheim.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Songs of Memory and Forgetting

RAIR (Recycled Artist in Residency)
Philadelphia, PA
June 25, 2016

Music in collaboration with Billy Dufala

Songs of Memory and Forgetting was a site-specific performance at Revolution Recovery, a construction-waste recycling facility in Northeast Philadelphia. As artist in residence, I spent six months sifting through the mountains of rubble to collect personal items that arrived from house clean outs, often after an elderly person died or moved into a care home. The performance took audiences on an intimate song tour of the site, navigating the sorting piles to explore the fragile nature of memory. I collaborated with RAIR co-founder Billy Dufala on the music, which we performed on instruments found in the dump. Inspired by the collecting and sorting done on a massive scale by excavators and front-end loaders, I activated objects made from thousands of photos and garments rescued from the dump.

The project was supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Photos by Ryan Collerd
Video by Greenhouse Media

Friday, January 8, 2016

Hospital Hymn: Elegy for Lost Soldiers

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
Washington, DC
October 17, 2015  

with Craig Woodward on fiddle and concertina
Hospital Hymn
was a site-specific installation and performance that conjured the National Portrait Gallery’s history as a temporary hospital for soldiers during the American Civil War, where Walt Whitman worked as a nurse. Inspired by Whitman’s notebooks from the period, the piece memorialized the war’s quarter million unknown dead. Whitman suggests that their bodies became the compost of the nation—their spirits imbued in every stalk of wheat, blade of grass and flower that sprung from the dark fields of battle. I enacted a ritual releasing thousands of handmade felt flowers, referencing Whitman's compost imagery and drawing on the language of Victorian mourning handcrafts to suggest the enormity of loss. Accompanied by Craig Woodward on fiddle and concertina, I sang 19th-century hymns that Whitman recalled hearing nurses sing to dying soldiers.  

Hospital Hymn: Elegy for Lost Soldiers was a companion piece to the exhibition Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872. It was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery as part of its Identify: Performance Art as Portraiture series.

Thank you to Byer of Maine for in-kind support.

The names I embroidered on the sheets were taken from Whitman's notebooks. Most of these soldiers died in his care.  

Photos by Ryan Collerd 
Video by Greenhouse Media 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Martha McDonald featured on WHYY-TV's Friday Arts program

Martha and the Lost

The Lost Garden

The Woodlands
Philadelphia, PA
September 26 - October 18, 2014

The Lost Garden was a site-specific installation and performance exploring impermanence and the fragile nature of memory.  In the 18th century, The Woodlands was William Hamilton's spectacular botanic garden and greenhouse but it nearly disappeared in the rapid urbanization of the early 19th century. The garden was saved from extinction by transforming it into a Victorian cemetery, or "memory garden."  Drawing on the language of Victorian handcrafts like wax flowers under domes and jewelry made from human hair, my installation of knitted flowers memorialized the lost plants from Hamilton's garden. The performance took audiences on an intimate song tour of the cemetery and into my installation in Hamilton's 18th-century mansion to conjure the dream of the lost garden.

The knitted specimens are based on plants Hamilton collected and wrote about in letters and journals.  I researched patterns for botanically-accurate knitted flowers in Victorian ladies magazines and taught myself to make them. Then I developed my own.

Hamilton's greenhouse was larger than his mansion and held thousands of exotic plants, like this Banksia from Botany Bay.

Performance photos by Ryan Collerd
Installation photos by Joseph Hu

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Weeping Dress

Craft Victoria
Melbourne, Australia
March 10 - April 21, 2011

Featuring Craig Woodward on fiddle

The Weeping Dress was a performance and installation arising from research of Victorian mourning rituals. During a woman's first year of mourning, nothing she wore could reflect the light. That meant wearing wool bombazine or crepe, which didn't hold plant-based dyes so color ran from the fabric in the rain and heat, staining her body. I am fascinated by how this public performance of grief was experienced in such a private and corporeal way.  I made a period mourning dress out of black crepe paper that I activated in performance to release the fugitive dye and leave a stain, or trace behind.

 Photos by Christian Capurro

Martha McDonald interview about The Weeping Dress on SYN FM

Art Monthly feature on The Weeping Dress