Bethany MacKenzie: Exploring the line between intriguing and repulsive

November 2021

Congratulations on being named the regional winner of the BMO 1st Art! Award. Can you tell us more about your piece, What Will the Worms Think of Me? And can you share a little about yourself, and how you came to study at Grenfell Campus?

Thank you! What Will the Worms Think of Me? is a project that I culminated during the last year of my BFA at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University as a part of my independent studies. It is a work that encompasses a lot of my inner dialogue, and the things I think about on a daily basis. Mainly my anxieties over what others think of me, and how I am generally perceived in the world. A lot of that includes ruminations about gender, femininity, and the learned behaviours that I was raised around.I grew up just outside of St John’s in Logy Bay, and I was a pretty shy and quiet kid. I had a lot of encouragement when I was younger to draw and it was one of the only things I ever really continuously enjoyed growing up that stuck with me into adulthood. The early encouragement that I had as a kid was a huge contribution to my decision to pursue a BFA.

I notice your website mentions “abject theory” – can you expand on that a bit? And why the affinity with earthworms?

Abject theory, in a nutshell, is examining and questioning why certain things make us feel repulsed, horrified, or generally, “grossed out.” I use abject theory to explore the things that exist on the line between intriguing and repulsive, and try to push myself to find where that line exists, or how it changes the further I push it. I try to find when things no longer feel “abject” to me, or when I feel like I no longer have to reject said objects in order to feel safe and secure with myself.
This is where the earthworm ties in. I found that for myself the earthworm was a creature that I was both fascinated with but also repulsed by. I could crouch down and closely examine a worm on wet pavement, but I could not bring myself to touch it or pick it up. It reminded me of when I was a kid when that boundary didn’t exist. I could make mud pies and collect a handful of worms without a lick of hesitation. The line that prevented me from picking the worm up as an adult never existed until now. The worm, in this sense, almost divided me into two; the child that was interested enough to interact with this slimy creature, and the adult that learned that they shouldn’t.
After spending close to a year thinking about worms in this way, I guess I kinda established a weird connection with them, I make sure to move them off the pavement now when I see them to make sure they don’t get caught in the sun and dry up.

What is soft sculpture, and why do you like working in this medium? Do you work in other media as well?

Soft sculpture is a form of sculpture that uses mostly textile mediums to create 3D objects. What really attracts me to this medium is its rich history in women’s art, and its ability to be multi-disciplinary within textiles itself. I also work in painting and printmaking, oftentimes these mediums can meld together and exist in one piece. I definitely don’t try to limit myself to one thing (and I find it hard to do so regardless).

What artists, not necessarily visual artists, influence you?

I’ve been heavily inspired by a number of artists, mainly feminist artists from the late 20th century. Some include Dorothea Tanning, Louise Bourgeois, Lorna Simpson, and Ana Mendieta.

What book are you reading and/or TV show or movie are you watching right now?

I am currently reading A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J Maas.

What’s next for you?

I’ve been really taking a break from my art practice at the moment, I think it’s important to get some space and distance from things sometimes so you can have more clarity for when you have the mental space to be able to return to it. I may potentially go back to school and get my MFA, but I have plenty of time to figure out my life and I am in no rush to jump into any big commitments like that anytime soon.

Slowly Through the Fog Forest

BY Laura Temple

There are times in all our lives when perspective takes a jarring shift, sudden moments when a new truth is lit up under fluorescent, operating room-quality light, like a flashing neon sign, or a moose illuminated in headlights.