Kate McDonnell GBA
‘I am interested in madness. I believe it is the biggest thing in the human race, and the most constant.’ – William Saroyan
McDonnell is an installation artist and sculptor. She completed her MA Fine Art at Bath Spa University in 2018. During her studies she concentrated on embodying the experience of bipolar disorder in objects by translating its mental processes and physical actions. Her research focused on the methods of outsider artists and Foucault’s interpretation of the Stultifera Navis. Her final works spoke to the dissonance between the sublime qualities of mania and the banality of institutional mental health care.
Since then she has been researching postminimalism, and how process art and the symptoms of mental illnesses can act as a mechanism for creating artworks. She is committed to freeing mental health art from the expressive, rejecting representational tropes, and applying criticality to what is an underrepresented subject in contemporary art. She is fascinated by how visual art can convey a tacit understanding of mental illness.
McDonnell’s work seeks to embody the internal processes and external actions of mania. Whether it be psychomotor agitation, the dark energy of anxiety, or collecting together the remnants of failed grandiose projects, her work is informed by her own experiences of bipolar disorder as well as referencing the DSM-5. Interrogating the methods of asylum artists, including repetition and Horror Vacui, she employs ephemeral and throwaway materials to create installations and sculpture, embodying a sense of worthlessness and purposeless activity.
Looking to the future, McDonnell wants to create an organisation to research mental illness in contemporary art, working with critically engaged artists in this field. She is also planning to curate high-profile exhibitions which challenge the idea of expressionism in mental health art. She wants to instigate a new visual language of madness and see acceptance in the art world of this underrepresented subject.
McDonnell was born in Birkenhead and was brought up in Bristol. She went to art school in Weston-Super-Mare followed by a degree in Design Management at De Montfort University. She studied MA Design Studies at Central St Martins and went on to work as a designer and magazine art editor, and published a number of books. She studied for a masters in fine art at Bath Spa University graduating in 2018 and has since produced and curated a number of exhibitions. She was awarded the 2021 Gilbert Bayes Award and was a Porthleven Prize and SANE Creative Award winner. McDonnell lives and works in the City of Bath.