Salt Priestess
Mollie McKinley

Pioneer Works is pleased to present Mollie McKinley’s Salt Priestess, the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition in the United States. Comprised of photographs and salt and glass sculptures, the exhibition presents alchemical transmutations as a feminist clarion call, one in which female archetypes—situated in and around supernatural landscapes—hover in a strange, symbolic space of ritual and unknowable, primal drama.

Made with a wooden 4×5 camera, McKinley’s photographic tableaux typically portray “priestesses” inhabiting surreal American landscapes, such as desert dunes, abandoned parking lots, glacial lakes, and weathered wood cabins. Sometimes these settings stand in for themselves, as places of ritualized regeneration and resilience. At other times these locales become cinematic backdrops for the artist’s heroines, who are equal parts Barbarella and The Crucible, part playful camp fantasy and dark, puritanical allegory. Wearing ceremonial wigs, bathrobes, fur scraps, rags, and fishing nets, they present offerings of pineapples, snakeskins, and other objects to the mystic forces of nature. Relationships between the femme body and the inherent vacuity of capitalist objects are activated.

The salt sculptures—or monoliths, as McKinley calls them—symbolize time, existential phenomenology, and nature’s processes on physical material. They’re deconstructed from fifty-pound salt licks used for livestock supplements. Rigid and compact in their factory state, McKinley uses a hammer and chisel to geometrically work away at the salt in patterns before further eroding them with pressurized water. This erosion process is violent and intense. The finished works allude to textures of weathered stone canyons in the American West, of exaggerated bone marrow, and of glacial surfaces. If the photographs represent these natural forces, McKinley’s salt monoliths dramatically actuate them, in bodily form. Taken together, Salt Priestess twins this bodily preoccupation with the natural landscape; one functions as foil for the other.

Mollie McKinley studied photography at Bard College. Her work has also been shown at Ethan Cohen Fine Arts; Field Projects, New York; Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions; Anthology Film Archives; the MoMA Pop Rally; the New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 presented by Independent Curators International and Limited Time Only; four Brucennials; the Index Art Center, Newark; the Wassaic Project Exhibition; SPRING/BREAK Art Show curated by Natalie Kovacs; Anna Kustera Gallery curated by Natalie Kovacs; Dimensions Variable Gallery, Miami; the Art Director’s Club of New York; the Humble Arts Foundation; the Fringe Arts Festival in Philadelphia; One Mile Gallery, Kingston; KUBE, Beacon, NY; Matteawan Gallery, Beacon, NY; the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, New Paltz, and a host of others.