Lilly McElroy grew up in southern Arizona, surrounded by cliché representations of her own experiences. There were cowboys riding bulls, coyotes howling on moonlit nights, beautiful sunsets, and vicious brawls. She’s translated those experiences into epic photographs and playfully antagonistic videos. The artistic projects she pursues are a reflection of her complex relationship with the American West and explores what it means to be an American in a time of diminished expectations. She performs for the camera, enacting gestures that reflect a sense of quixotic hopefulness as well as a desire for control over subjects as ungovernable as nature. Her performances take a variety of forms and allow her to engage with others or insert herself into the landscape. It is though these projects that she attempts to develop authentic ties to her own experiences, to give the cliché new and personal meaning.
The gestures that she enacts for the camera are simultaneously loving and cruel; they are an attempt to discuss the frustration inherent in contemporary experience. Initially, these gestures may seem juvenile as they use the language of physical comedy, but they owe as much to Caspar David Freidrich and the Kantian Sublime as they do to Buster Keaton. She makes photographs in which she confronts the American landscape and foolhardily demands that it become aware of her presence. She makes videos in which she marks her territory and attempts to defend it. The photographs and videos she produces acknowledge the possibility of failure, that she will go unnoticed, and that she won’t affect any change. However, it is this possibility that keeps things interesting. In these projects, she becomes a sympathetic hero and a stand-in for the viewer. She faces the sublime and call its power into question.