This installation of Kelli Scott Kelley’s series Accalia and the Swamp Monster marks the first time it will be on view alongside a wide selection of preparatory sketches, as well as Bird and Squirrel, the video that inspired the series. Accalia and the Swamp Monster is a loosely autobiographical coming of age story that references fairy tales, mythology, and Louisiana bayous in a manner that feels primordial and otherworldly. Kelley’s work feels archetypal, as though we are familiar with its narrative arc and imagery. This is the case because, as a society, we know enough about Beowulf, Artemis, anthropomorphic creatures, Joan of Arc, and other references to intuitively understand Kelley’s various nods to bygone eras. It is her use of bald cypresses, pirogues, and other familiar imagery that makes Accalia’s trials and tribulations so personal to those who make Louisiana their home.
Kelley’s work is decidedly feminine. Not only is the heroine based on Kelley herself, but her paintings are executed on re-purposed antique linens, handcrafts typically associated with women and domesticity. Accalia’s actions in the story undermine traditional cultural notions of femininity, while the materiality of the linens acknowledges them as a cultural construct to some degree. These complexities ring true when the re-purposed linens, including table runners and handkerchiefs, are thought of as items used by many people over a long period of time. It directly addresses the sense of shared cultural experience so important to many functional items, while also mirroring the transmission of oral traditions like storytelling.