BAR Magazine

Issue 02

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“Code-Stitch: Resistance in Apparel” Uses Clothing as a Platform for Feminist Resistance

Review

by Kevin Le Blanc

20 April 2018

How's Howard, Installation View, “Code-Stitch: Resistance in Apparel” 2018

How’s Howard Gallery, first exhibition in their new Distillery Building location is currently showing “CODE-STITCH: RESISTANCE IN APPAREL,” featuring three female artists whose work fleshes out current political and social feminist revolutions from a highly personal lens. Aptly shown during the height of discourse around centuries of sexual, political, and social inequality. In the media we see impassioned and emboldened women who have collectively galvanized to take steps in order to change the systematic circumstances they have been forced into for centuries. Inside How’s Howard Gallery, an equally as emboldened  trio of artists, Melanie Bernier, Katarina Riesing and Sophie Treppendahl showcase work that deals directly with gender identity, feminism, gaze, and discrimination through apparel.

How’s Howard’s new space is cozy, the light soothing, and the intimacy of the original wood floors and brick walls in the gallery allows for organic dialogue between the three artists’ distinct styles as well as with the audience.

Artist Katarina Riesing presents works in several media, most prominently displaying a rack of clothing with hand-embroidered stitching of various body parts onto coats, shirts, and scarves. The rack is inviting, demanding the direct engagement of the audience as one works through the rack of reworked garments. Her stitched hands, often with severed fingers and playful drops of blood, dominate both a simple cotton stretch bodysuit and a reworked denim smock dress, foreboding the fate of anyone audacious enough to touch the individual wearing  the garment. The artist also works with silk scarves and dyes them with neutral tones. The delicate silk prints portray various perspectives of the female and male body, with both male and female genitalia being explicitly or implicitly displayed for the viewer to connect with. The overarching feeling of the silks is one of female dominance and control, as a lace-ensconced hand wrings a male nipple with the words “TRUE LOVE” etched into his chest with a razor. Here, in Riesing’s world, female pleasure is derived entirely from female agency and operates to subvert the notion of female objectivity and passivity. The simplistic clothing bring the female body to the forefront and suggest femininity and eroticism without the traditional notions of sexual pleasure as determined by unrealistic images that are typically forced upon women.

Melanie Bernier Couldn't Warn Ya (Soggy Whistle), 2017 Used jeans, used robe, wool, tencel 16" x 22"

This female independence and assertion seamlessly flows through Melanie Bernier’s work. As a zero-waste artist, Bernier works with found materials and clothing that create a conversation with the reworking of fabrics, creating a secondhand feel that entices the viewer with its familiarity. Beyond the material, the objects she has created recall schooltime objects. A whistle, a deflated basketball and a drum all exist in the subconscious of students everywhere and evoke a sense of touch and viewer participation. Without air in the whistle and basketball, they lay deflated; as does the snare drum lay silent without the tap of a drumstick. Bernier elevates this participatory spirit to a feminist level by adding the words “NO” and “OH WELL” to the pieces, perhaps pithy notes that engage with notions of action and inaction, giving voice to those previously silenced, flipping the construct of who initiates action and who is allowed to touch who, where. The denim jackets she has embroidered evoke the feminine method of needlepoint and embroidery, as Riesing’s work did, and hers take on the breadth of female expression by asserting themselves as respectable artworks, not mere handiwork as the crafts displayed normally are. Furthermore, as both artists work with clothing and fabrics, media typically associated with fashion and not the fine arts, they demolish the barriers between the two and suggest the performance of identity intrinsic in clothing choice incites powerful progress in power and position, both personally and politically.

Katarina Riesing True Love, 2017 Dye and puff paint on raw silk 24" x 20"

Finally, the discussion of female identity and voice in a #MeToo media world, takes on a somewhat apolitical, more personal stance in Sophie Treppendahl’s paintings, the most traditional artwork of the three artists. Her work features simplistic yet colorful renditions of common clothing items: a Hawaiian print shirt, a vintage t-shirt, a simple patterned blouse. By removing the wearer of the clothing and instead capturing the pieces themselves, Treppendahl’s ideas correlate with Riesing and Bernier’s decision to extrapolate meaning from clothing choices. While the former two are concerned with female body and space through clothing, Treppendahl leaves the viewer with little to no information as to the wearer of the clothing. Yet, from speaking with curator, John Roy, the pieces are meant to reflect items from friends and loved ones of Treppendahl. Without such context presented with the paintings, one is left to perhaps imagine trying on each piece of clothing, disintegrating long-held notions of gender performance and clothing associated with each gender’s outward appearance.  She leaves the decisions of object and owner up to the viewer, perhaps instilling agency in the viewer to wear clothing that falls in line with their aesthetic preference versus what might look best on the female or male body.

By blurring lines of gender performance and obfuscating the dominant ideologies of sexuality, these artists are making confident statements about what it means to express gender today, especially as females navigating the trepidatious complexities of sexual equality. The work leaves the viewer emboldened to question the way they give and receive pleasure, how the female body demands and denies this pleasure, and how female voices are working collectively to raise their voices to shift paradigms of womanhood and sexual freedom. Or, on a simpler, more satiable level, it allows the viewer to rethink their relationship with the clothing they wear, and just how much or how little they can share with the world through sartorial choice. The importance lies not in the choice of modesty or exposure, but instead lies in the newfound independence experienced through the act of dress. Reclaiming the quotidian task of dressing into a powerfully positively charged political statement gives agency back to the female, and her desire for choice is the start of a new code of sexual expression that these three female artists find solace in.

How's Howard, Installation View, “Code-Stitch: Resistance in Apparel” 2018

Code Stitch: Resistance in Apparel runs through April 20th at How’s Howard with a closing reception on April 20th from 7-10pm.