Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lily McElroy (My Mama Would NOT Approve!)

I can hear my mother now. "That Lily Mcelroy just THROWS herself at men!"

She is described as "a cross between physical comedy and earnest confession". Whatever she is, as a performance artist McElroy does throw her whole body into it….sometimes leading with her chest. There are photos of her hugging strangers without asking their permission and other discomfort-evoking stances. Her work is about public reaction,fear, compassion, groupthink and comedy.

Combining photography with performance art, her on-going series “I Throw Myself At Men” is literally that. She walks into bars and asks dudes she doesn’t know if she can throw herself at them while her partner takes a picture of it.

McElroy, 28, studied photography and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of Arizona in Tucson, not far from her hometown of Willcox, and earned her MFA in photography from the Art Institute in 2006. Her work as a video, photo, and installation artist has been shown at galleries throughout the country. “I Throw Myself at Men” consists of ten 40-by-56-inch prints shot at bars throughout Chicago and also in Kansas City, where she’s lived since fall of 2006

Lily writes, “I started the project by placing an ad on Craig’s list looking for men who would meet me at bars blind date style and let me literally throw myself at them. This worked fairly well, but limited the # of photos I could take. Now , I go to bars with a friend/photographer and approach men who are physically larger than I am. I ask them if I can literally throw myself at them. If they say yes, I have myself photographed doing it and buy them a drink afterwards.”

“I Throw Myself At Men” has a very spontaneous fun-house sort of feel, but in another performance/installation work called, “Locations” she works in a similar style to achieve a more disturbing, reflective affect. She choses specific locations - always a privately-owned public space, and always a place where people are in a hurry to move around. Wearing just a nightgown, McElroy quietly lays down and documents people reactions. Or, more importantly, their non-reactions.

“A considerable amount of our time is spent in those locations where conduct is regimented. This has become especially noticeable due to the current practice of reigning in public expression. Fear of non-conformity has made uncommon behaviors virtually impermissable… When not dismissed as absurd, my actions were responded to with anger; re-emphasizing the fact that public behavior has become highly restricted”.

In all her time performing this piece, only three instances have occurred in which Lily was approached and asked whether she needed help, a disturbing statement about society as a whole.

For a more recent project at the Roger Smith Lab Gallery in New York, Lilly Invites You to Come Watch the Sunset With Her, McElroy created a papier-mache mountain scene in the gallery’s window at 47th and Lexington. She printed out invitations in advance, distributed them in the street, and mailed them to random people out of the phone book as well as to artists she admires, like Miranda July and Wayne Coyne. About 30 people turned up—the only faces she recognized of fellow guests at her hotel. McElroy served cake and hot apple cider and at the designated time, 5:13 PM, she slowly lowered her papier-mache sun with a pulley. It lasted about 15 minutes, start to finish.

If you can’t see the video above, please click HERE.

“A lot of the project was me going up to strangers and giving them invitations,” she says. “A lot of people were really made uncomfortable by that—just the act of me handing them something. I had a few people who wanted to chat about it, but a lot of people just wanted to get away from me as quickly as possible.”

McElroy admits that if the roles were reversed, she’d likely have a similar reaction. “I think it’s really important that I am the one doing the acting, being aggressive, instead of being acted upon,” she says. “I suppose I try to make work in which I’m vulnerable, but not a victim. I like aggressive behavior.”

She has no plan to stop throwing herself at men any time soon. “There’s something really satisfying about just lunging at someone as hard as you can,” she says, “and hoping that everything goes well.”

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Stacy Alexander