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Jess MacNeil

Opera House Steps, March  2006

single-channel digital, video, colour, sound

2minutes 57sec

Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Michael Hawker, 2009


About the Artwork

For Opera House Steps, March, Jess MacNeil captured video footage of visitors moving up and down the steps of the Sydney Opera House. She then digitally erased their bodies from the sequence, leaving just their shadows. The regularly spaced steps of the forecourt, with elongated, distorted silhouettes rising and descending across what appears as a field of parallel lines, create a dynamic optical rhythm – like notes upon a stave. MacNeil’s allusion to a musical scale, together with the play of shadows cast by moving bodies, resonates with the purpose of the opera house – a venue for dance, theatre and musical performances.

MacNeil’s practice shifts between digital video to painted fragments from filmed footage, exploring fluidity and slippage between image, media and form. MacNeil effortlessly translates her intense focus across moving and still imagery, refining and reworking the essential qualities that concern her – light, shadow, water, colour and movement against both natural and built environments. Preoccupied with the lingering traces of human passage through time and particular places, MacNeil’s works invite consideration of the complex preconditions and subtle repercussions of our encounters.

My practice is situated at the points of intersection between painting, installation, video and photography, taking as subject matter the dynamics of public space and its translation into pictorial space.

Jess MacNeil, 2008

Jess MacNeil

– About the artist

Born 1977, Nova Scotia, Canada. Lives and works London and Sydney.

Jess MacNeil’s practice spans painting, drawing, video and installation, often translating and cross-fertilising from one medium to another. Through simple elements of lines, traces and shadows, point of view, repetition and playback speed, her works explore our perceptions and experiences of the everyday environment. The space of the artwork itself is also a focus. She often questions or exploits the ways the artist, viewer, and subject are situated in relation to the work, either directly through trace, residue or reflection, or indirectly by depiction, inference, absence or erasure.

MacNeil has shown her work in On Reflection, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Singapore (2011); First. One. Thing. Then. Another., Gallery Barry Keldoulis, Sydney (2011); and The Shape of Between, Gallery Barry Keldoulis and Elastic Residence, London (2006). She has participated in numerous group exhibitions nationally and internationally, including Of and For, The Bank, CASS Arts, London (2014); NEW 2013, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2013); All Our Relations, 2012 Biennale of Sydney (2012); Drawn from Life, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Cumbria, UK (2011); Selectively Revealed, Aram Art Gallery, Seoul, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei and Chulalongkorn University Art Space, Bangkok (2011); Athens Video Art Festival, Athens (2010); Move: The Exhibition, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2010); Rising Tide, MCA, Sydney and Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2009); Yebisu International Festival for Art and Alternate Visions, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo (2009); and Primavera, MCA, Sydney and Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide (2008).

MacNeil’s work is held in public collections including the Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney; Hamilton Art Gallery, Victoria; Artbank, Sydney; Sydney Opera House; as well as numerous Australian and international private collections.

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– Other works by the artist

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