Spotlight: Morbidity & Mortality

Artist Statement

Designed to be murdered by your dog or cat, pet toys appear as dead bodies in these crime scene photographs. Morbidity & Mortality responds to the current popular fascination with cinematic murder and forensics. Contemporary films and CSI-style television programs reveal an obsession with corpses—specifically, artfully composed images of the deceased. It is an ancient, macabre pastime: staging the dead. Witness catacomb’s geometric stacks of skulls, paintings of operating theatres, and 19th century dioramas of taxidermy animals. While death and Memento Mori are perennial motifs in art, contemporary US culture is particularly awash in carefully arranged and creatively “off’d” stiffs. The artist examining this trend faces the challenge of depicting, yet not reproducing, this fetishized violence. In these staged photographs of recently discovered victims, the body is that of a “dead” pet toy: the small furry object lying on the floor, for example, is a dismembered bird’s head. There is a perverse quality to toys that resemble real animals—already deceased or clearly marked for death. Morbidity & Mortality critiques contemporary tableaus of aestheticized violence by presenting photographs that are simultaneously disturbing and whimsical.

Jeanette May is a photo-based artist using a critical, sometimes playful, approach to investigate visual pleasure and the power of “the gaze” in contemporary culture. Ms. May received her MFA in Photography from CalArts and her BFA in Painting from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has received awards from the NEA Regional Artists’ Projects Fund, Illinois Arts Council, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Ms. Foundation, and Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts. Her work is exhibited in galleries and museums internationally. Ms. May teaches at ICP in New York City and lives in Brooklyn.