Trisha Donnelly, No title, 2005, dvd, loop.

Trisha Donnelly and a Higher Power of Imaginative Transference

Trisha Donnelly, Rio, 1999, Video still.

Trisha Donnelly, Night Is Coming (Warning), 2002, DVD loop, Édition 3 + 2AP.

Trisha Donnelly, Untitled, 2003, Silver print, 12,7 x 17,8 cm, Edition 5.

Trisha Donnelly, Canadian Rain, 2002. Installation view. Courtesy Casey Kaplan, New York.

Trisha Donnelly, Satin Operator (12), 2007, C-Print, 62 x 44", Courtesy of Courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, NY.


The Renaissance Society
The University of Chicago
5811 South Ellis Avenue
Bergman Gallery, Cobb Hall 418
Trisha Donnelly
February 24-April 6, 2008


Trisha Donnelly (b. San Francisco, 1974, lives and works in San Francisco) received her BFA from the University of California in Los Angeles (1995) and her MFA from Yale University School of Art (2000). She adopts video, sound, photographs, drawings, and performance to explore the power of the human mind to will ideas into existence.

Donnelly creates coded communications through the power of her expressions and gestures. She first attracted attention with Untitled (jumping) (1999), a projection in which she moves in and out of the frame, in slow motion, as she performs the signature movements of unidentified musicians, from rock stars to easy listening, embodying their most intense moments of performative transcendence. In more recent projects, she utilizes photography and video to present fragments of lost performances or collaborations. For her first solo show in New York at the Casey Kaplan Gallery in 2002, Donnelly rode into the crowded gallery on a horse and voiced a cryptic declaration of defeat: “If it need be termed surrender, then let it be so, for he has surrendered in word, not will. He has said, 'My fall will be great but it will be useful.' The emperor has fallen and he rests his weight upon your mind and mine and with this I am electric. I am electric." With this gesture, Donnelly acted for Napoleon Bonaparte, serving as a time-traveling courier who delivered the missive he should have sent forth at Waterloo in 1815. Other works that employ text harness our imaginations with the lightest possible touch; "slipping into the back of people's minds," where her simple suggestions flower into individuated ideas in our minds.

Trisha Donnelly was awarded the Central Insurance Prize, Cologne in 2004. Solo exhibitions of her work include MAMBO, Bologna, Italy (2007); Portikus, Frankfurt, Germany (2006); Artpace, San Antonio (2005); Kolnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (2005); Kunsthalle Zurich (2005); exhibitions include Whitney Biennial — Day for Night, Whitney Biennial, New York, NY (2006); 1 Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, (2005); Collection (or How I Spent a Year), P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island, New York (2004); 54th Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA (2004); KONTEXT, FORM, TROJA, Wiener Secession, Vienna (2003); Untitled (Jumping), Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France (2003); Moving Pictures; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain (2003; and Guggenheim New York 2002); Dreams and Conflicts: The Dictatorship of the Viewer, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice (2003); Forum – Hello, My Name Is…, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA (2002); and Dedalic Convention, Museum für angewandte Kunst (MAK), Vienna (2001).

As Free As the Squirrels No other humanist discipline has undergone as rigorous a self-examination as the visual arts. Well above and beyond an investigation into the nature of its being, the field of art has gone so far as to canonize works of so-called “anti-art.” From the 1917 debut of Duchamp’s infamous Fountain, which consisted of simply a urinal bearing a signature, to the sustained assault on visuality waged by conceptual artists, art by all accounts should have succumbed to its self-willed dismantling quite a while ago. Needless to say, this has yet to pass. Through earnest efforts artists have, however, expanded art’s definition to the point where art is no longer a discrete class of objects or activities but instead a way of looking; art as a process of self-reflexive meaning-making, one that need not be mediated by illusionistic representation. A small tin of shit proudly produced and canned by the artist, Piero Manzoni himself, or a piece of candy courtesy of Felix Gonzalez-Torres are but two beautiful birds in a forest of signs that would render our existence legible. But despite exercising its right to remain silent, gregariously flirting with the irrational, and reveling in illegibility, art is still plagued with making sense in what is less a forest of signs and more a semiotic jungle as any and all things may assume a meaning no longer reserved for the more traditional work of art.

Tell me why the ivy twines? As if Trisha Donnelly’s art needs a reason. Like ivy, Donnelly’s work is as it does. Now that art is no longer a privileged site of meaning, Donnelly is as free as the squirrels to produce art whose justification would be its mere existence. Given that meaning may be produced with or without it, Donnelly is the first to admit that no one needs her art. In exchange, she has carte blanche to roam the highways, byways and interstellar lo-ways of thought with nary a care as to what makes sense save to her.

Calling hers a "body" of work is almost claiming too much coherence for a highly heterogeneous output that includes drawings, photographs, audio works, sculptures, events (Donnelly is very wary of the term performance), and videos. Although it is tempting to cast her as the consummate post-medium artist, in her case that is already an over-determined category, for Donnelly genuinely has no medium. If anything she is a pre-medium artist, where “medium” could just as soon refer to a psychic. Not overly concerned with form, her art is the precipitate of a belief system fashioned within a web of signification where logic and superstition are virtually indistinguishable. When posed before any of her work, the question of why becomes interchangeable with why not. Donnelly has developed a form of martial arts and given lectures describing an alternate dimension. The latter, entitled THE 11th PRISMATIC, betrays her penchant for the rites and rituals of explanation in a broader sense.

While much of the work is performative in nature, Donnelly avoids any relationship to an audience that the designation “performance artist” might imply. In addition, Donnelly’s art, for all its freedom, tends to assume relatively conventional forms. In this respect it is very much legible as an art that, once slandered for being cryptic and hermetic, would now cite these terms as new-found inalienable rights. Any charges of obscurity are predicated on a claim to disclosure that Donnelly never undersigned. Instead, Donnelly would take stock in an artistic legacy whose liberatory potential has become, by her standards, over-burdened with a self-consciousness symptomatic of an excess of meaning; an excess she would prefer to convert into beliefs ranging from quizzical to outlandish. The result is an art that can be whatever. Accordingly, what she may do when invited to exhibit is often anyone’s guess. The choice of attire (cocktail, festive, proper, black tie) for attendance at the opening, per TD, is yours.

Trisha Donnelly, Untitled, 2006, Lambda print, 15,7 x 20 cm, edition 4.