Words, in the following paragraphs, will fail me I’m sure. This is because I’m going to attempt to describe a disjoined thought process. My art will never be high concept, ideas normally just pop into my head and I do it…without any thought at all really but this project, which is a work in progress, did have a thought process behind it. Or at least a series of musings that inspired it. It is also a collaboration…another thing I am not used to. It is a collaboration with the person who probably inspired the whole thing in the first place, feminist lingerie designer Ruth Schechner (click her name for her blog).
I guess I always thought of myself as a feminist in as much as I always felt that the liberation and empowerment of women was a good thing but I never thought too hard about it. I was fascinated when I met Ruth and she told me about her drive to design “beautiful under garb that women can be sexually expressive in without allowing themselves to be/feel objectified sexually.” We’ve had a few discussions since regarding female sexual expression and the history of female sexual repression and linking it to creativity. Seeds were scattered in my mind.
I also found myself thinking I had noticed a link between the vintage aesthetic (predominately 1920’s to 1950’s) and an openness regarding sexual expression. This could well be a load of tosh but it was just a casual observation on a personal level. The performance art of burlesque also seems to support this idea. The dominant audience for burlesque is women, it is a very feminist form of sexual expression and its aesthetics are vintage. I find this fascinating because the style is taken from a period of time where there was still a tremendous deal of inequality between the sexes. It almost feels to me like a way of liberating that time period. It could also be a connection with that period of time during two world wars when women’s liberation moved forward in some great bounds, the right to vote, effectively proving that woman could do the same jobs as men when they stepped up to essentially run the country while most of the men of Europe tried to kill each other, erotic literature for women written by women (Delta of Venus by Anais Nin) etc.
For whatever reason these threads of thought lead me to started thinking about putting vintage nudes on tea cups. I was thinking that afternoon tea was this very open and proper activity back in the day in England, in a time where female sexual expression was quite the opposite. I liked the idea of having illustrations that were about female sexuality on objects symbolic of a controlled and ‘wholesome’ ritual in a repressed time. Initially I thought I would use drawings of Victorian nudes, partly because I wanted to go pre-war to a time where female liberation and sexual empowerment were even more repressed. I had a doubt however, were Victorian nudes photographed purely for the sexual gratification of men? I wasn’t sure but it seemed likely to me.
I then thought again of what Ruth was trying to achieve and fell in love with the idea of putting Ruth’s ‘feminist lingerie’ on Victorian nudes and then putting said nudes on objects from the tea service. So here is the first airing of the first pieces in this collaboration. Ruth designed the outfits and I drew the illustrations and attached them to china. What makes it just that little bit more perfect is that Ruth and I met in a vintage tearoom. I’m can’t comment if any of the above comes across in them but I’m pleased with them.