Death by Design, Co.™

Michelle Maynard and Teena McClelland

Death by Design, Co.™, a special effects and video-based company established by Michelle Maynard and Teena McClelland, converts Gallery 400’s space into a film set where visitors are invited to engage in an in-depth conversation with life through their own “Hollywood” death. Visitors to the gallery had the opportunity to construct, enact, and document a custom on-screen horror movie death scene of their choosing for a small fee. With this project, Maynard and McClelland sought to offer a safe vehicle for exploring ideas on myth, storytelling, cinematic illusion, celebrity, and our own mortality.

Horror films are an essential part of the American experience. They tap into some of the most primal of emotions and ideas. Notions of life and death have historically been contextualized by the illusion of cinema and have also found their way into contemporary art. Andy Warhol’s Dracula, Matthew Barney’s The Cremaster Cycle, and David Coyle’s monster videos all lend themselves to a conversation surrounding ideas central to horror movies. These ideas enter into the realms of myth and storytelling, celebrity, and mortality, and they rouse in us the fear of our own bodies betraying us with their fragility. In providing a means for visitors to embrace these commonalities metaphorically, Death by Design, Co.™ sets out to help us understand that we are never more alive than when we face death.

Death By Design, Co.™ attempts to address and continue these ideas within the structure of a fee-based service provider. Through the medium of the B movie horror cinema genre, Death By Design, Co.™ offers clients a one-of-a-kind special effects experience. Beginning with a brief interview and consultation with one of their “Creepy Consultants," the client then works with writers, videographers, production assistants, and supporting actors to produce the custom on-screen death of their choice. The scenes are intended to contain elements of behind the scenes mishaps and lapses that nod to the humor involved in existing for a moment as a character in a horror movie.

According to Debra N. Mancoff, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago:

“The appeal of the Hollywood death is central to Michelle Maynard and Teena McClelland’s installation and video project Death by Design, Co.™. It is perfectly calculated to satisfy our desire to experience the rush of the moment of mortality. Our passion for high entertainment has nurtured our love of spectacle, and our fascination with horror films and video games has numbed our fears of the agony of blood and gore. As a result, our priorities in death have shifted. No longer the time of accounting—of noble action as the means to fame or pious devotion as the means to salvation—the emphasis is now on the scenario of death rather than the unfolding of the life that precedes it, and with Death by Design, Co.™ staging that death, the mortal moment is more a climax than a termination.”

Death by Design Co.™ was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2006 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago series.

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