Sunday, 30 March 2008

The artist’s dress

The handlebar dress had been nagging away at me, it never felt quite right and I wish I hadn’t posted it. Took it out again a couple of weeks ago and unravelled parts of the sleeves and about half of the skirt. For a moment I had the impulse to go on and undo it completely but then decided to try one more thing and here it is. The underside of the sleeves are sewn to the skirt’s hem. This dress-shape has been on my mind for a while, it crops up again and again in tiny drawings all through my sketchbook, but I’ve had reservations about making it (and posting it). It seems it needed to be done. And now reflected about.
I’ve been thinking about myself as an artist, as usually having a bit of a crisis about it, and wonder if this dress may be about how I feel as an artist. The kind of work I make is not abstract, it is heavily anchored in being and feeling, in being embodied, being a woman. For me the artist’s work cannot be done without questioning aspects of oneself. It means that I am laying myself open, to myself first of all, but also to anybody who looks at the work and engages with it.
Inhabiting this dress means being locked in that gesture (until 'she' slips out of the dress), every movement of her arms has an impact on the degree to which she conceals/reveals herself. Being an artist is what I consider best about myself but it is not a clear-cut thing, its aspects pull in opposite directions: there is the urge to tug away at curtains, to worry wounds, to reveal and display, and vulnerability, even shame about doing just that and maybe doing it badly. Also fear and uncertainty about what one brings to light, as that is by no means obvious when starting the work.
This dress has gone through so many shapes (and even this text has gone through umpteen mutations, its slant changing, its mood, its content). This is its ultimate shape and as a mark of finality I have washed it. In the morning, when I decided to post the dress, I had no clear idea what concerns it would bring up for me beyond what made me do the work in the first place - they came out in the writing. More questions buzz in my head: Do I see the artist as a child? (No, but…) Is my work too self-referential? (Maybe, but…) To what extent can one control how one’s work is read and is that an issue that the artist should consider? How does one cope with criticism or the lack of interest? And fundamentally, for myself: is it all worth the effort? There's more, there's always more, but I'm too tired now.
Fittingly I have started crocheting a mask, knowing full well it will conceal as much as it will reveal.

Dimensions: 46 x 68 cm (incl. coathanger)


cally said...

such a treat to be getting so many posts from you here. i'm always thrilled to see your work at any stages or incarnation.

you are so much braver than me. i've shown almost none of what i consider my 'real' work on my blog. it's so personal in all the ways you discuss here. i'm too scared to open myself up that way yet but enormously admire that you do.

each time you take the step and show your pieces i feel my courage strengthen a little about showing my own one day.

i like that we share a tendancy to re-work and reassess pieces over long periods of time (clearly you do it more successfully). i often think i could solve some of my financial troubles by selling my oldest (and i think 'best'works) but they are not, may never be, finished and they are such a part of myself that i don't know if i can part with them, even if they take up too much space. even if they are starting to decay in damp boxes (sounds like my own health).

i suspect i will feel very differently when i have my home as a home again. so strange to finally have a house that is mine (albeit a mobile one) and yet to feel less rooted, less nested than ever before. all those years of having to live with my parents friends during school never made me feel so adrift as i now feel having a house that i can't finish building. and until i feel i have that safe, secure, warm place to reach out from i doubt i will be ready to expose my real artistic self.

sorry, i'm having a midnight rant having a crick in my back and needing distraction.

back to the red dress, the ever changing handlebar dress. it makes me think of my own childhood shyness and that classic thing girls do when we pull up the edge of our dress to hide our faces so we won't be looked at, not realising it makes people look more.

i wish i had access to my own dress work to share with (only) you. They were made into lamps, which was too strange a leap for the tutors in the textile Dept. They were not keen on interior textiles, particularly not on on-off pieces... but pieces with meaning? Is this girl crazy??? Perhaps but it was more real for me than designing clothes for mass production. My obsession with light has never faded (ha, made myself chuckle there - i'm easy to please). I find it hard not to make light, or shadows with all my work. Perhaps another reason why i began to use so much white. most of the dresses then were pale so the light would shine through and highlight the threads, folds, creases, tears. the signs of age and wear from the previous incarnation (often curtain linings and bed linen).

some had printed and dyed aspects which were often hidden when the light was off, but would be revealed when it was switched on. secret messages. secret marks.

i often wonder, if i had had the ability to put my meaning and ideas into words would things have been different. would they have understood or encouraged me. would i have felt i could show others instead of hiding the pieces away and making quick crappy alternatives to show in front of the class?

probably not, not in that department, but maybe at a later stage. that's why it's so nourishing to read your words and thought processes. they are not exactly the same, but many are similar themes and ways of thinking and reading them makes me feel there was validity in my own work at that time, that i was just imagining it.

perhaps if i ever show my work i should employ you to write your response to it by way of introduction..i'm sure it would fit better than anything i'd write.

i was interested that you, too, write and rewrite posts. i have many sitting as drafts with my work attached that have been getting rewritten for 2 years. perhaps i will post them eventually. or perhaps it's just some sort of therapy ro rewrite each month.

it's good to see you being so present here during the easter break and to enjoy this heavenly blend of art and poetry that you are sharing with us.

i imagine you are joined in your garden by a choraus of birds now, if you are awake early (or up late). so often i only realise i've been awak all night because i hear the 1st birds, and they sing me back to sleep. wishing you well marion, with pen and threads.

Catherine said...

I am really fascinated by the red dresses and the continual exploration of a apparently simple design. The reading of work must vary from person to person, because we each have our own history inbedded in our subconscious. It only matters that we read it 'correctly' if you intend to say something specific with the work. I enjoy the different readings.
The work is doll like but not necessarily child like. There is too much implied and I think it would be disturbing if the reading was only related to a child. I feel that the dresses relate to a woman.

For the new 'handlebar dress' there is something about revealing, and because it is a dress there is something sexual about the revealing. That might be difficult to avoid. It does seem to be a new feeling which I have not read in the previous dresses, which were quite closed in a lot of ways.

I really think that you should try to exhibit the dresses. I think you would get feedback from public other than your unline admirers. There is a Threadneedle figurative prize coming up at mall galleries. You might not be able to travel to London to see the place but I would strongly suggest you submit your work. site for info:

It is not the prize itself which might be great but the exposure for you work that would be great.
Think about it.

redredday said...

i agree with what Catherine said about different readings per person. and how this dress is more doll-like and not necessarily child-like, and definitely relating more to a woman than a child. while the dress is about revealing, i am not sure if it is more revealing in the sense of much being concealed because of how explicit the gesture is. i am not left questioning what i don't already know as i would have in the previous incarnations with the unraveled redness coming out from under the skirt. but i like it that it is not as static as the previous handlebar form. there is a motion suggested even as it is 'locked in', as you say.
how are you feeling about this now, Marjojo? it's interesting that you had to go through the physical motion of washing to finalize it.

do you think it is always good to get feedback while you are in the midst of questioning things, processing your work? i've been kind of wondering about that. i want to be able to take in feedback without losing my own thought process. i came to a small conclusion that blogging is good training for that.

i am very very curious about your crochet mask!! hope you will exhibit your dresses too. (i'll definitely vote for yours! :). )

Marjojo said...

Thank you all for your feedback! I will answer in detail as soon as I have the energy. In the meantime I've decided to change the image as in the end I felt uncomfortable with it as it was. Some more thinking to do...

redredday said...

Marjojo, i love it so much more the way you have it now. interesting how what a difference that makes in the reading of it. it feels more complete being together. also makes me wish to see 100, 1000 more incarnations of her because SHE is endless!

Kruse said...

I have come here after the image was changed, so I cannot respond quite how the others have.
There is always this deep conflict in making art because we are always opening ourselves up to opinion. I am trying to foster a non-attachment thinking when it comes to others opinions. It is a bugger if you get nice feedback because you have to let it pass through you, but then conversely it is great if you get a negative opinion because you have to let it pass through you...
Much of our angst is due to profound feelings of shame. Shame that we can think a certain way, shame that we might be judged and found wanting, shame that we do this job in a conflicted world, shame of our gender, shame of our weakness, on and on.
I am really fighting with a desire to stop showing work, stop blogging, stop craving response. I don't know yet which way to go. What I do know is that we are actually doing a joyful thing, being artists. What we really need is cake, champagne and a bloody good knees-up!
May I also echo Catherine's desire to see your work in the flesh?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anna MR said...

Hei Ms Manipelt, just wanted to tell you I really loved the red dresses.