Gasworks Gallery, London, 1997
Solo exhibition, accompanied by a catalogue with text by Hazel Friedman.
The works for this exhibition were made during a 12-week residency at the Gasworks Studios, London. In them, I deepen my critique of gendered power-relations inscribed in western cultural and scientific master-discourses by shifting the conceptual focus on constructions of femininity as ‘performative’. Feminine identities are considered as constructs of role-play, artifice and masquerade that can be ‘put on’ and ‘taken off’ in relation to respective gendered and cultural contexts.
Tropes that point to the artifice of femininity feature throughout. Developing the analogy between fabric and flesh previously set up in the solo-exhibition Instrumental (1997), I merge stereotypicallyfeminine garments with the inner and outer body, consciously eliding distinctions between them: corsets conflate with torsos, gloves with hands, boots with feet, stockings and suspenders with legs, blouses with busts. Using anatomical medical illustrations as reference, I intermesh wax simulacra of flesh, sinew and muscle tissue with fabric, hooks, buckles, buttons and lace, drawing visual parallels between them – for instance, intricate details of Victorian lace are overlaid with wax so that they resemble nerve endings; at the back of the corset what appears to be flayed muscle tissue is also ruched cloth; remnants of shredded fabric suggest strips of raw meat or skin. As fragments, or dismembered body parts, the conflated forms undermine the fantasy of bodily integrity. They are displayed alongside stainless steel medical trays containing rolls and slabs of simulated flesh, which is penetrated and punctured with pins, needles and haberdashery, and has medical instruments embedded within, or placed with careful precision onto, its waxy surfaces.
Installed in close proximity to one another in a small space, the works serve as tableaus of simultaneous seduction and repulsion. Although their highly detailed surfaces, intricate levels of craftsmanship, and glossy, glistening finish might initially attract the viewer, upon closer inspection, the pristine forms take on more sinister, unnerving connotations, as they carry associations with the mutilated or violated body: corsets recall straightjackets, arms and legs resemble prosthetics.