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Close Look: Courtney McClellan

Simulation and repetition through thought experiments and applied fiction animate the work of artist Courtney McClellan. Her sculpture, performance, and writing is rooted in applied fiction, a term she defines as “being grounded in the present, but having implications for the future, a fabricated narrative used to test existing systems and institutions.” Most recently, as the 2019-2020 Roman J. Witt Artist in Residence at the University of Michigan, Courtney constructed Witness Lab to serve as a performance and legal simulation space hosting the University of Michigan’s mock trial team, law school, theater department, figure drawing classes, and movement classes in a highly visible courtroom.


Courtney McClellan, Witness Lab, 2020; mixed media. Image by Christopher Ankney, courtesy the artist and photographer.
Courtney McClellan, Witness Lab, 2020; mixed media. Image by Christopher Ankney, courtesy the artist and photographer.
Courtney McClellan, Witness Lab, 2020; mixed media. Image by Mark Gjukich, courtesy the artist and photographer.

“The courtroom is one of the last places that really prioritizes liveness,” Courtney says, “I am really thinking about witnessing as a social, political, and artistic act.” The courtroom constructed for Witness Lab, however, is an experiment open to performance and game play with its baby blue color scheme and handmade objects while still conveying itself as a structure of power through flags and the state seal. The theater department reenacted courtroom scenes from Shakespeare, mock trials were held, and one law class explored pre-American trial litigation in the Salem Witch Trials, pulling from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Roughly one month into the project, the school and gallery closed due to COVID-19. 

Courtney McClellan, Witness Lab, Gillian Eaton’s class, performing Shakespeare in the Courtroom, Winter’s Tale, 2020; mixed media. Image courtsey of the artist.

Courtney McClellan, Teleprompter 2900, 5671, 8911, 2019; mixed media. Image courtsey of the artist.
Courtney McClellan, Teleprompter 2887, 2019; mixed media. Image courtsey of the artist.
Courtney McClellan, Teleprompters 3011, 5900, 4322, 4323, 2019; mixed media. Image courtsey of the artist.

Since returning to Atlanta in mid-March, Courtney’s practice has turned inward and research focused. She listens to podcasts, reads about hoaxes, and watches Project Runway while learning to use Blender, an open source 3D modeling suite. Courtney’s sculptural work often utilizes performative objects like teleprompters, stenographs, or a voting booth. In her ongoing series of teleprompters, she examines the feigned intimacy that these objects aid their user in delivering. She pulls phrases from candy hearts and emphasizes moments of pause or emotion. 


Courtney McClellan, Dueling Court Reporters, 2016; banquet chairs, mic stands, light bulbs, stenographs, steno paper, wood, plexiglass, vinyl. Image by Ashley L. Wood, courtesy the artist and photographer.
Screenshot of Courtney’s studio practice at home. Image courtsey of the artist.
Courtney’s home studio during COVID-19 isolation.
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