This past summer, I was challenged by a colleague to make a full-size bustier/bra as my contribution to a fantasy fashion show. It was my first attempt at making a full-size wire knitted garment and the largest project I'd attempted to date.
I was very pleased with how it turned out! I made it to fit a colleague who ultimately modeled it in the show, wearing it over a black crop top. The bronze wire stitching just popped against the dark background!
After the show I decided to keep the wire knitted bra on display, just outside my studio at the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation. This gave me a unique opportunity to hear people's comments and to observe how they interacted with it. People seem to relate well to wire knitting: if they don’t knit, they almost always know someone who does. I’ve been intrigued by how the wire knitted bra draws people in, provoking everything from nervous laughter to lewd remarks, and have observed that most people (male and female) cannot resist touching it, whether they are seven or seventy seven years old.
Fast forward to the fall. Inspired by my earlier project, found myself submitting a proposal to several arts organizations entitled: Underwire Couture: The Fashionable Art of Oppression.
While fashion bills itself as a means of self-expression, it has an ongoing history as a tool of societal control, especially for women. Styles can be constrictive, placing the wearer at significant physical and emotional disadvantage; they can foster unreasonable standards of feminine beauty, undercutting self-confidence and self-worth; and also objectify and dehumanize women, promoting the notion that women are disposable. I proposed completing a series of three mixed media pieces featuring wire knitting designed to explore these themes.
Garments of wire will take shape over mannequins, but of course will be sufficiently transparent to offer opportunity for the surfaces of the mannequins to contribute. For example,one piece will show a mannequin torso, covered in a wire knitted garment. The surface of the mannequin torso will feature text and images gleaned from the internet and other media sources. These will add texture and color from a distance, but when scrutinized more closely will help to show the uglier side of fashion. The knitted garments will also have merchandise tags that further describe the impact fashion can have.
While wire knitting can produce a garment that fits a body, people automatically associate it with a level of discomfort; it might look pretty, but they wouldn’t want to wear it. This makes it the perfect technique for this particular project. Fashion’s impact on women, indeed the general status of women in our society and others, is rarely a comfortable topic for discussion.
I am still awaiting word one grant applicaiton, but in late November I was notified that my application to the ArtsNL Professional Project Grant Program was successful! So I've started my search for mannequins and materials and have begun fleshing out my work plan. The goal is to have three pieces completed by the end of March.
Over the coming weeks, I'll be posting regularly about this project. I hope you'll join me on my journey of discovery!