FOR LENAE DAY, re-contextualizing the past is more than an exercise in kitsch. "It helps me to make sense of the present. And to understand and empathize with humanity," Day says. Purposefully riding a line between fact and fiction, the Los Angeles-based, Northwest-raised multimedia artist creates extremely detailed worlds and alternate histories—environments she steps into and brings to life.
Day began her career as a painter, often using old advertisements as a jumping-off point, but over time began to see the limitations of the form. "There came a point where a painting just wasn't enough, what I was really after was the genuine article," Day says. "So I started re-staging scenes from old advertisements—learning to do the makeup and costuming and lighting on my own."
Using only herself as a model, she paired these images with autobiographical writing that often ventured into overly honest or unstable territory, as a way, "to understand all of these different characters and to have a kind of empathy for them that I wouldn't if I hadn't been the one playing them."
This work turned into her first two publications and subsequent art shows—Day Magazine and Modern Candor. "The moment I re-contextualized my work into a magazine, I learned that context is everything," Day says. She used this lesson when she started working on her current and most ambitious project, the Prescott Hollywood dynasty.
Creating a history that spans generations of powerful Hollywood women, Day's highly researched imagined world was inspired by a host of actual Hollywood women—early actress and studio founder Mary Pickford, silent film star and producer Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few. "I wanted to create a fictional female film dynasty: instead of the Warner Brothers, it's the Prescott Sisters—women who didn't bow out and become tragedies once their beauty faded or the public tired of them." As a frame of reference for her extensive project, she turned to images from the grocery store checkout lines of her youth.
"I thought the best way to [communicate the life story of an entire family] would be a magazine based on gossip magazines like People from a time when all of the old movie stars were dying—the late 1980s," says Day. Taking the format of vintage Bette Davis and Lucille Ball tribute magazines, Day's publication—Day Magazine: Remembering Priscilla Prescott—celebrates the life of the Prescott family matriarch.
Leading up to the magazine's release earlier this year, Day turned an LA art gallery into a veritable Prescott museum filled with headshots, movie posters, lobby cards, fake columns, and hand-sewn costumes. It also introduced Day's alter-ego, Phyllis McGillicuddy, a film enthusiast and bumbling Prescott dynasty fanatic.
Her October 4 performance at Disjecta will feature McGillicuddy, who'll give a complete—though potentially unhinged—Prescott history through film clips, oral history, and slideshow presentations, plus a Q&A with the real Day. Saturday's performance, the first Prescott dynasty performance outside of LA, is only the beginning of a far-reaching imagined universe. With plans for exercise videos, QVC spots, and a wide variety of film ephemera, Day is also currently working on a feature-length documentary about the Prescott dynasty—playing all the characters herself.