It's not easy to understand what Kate Donnelly is up to on the fourth floor of the BCA Center, but it sure does look intriguing.
When I met her there for a chat the other day, the Burlington artist — and 2013 winner of the Barbara Smail Award, which includes a residency in the space — was wearing a white corset and floor-length white skirt with a crinoline. I believe she was barefoot, though her feet were not visible. And from the ceiling hung half a dozen sheet-size rectangles of blue plastic. The white-and-blue effect was mesmerizing, ethereal.
There wasn't much tangible evidence of what Donnelly has been working on, because most of it is still confined to video and audio recordings. And confinement, in fact, is one of the ideas she's exploring.
"You can choose to be 'confined,' or use it," she said, meaning, I think, that you might be physically, emotionally, politically or pick-your-adverb contained, but still keep yourself productively occupied.
And Donnelly has done just that with her residency. She told me she has audio-recorded 100 individuals, each responding to a few questions she asked them, such as "What are you afraid of?" and "What did you do yesterday?" and "What does home mean to you?"
"It's been astonishing how honest people are," Donnelly said. "It's like doing an audio portrait of a person."
The artist has taken the recordings home and re-recorded them in her own voice, so that no participants are identifiable. The collection will eventually comprise an audio piece that she'll share with all the interviewees. "I'll be interested to see if they recognize themselves," she said.
I'm not sure what this element had to do with Donnelly's interest in confinement, but it is clear the artist is exploring a variety of mediums, including videotape, and having fun with it. When she videotapes herself, she said, Donnelly also wears a snood, covering her long brown hair (with rogue white patch).
From her troves of information and imagery she will formulate something to exhibit — in January in BCA's second-floor space — but she is yet unwilling to say just what. It's all very mysterious, conceptual and deliciously strange.
One very tangible fruit of her labors is the Rapunzel-like dress Donnelly is creating out of blue plastic — seen here in the photo. "I'm responding to this space, being at the top of this narrow building and the tower," Donnelly says. "I'm playing with Rapunzel imagery." That definitely fits the confinement concept. She also mentioned the more gruesome story of Saint Barbara, which I will not revisit here. (Google it.)
Still a work in progress, the garment is made of woven blue plastic "ropes," for lack of a better word, and the "hair" and dress are plaited together. (Think long hair conjoining with the shoulders of a dress.) Donnelly said the dress will eventually have a train, some 20 to 30 feet long, and that she plans to put it on and videotape herself walking down the stairs of BCA, past the camera as if she were a normal visitor under surveillance. (This is reminiscent of the bizarre costumes she wore last year while walking in the South End and startling commuters.)
Donnelly has also been playing with Rapunzel gestures, including hanging streamers of plastic "hair" from the bell tower of the BCA Center that's perched over her fourth-floor garret.
Not surprisingly, Donnelly's working title for all these explorations, and their eventual coalescence, is "A Period of Confinement." She said she has "no idea how many pieces will be in it — I don't want to plan that far ahead."
What she will have to plan for, however, is finishing her project at home: This Friday is the last official day of her residency at BCA — and the last opportunity for visitors to wander upstairs and embrace the mystery.