As the finale to a six-month series of shows, the Brussels-based Scottish artist Lucy McKenzie will premiere a 10-minute murder mystery film at New York's Artist's Institute this Friday.
The debut of the film, written by McKenzie, 36, follows a succession of three "episodes," short-run exhibitions of her work lasting just over a month each, at the Lower East Side nonprofit, which devotes entire seasons to the work of a single artist. In the film that constitutes the final episode (Jan. 10-Feb. 2), the artist adopts the role of Agatha Christie's gentlewoman detective, Miss Marple.
The film The Girl Who Followed Marple is faithful to the style of the daytime TV mystery movie. It stars art-world natives such as New York art advisor Thea Westreich, Westreich's associates Suzanne Modica and Ashley Carr, and the New York-based painter Duncan Hannah. The Canadian painter Allison Yip, a former student of McKenzie's, plays a rookie detective. New York underground filmmaker and photographer Richard Kern, for whom McKenzie posed in the late '90s, directs.
The film is a quixotic appropriation of typical Christie fare: an aging detective (Marple/McKenzie) is on vacation in a hotel in the Belgian seaside city of Ostend, where all is not what it seems. After finding bloodstains and a monogrammed handkerchief in a department store, Yip seeks out Miss Marple as a mentor. But, without giving away the ending, when she encounters Marple in bed with a man she claims to be her husband, she sees her evidence destroyed in a most unexpected manner.
Uniting and repeating many of the images from McKenzie's season thus far, the film is a fitting conclusion to her stint at Artist's Institute. In the previous episode, the space was transformed into a boutique featuring a collection of fashion designs, which McKenzie made in collaboration with Edinburgh- and Brussels-based designers Atelier E.B.; many of the items of clothing appear in the film. And like the release of a short story collection Unlawful Assembly (styled as a kind of beachside paperback), which inaugurated the series of shows, The Girl Who Followed Marple situates itself within the limits of a specific genre.
A common thread running through much of McKenzie's work is the appropriation and mastery of craft, be it trompe-l'œil painting, mystery writing or fashion design. McKenzie told A.i.A. via e-mail that "learning the formulas of how to construct things like a whodunit story, an illusionistic surface or a geometric pattern all stem from the same reflex. I want to find out how structures can be learned and adopted and then test their potential in a wider discourse." In advance of her season at Artist's Institute, McKenzie studied mystery novel writing at the New York Crime Fiction Academy, just as she studied trompe-l'œil painting at Brussels' École Van Der Kelen in preparation for a series of earlier works.
"Within suspense/crime/mystery writing, death is merely a clue-generating device handled in a shallow and casual way," McKenzie told A.i.A. "Appropriation can be executed in the same manner; one's relationship with one's chosen source material can be just as dispassionate and ambivalent."