Expanded practice

Gold lace cocktail dress, 2021, acrylic artist's paint on found altered vintage handmade guipure lace cocktail dress, paired with found blue panelled cocktail dress, vintage timber hangers, 112 x 117 x 6cm approx. (dimensions variable), from the series Don't get your dress dirty

My rolling project The semiotics of the dress poses the question, “What does it mean to wear the sign of the dress today?”.  By using the dress as both metaphor and metonym for woman, this found homemade vintage cocktail dress carries the heavy trace of its former maker and wearer.  The labour of this unknown woman is celebrated and remembered in this artwork which challenges us to consider what has changed and what has stayed the same for women over time.  The concepts behind The semiotics of the dress are keenly relevant today as Australia readdresses its commitment to improving gender equality for all women and girls as seen through the microcosm of the current parliamentary scandals.

 

By combining painting and sculpture with clothing, fabric and other textiles, I create unique hybrid art objects that challenge the boundaries between art and craft, object and artwork.  I carry out interventions on found women’s clothing using house paint and acrylic artist’s paint as a metaphor for challenging gender roles, stereotypes and sexism. 

 

Gold lace cocktail dress has been created by adding and removing layers of paint, producing a wearable palimpsest.  The front lining has been cut out, making the front of the dress simultaneously solid and transparent.  This duality of visibility and invisibility symbolises the persistent problem of gender equality and inequality for Australian women and girls. 

Dusty pink lace cocktail dress, 2021, acrylic artist's paint on found handmade silk and silk lace cocktail dress, paired with found handmade mint green lace cocktail dress, vintage timber hangers, dimensions variable, from the series Don't get your dress dirty

Pink sequined cocktail dress, 2021, acrylic artist's paint on found altered cocktail dress, paired with found cream lace cocktail dress, vintage timber hangers, dimensions variable, from the series Don't get your dress dirty

"A beautiful, quietly dignified work."
Natalie Billing
Artist
"So many nuanced decisions."
Leigh Schoenheimer
Artist
"Your show has opened the gateway to reflection of our own memories."
Andrea Pollock
Exhibition visitor

Object memory poem, 2020, acrylic house paint and acrylic artist’s paint on found carpet rug, found fabric lamp shade and jar lids, glass jars, household objects, ephemera, vintage timber plinths, dimensions variable.  Installed at The Shed, Old Museum Building, Bowen Hills

 

The year 2020 has been a difficult one for most people and – like many artists – in order to cope and to keep making, I looked inwards.

Located in the field of expanded painting, this installation seeks to blur the boundaries between art and life – between object and artwork – the practice allowing for multiple readings and resonances for the viewer.  In such an affective field, the concept of absence and presence is amplified by the incorporation of common household objects that contain complex systems of signs and act as signifiers for the viewer, triggering memories.  The interplay between object, artwork and site, in this case historic, can lead to a sense of the uncanny as the viewer experiences a work that is both familiar and unfamiliar.

Essentially, I have put my memories into glass jars to produce a curated self-portrait, the jars being metaphors for the way people retain and store memories.  The jars are also a reference to museum collection methods in respect to the Old Museum Building’s former role as Brisbane’s city museum, a place I visited as a child and in which I later underwent orchestral training.  The jars signify objecthood – the material properties of objects, such as shape, colour and texture – which is an integral consideration of my visual art practice, whether I am working in two or three dimensions.  The jars rest on Sculptors Qld’s vintage timber plinths – relics of art world material culture.  In these ways, Object memory poem can be read as both site-specific and deeply personal.

Hope is a form of planning and a survival tactic, 2020, found denim jeans and skirt, thread, polyester wadding, canvas, timber, six panels, each panel 51.2 x 46.2 x 5cm approx., installed dimensions 114.5

x 161.5cm approx.

“Hope is a form of planning.”  Gloria Steinem

I am an egalitarian.  Egalitarians believe in equality and respect for all people regardless of sex, gender, cultural background, age or ability.  We reject hierarchical systems such as bias, prejudice and racism, and advocate for an equal and just society.

My visual art practice is guided by my egalitarian philosophy.  It centres around the themes of identity and the mind and is usually expressed as portraiture or self-portraiture in abstract or representational form.  My primary media are paint and textiles with a focus on repurposing found clothing sourced from op-shops.  I am particularly interested in the sign value of clothing – what it says about the wearer, how these signs are read by others and how clothing can be used to perpetuate hierarchical systems.

As a sensitive person who feels deeply, this year has been hard for me – as it has been for all of us.  This work is a kind of global portrait of humanity and a prayer for global harmony and equality.  Denim fabric was chosen specifically for its democratic quality – all people, of all ages and identities, can wear denim.  Denim is classless and transcends cultural boundaries.  It is universal.

Monument, 2020, gesso and artist’s oil paint on found women's tops and canvas, 137.1x 152.4 x 6.4cm

Monument is part of my rolling expanded painting and expanded portraiture project, The Semiotics of the Dress, which investigates the sign-value of women’s clothing and its relationship to gender bias. 

Eco, Barthes, Wilson and others have proposed that clothing functions as a system of signs, or a kind of language.  By focusing on women’s clothing, I aim to engage viewers in a discussion about what it means to identify or be identified as a woman, non-binary or other person today.

 

This work is important in the broader context because gender equality for women has not been achieved in Australia - women and girls of all identities continue to face disadvantage and discrimination due to persisting conscious and unconscious biases, evidenced by realities such as the widening gender pay gap. 

Clothing and textiles are universal and transcend cultural boundaries.  The women’s clothing I use stands in for the women themselves.

Mother and daughter (diptych), 2020, acrylic house paint, acrylic artist's paint, found linen-blend dress, paired with found girl's dress, hangers, dimensions variable

This work represents the first painted dress I made in late 2017 and pairs it with an embellished little girl's pink party dress.  The juxtaposition highlights the similarities between women's and girls' clothing styles and poses the question: Can women ever grow up to become the equivalent of their adult male counterparts or must they stay forever infantilised?  This work highlights the power of the sign of the dress and its ambivalent qualities.

Dress Shop Window Wonderland, 2020, acrylic artist’s paint and house paint on found evening dresses, fabric, string lights, armature wire, nylon and polyester thread, dimensions variable approx. 2m x 4m x 1m

Installation view at the Window Gallery, Pine Rivers Art Gallery, Strathpine, February-March 2020

Dress Shop Window Wonderland is an installation work designed specifically for the Pine Rivers Window Gallery space.  The installation draws on the codes and conventions of classic retail dress and department shop window installations and fuses these with the codes and conventions of visual art installation and the ball/school formal/prom.  The resulting installation both draws the viewer in and, with a hint of the uncanny, raises questions about gender performance in contemporary society.

The Wondering Project (Bendigo), 2019, community collaborative art project

This collaborative community art project invited everyday women to tell their stories.  Members of the Bendigo community choir Women Of Note shared key life experiences through personal reflections, photographs and a carefully curated exhibition of dresses and other significant items of clothing.  The women's reflections were exhibited with a support photograph and the item of clothing if available.  Carla's reflection was conceived in the form of a poem.

Installation view at Dudley House, Bendigo, August 2019. For more images, please see the relevant blog post

Untitled (silver shift dress), 2019, acrylic artist’s paint on found dress, 91 x 63 x 10cm approx.

This work was chosen as finalist in the 44th Rio Tinto Martin Hanson Memorial Art Awards 2019

Strapless purple satin dress (make a statement), 2019, acrylic artist’s paint on found dress, 133.5 x 65 x 12cm approx.

Navy blue formal dress (shibori), 2019, acrylic artist’s paint on found homemade formal dress, 136 x 69 x 21cm approx.

Sapphire blue formal dress (slashes), 2019, acrylic house paint and artist’s paint on found dress, 159 x 64 x 22cm approx.

Two journal entries (I felt) 2019, acrylic artist’s paint and oil stick on silk dress fabric, 79 x 98 x 5cm approx.

The dress as a sign can be read very differently by others.  These statements were taken from journal entries collected at The Semiotics of the dress exhibition in Brisbane in March earlier in 2019.  The journal entries describe how each person felt when they held a particular dress from the participatory artwork Shopping for a dress against themselves.

My shiny new egalitarianism, 2019, acrylic and enamel house paint and acrylic artist’s paint on found dresses and found bedsheet, 203 x 230 x 8cm approx. (detail)

I propose that in order to achieve functional equality for women as a group, we must first ‘decolonise’ women from the patriarchal system.  In order to decolonise women and in fact all groups, including men, from the patriarchal system, I argue that we must begin afresh with a new system.  The one T J Demos proposes for the environment is egalitarianism.  What better system could there be to organise society justly than egalitarianism - respect and equality for all people regardless of sex, gender, cultural background, age or ability? 

egalitarian (talking about women in a non-gender-specific post-feminist landscape), 2019, acrylic house paint, acrylic artist’s paint and oil stick on found dresses, 106 x 680 x 11.5cm approx.

How did we manage to arrive in this place, both institutionally and socially, where it is uncomfortable to talk about women as a group?  And shouldn’t Feminism, as a vehicle designed to incite social change, have already delivered us to that place of equity and equality that generations past have fought for?  Something has definitely gone wrong in the process.

So how do we talk about women as a group on the basis of sameness in a climate of self-expression, difference and diversity? And how do we incite positive change for women in Australia?

egalitarian -adj. 1 of or relating to the principle of equal rights and opportunities for all (an egalitarian society). 2 advocating this principle. -n. a person who advocates or supports egalitarian principles. egalitarianism n. [F égalitaire f. égal EQUAL]

Shopping for a dress, 2019, found dresses, cardboard labels, safety pins, hangers, portable clothes rack, full-length mirror, chair, table, journal, pen, dimensions variable (participatory artwork)

Photo Steve Mardon

The viewer is invited to choose a dress from the rack - it may be a dress they like, or one they don’t like.  The viewer is then invited to hold the dress up against themselves in the mirror and consider how the dress makes them feel.  There is a journal on the table to record responses should the viewer wish to share them - responses may be anonymous.

Proposition, 2019, acrylic house paint, acrylic artist’s paint and graphite on silk dress fabric, 52.5 x 63cm

"I propose that the semiotic value of clothing overrides any identifying label we may choose for ourselves or have imposed upon us - that if we wear the sign of the dress, we will be labelled as women and treated accordingly."

The text on this banner is deliberately hard to read to emphasise the paradoxical visibility and invisibility of gender equality and inequality for women and girls.

Undefined, 2019, shop-bought grey top,  56 x 63cm approx.

This item of women’s clothing demonstrates the potential of clothing’s sign-value to override the wearer’s chosen identifying label or labels.  The wearer of this top seeks to be undefinable - maybe in terms of their personality or gender - but the sign-value of the top clearly labels the wearer as woman due to its styling: the ruffle at the raised hemline, the width of the cut and the short sleeve length are all stylistic characteristics of women’s clothing.  The wearer of this top defines themselves as woman.

International Women's Day, 2019, intervention in the Griffith QCA concourse void consisting of found and donated dresses affixed to rope, dimensions variable

Photo Steve Mardon

Vintage black and white dress (Elizabeth meets Jackson), 2019, acrylic house paint on found taffeta and velvet dress, 149 x 73 x 10cm approx.

Queen Elizabeth I and Jackson Pollock were headstrong, innovative thinkers and heroes of their own times, though for very different reasons.  This vintage evening dress channels Queen Elizabeth I in its ruffled lace collar and stark black and white colour scheme.  The imposing aura of the dress is complemented by the playful curlicues of the paint.

The power differential often experienced by women does not apply if the woman is queen.  

Ruby red satin dress (217 years), 2018, acrylic house paint on found satin and chiffon dress, 165.5 x 60.5 x 10cm approx.

This artwork is a meditation on global equality for women.

 

Australia’s global ranking for gender equality for women has been slipping since its peak in 2006 when it was ranked 15th.  In 2017, Australia was ranked 35th and it was projected that it would take 217 years to achieve global equality for women. In its December 2018 report, Australia fell to 42nd and the figure was recalibrated to 202 years.

 

In Australia, domestic violence against women statistics are rising.  I fear for the women around the world who are not as fortunate as those living here in Australia.

The Three Graces, 2018, acrylic and oil paint on found dresses and linen, 164.5 x 193.5 x 11.5cm approx.

 

This work was chosen as finalist in the Redland Art Awards 2018

This work is a contemporary response to the narrative of The Three Graces originating from Greek mythology.  The daughters of Zeus were said to exemplify the three feminine graces: youth and beauty (Thalia), mirth (Euphrosyne) and elegance (Aglaia). Many artists throughout history have depicted the three daughters in various guises, notably the Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova.

I observe that women's dresses today continue to feature the drapery of Classical Greece.  With this in mind, I consider what has changed and what has stayed the same for women since antiquity, using the readymade dress as both medium and support.

I am the dress - Genevieve Memory
00:00 / 00:00

I am the dress, 2018, acrylic house paint, acrylic artist's paint, silk wedding dress, sound file, 163 x 110 x 110cm approx.

In this artwork, I am using the dress as both metaphor and metonym for myself, a woman.  The dress both represents, symbolically, my womanhood, but also stands in for myself.  I have become the dress and the dress has become me.  My label of woman and the symbol of the dress have become synonymous.  The dress can be read as symbol for woman in places such as on public toilet doors, and can also be used to stand in for woman, such as in the expression, “Who’s the dress?”

I have chosen to paint my own wedding dress.  At one level, this can be read as taking an everyday object or readymade and transforming it into an art object through the application of paint.  At another level, by choosing to paint my own wedding dress, I am carrying out an intervention on a unique symbolic object of ritual, which may seem perverse to some.  However, unlike cutting, tearing or burning, the intervention on the dress is passive.  The paint toughens and strengthens the fabric and from the artistic labour of painting, something new is born.  I am reborn.  I am the dress.

Dignity lost, 2018, acrylic, oil, oil stick and silk on bonded linen-cotton, 109.5 x 150 x 9cm approx.

Abstract painting, 2017, wool fibre on silk chiffon, 175 x 170cm approx.

Linen dress, 2017, acrylic house paint, acrylic artist's paint, found linen-blend dress, 92 x 53 x 11cm approx.

This work was chosen as finalist in the Moreton Bay Region Art Awards 2018

Substance (this is not a wardrobe), 2017, acrylic house paint and acrylic artist's paint on found wardrobe, installation view

This work was created in collaboration with Perrin Millard and Chris Underwood

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© 2021 by Genevieve Memory. Images and text remain the property of Genevieve Memory and are subject to copyright. 

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Acknowledgement for all artworks appearing on this Instagram feed can be found on each individual Instagram post.