Today is Tuesday, March 12, 2013. And today Martin, the Registrar at the Boca Museum, had me document each piece of the exhibition Jody Culkin: Refashioned. This exhibition subverts traditional functions of women’s apparel. Now, Jody Culkin: Refashioned is slightly left of wacky, right of weird, and smack dab in the middle of wait, what, why?! Let me paint you a picture: mesh, broken glass, chains, bright fabric, water, light, cameras, and eyes.
Jody Culkin: Refashioned reveals the chains of women fashion, and reinvents them in a capricious light to expose the issue of fashion: our clothes can make us prisoners. Much of her inspiration came from the Victorian household she grew up in (inside information thanks to curator Kathy Goncharov, a close friend of Culkin’s). So the contemporary artist refashioned pieces of art take modern daywear and transform them with a Victorian element.
As an active feminist, Culkin’s art also contains elements of female anatomy. This image sparks confusion in our minds as we try to compartmentalize the vision of the art. But contemporary art is not meant to be compartmentalized, it has an agenda of its own, and a large amount of history to play with. There is a refashioned burka out of white mesh with little purple propellers on each sleeve. This may be so the wearer can fly away from her repression.
However, the onlooker will notice the gold rectangle as the eye piece and it creates a sense of suppressed, imprisoned, clothing that is not simply a woman’s dress but her fabricated chains. And as we view this piece, we feel trapped, ensnared. A little to the right is a hanging chain of black mesh filled with broken glass. It begs the question, what kind of jewelry are your chains made from? Subversive, yes. Repressive, no!
As I fulfilled the task of documenting and measuring each piece of art, a few museum visitors took a look around. The immediate reaction of many was to turn and walk away- I actually heard “no, I don’t like this” from a woman within the first 20 seconds looking around her. Other women would exclaim at how cute the purse with the roving eyes is, but they would silently pass by the more abrasive elements of the collection. I wanted to give them a tour so they could understand that this exhibit is meant to cause unease!
If only the women would have read the introduction to Jody Culkin: Refashioned they would have understood this art is not to look pretty. It is not to please the eye. It is to open the mind through the eyes. It is meant to make you feel. The exaggeration of the refashioned pieces is a call to arms: as a woman, how does our dress confine us? Does it present a feminine image that is meant to please the looker? Does our dress please us at all besides in the validation of the onlookers?
And which ogglers are we dressing to impress, exactly? How are we empowered when we display our bodies in this way? The exhibition itself exposes that if something is not “appealing” or “pleasant” to look at, our immediate reaction is to recoil. Does this look nice? No? Then I want nothing to do with it. How would you feel if people talked about you that way? And if we realize that we have the same reaction, wouldn’t it be better to take a moment and let the art enter our brain, twist around our neurons and shoot something?
We cannot only appreciate the beautiful, the perfectly packaged. Most of it is just a mirage. Once we stop aiming for perfection and niceties we could accomplish something with our minds, our voice. Hence contemporary art, such as Jody Culkin: Refashioned, is an expression of where our world came from, the history of the upright Victorian society. And Jody Culkin: Refashioned is also a silent commentary on our reactions to something a contemporary artist refashioned to be less than perfect. Chains or shackles, our perception must break those gold and silver loops that keep us lost and mesmerized.