More and more, 26-year-old Brooklyn-based Alex McQuilkin has come to embody Sylvia Plath’s valediction in Lady Lazarus, one of her final poems: “Dying is an art like anything else/I do it well/I do it so it feels like hell/I do it so it feels real/I guess you could say I have a call.”
Unlike Plath, literally dying is not in fact what McQuilkin is about. But in Plath’s tradition, she does make moving art out of the idea of death. In her DVDs and C-print stills, McQuilkin exposes the raw, tender ties between death, sex, desire and youth. Her work evokes an uncomfortable, undeniable blend of contempt and empathy, as her teenage protagonists (played by her) desperately flaunt their sexual desire, their desirability and their romantic wish for death. With roots in feminist theory, 1990s cultural criticism and popular culture, McQuilkin manages to produce work which avoids jargon and evades any purely intellectual reaction. Like Valie Export, Carolee Schneemann, Paul McCarthy and Sue de Beer, McQuilkin makes art that is like the strongest, sharpest parts of punk rock nailed through layers and layers of solid intellectual foundation.
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