The Syphilis of Sisyphus
Mary Reid Kelley used her residency at EMPAC to produce The Syphilis of Sisyphus, a black-and-white, 11-minute video in which she plays a young, pregnant, 19th-century French grisette (or bohemian) named Sisyphus. She wanders through an elaborately designed set, waxingphilosophically in metered, rhyming verse about beauty, artifice, and the natural world. Jesus, Karl Marx, and Diderot are among figures of intellectual history that appear in this satire. Performing scripted narratives in rhyming verse, the artist—with her husband Patrick Kelley and various family members—explores historical periods through fictitious characters such as nurses, soldiers, and prostitutes. The piece was later included in season six of the PBS series Art in the Twenty-First Century (Art21) and released on DVD.
Kelley’s videos and drawings present her take on the clash between utopian ideologies and the realities of women’s lives in the struggle for liberation and through political strife, wars, and other historical events.