MFA Feature: Jackson McKeehan

Posted on March 12, 2021

Jackson McKeehan

Briefly describe your artistic practice.
I like to experience closeness with people, places, things, and memories. I do that by sneaking around- trying to get at that thing through an alternative route so I can be in control of how that closeness might manifest- I pick subjects that either scare me or make me laugh, or both. And then I fictionalize the experience and turn it into a film or performance or series. I use the word closeness rather than intimacy because I feel like intimacy evokes something sexy and sexy is very uninteresting to me.

Jackson McKeehan
Feature image above: still from Blue, Diane

How has your artistic practice changed since you’ve been at CMU?
Fully and completely. I came to CMU with a background in fashion and live storytelling- my portfolio was full of clothes and fiber and kooky video art. I feel, again, like I snuck into grad school as one thing and then turned right around and became something else. I now use performance and contextual practice as a form of research so that I can make entertainment- which, yes, I do consider art. The important thing for me is the process, the important thing for folks to see isn’t the process but the end result.

Tell us about your work for the MFA thesis show.
My dad told me this true story about our neighbor several years ago and it was so shocking that I thought about it almost weekly. I’m not a great on-the-spot communicator, so I have lots of conversations with myself- preplanning in my head what I want to say to someone, imagining what their response might be, and I started talking to myself as the neighbor- how she might think about things, what conversations she had in her head, and I blended that together with the story from my dad and a fairly horrific memory from being a queer teenager in the rural midwest, and the short film Sheila came to be. I was able to film it in my hometown this summer with a small crew- my family came together to help me do it safely and it was a really rewarding experience.

Still from Sheila
Behind-the-scenes on the Sheila film shoot

What (or who) inspires your work?
In general, the women I grew up around, as well as the small communities I grew up in- in both Missouri and Montana. If it isn’t connected to a person or a place, it’s mostly about a feeling. I’m really inspired by absence and death and being needy- I feel like there are holes everywhere and I just want to fill them in with narrative in order to organize the mess of being alive. I watch a ton of tv and movies and read a lot of fiction- sometimes I look at art.

What’s one thing you wished you had known before starting grad school?
That a lot of people think they’re right and if it goes against the thing in your gut that tells you how you want to make something, then those people are wrong when it comes to your own making. It’s good to listen, but be a colander and just keep what works. Grad school is about learning to stand up for yourself.

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