reidkelley

Mary Reid Kelley is the third Penn employee to be awarded the MacArthur grant since 2013. | Courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Mary Reid Kelley, a senior critic in the School of Design’s Master of Fine Arts program, was recently named a 2016 MacArthur Fellow.

MacArthur Fellows, who are chosen by the MacArthur Foundation, must show “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work,” according to the MacArthur Foundation website. Fellows receive $625,000 for what is commonly known as the “Genius Grant."

Kelley’s art uses history and literature to produce videos and performances that delve into the historical role and treatment of women. Some of her past projects include "You Make Me Illiad" (2010) and "Priapus Agonistes" (2013), which use a mixture of film, verse, sculpture and painting in order to explore and criticize ideas from different periods of history.

Her most recent collaboration with her creative and romantic partner Patrick Kelley is entitled "This is Offal." The black and white performance piece, in which Mary Reid Kelley stars, takes place in a morgue. The piece depicts the reactions of a woman’s organs to her "awful" suicide.

The final performances of the piece will take place later this year. It has been performed in Berlin and Belgium and the film was shown in Switzerland.

The next step for Kelley is to find a new source of inspiration.

“What I’m doing right now is trying to figure out what the next piece is. So it basically means that I’m sitting in a big pile of books and just following random thoughts, which is a part of the process that I really enjoy — just that feeling that anything is possible.”

Growing up, she always identified as an artist. After studying art and women’s studies at St. Olaf College, she went on to earn her M.F.A at Yale University, where she is currently a critic in painting. It wasn’t until her years in graduate school that she realized she wanted to write as well as paint.

“I went to graduate school in my late twenties as a painter. It wasn’t until then that I discovered something else that I kind of was able, or wanted to do, which was to write in verse,” Kelley said. “I think that even if you have really strong ideas about who you are you can always surprise yourself — there’s always a part of yourself that’s a stranger and you can be lucky to meet that stranger. Art is a good way to kind of go looking for that stranger.”

Recipients learn of their selection just before the chosen fellows are announced publicly.

“One of the great things about the award is that they want you to do just what you want with it. They do something fantastic — almost crazy — by just giving you, unannounced, this award and the sum of money that goes with, but they don’t ask in return that you do anything unusual,” Kelley said.

“At this point what I want to do is carry on with what I’ve been doing,” she said. “It’s just nice to know that life isn’t as precarious as it was a couple months ago.”

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