Mary Reid Kelley works at the boundary between performance, painting, and poetry. She crafts vivid, layered videos in collaboration with her partner Patrick Kelley that tack through folds of history and myth, ancient and modern, with a sharply graphic, black-and-white aesthetic, a raucously feminist sensibility, and a penchant for the poetics of the absurd that plumbs the logic of sense.
In “This is Offal,” Kelley performs as a body of proliferating parts, dramatically dislocated from the unified Aristotelian organism. The scene, in dialogue with Thomas Hood’s 1844 poem “The Bridge of Sighs,” is an autopsy of a woman who has died by suicide. The procedure is ostensibly being conducted by a white-coated pathologist. Yet as his gloved hands at the edge of the frame snip away clothing, we come face-to-face with a noisy body. Various parts (foot, leg, heart, liver, gut, head), uncannily animated and voiced by Kelley, speak in rhyming couplets to accuse one another, in turn, of causing the death. Their brilliant wordplay mocks the coherence of the whole with an overabundance of logic produced by accelerating fragmentation, while Kelley’s persistent presence as the dead woman counters ludic abandon with tragic finality. The guts interrupt a debate between the head and the liver to declare: “I’ve never had the rank of leader / I’ve always been the bottom-feeder.” But having “seen the light,” they speak the existential claim of the work’s title: “I stink, therefore I am! Cast off all / Vanity, ‘cause This is Offal!”