Empty Dress: Clothing as Surrogate in Recent Art focuses on the use of clothing in art as a means of investigating issues of cultural and sexual difference, in particular the construction of gender including gender stereotypes, the instability of gendered identity, and the fluidity of gender boundaries.
The clothing we wear serves as a form of non-verbal communication to the people with whom we interact. Clothing can identify gender, beliefs, lifestyles, occupations, and anything else one wishes to announce about oneself. As long as clothing is worn, though, the only information communicated will be about the wearer. Only when we are completely denuded, when clothing is examined in an abstract sense, can we come to understand its unique language. What form conveys male as opposed to female? What makes a certain style of cut, fabric, and colors straight or gay? Empty Dress analyzes clothing as a form irrespective of a specific wearer, and reveals the depth of personal politics in the way we dress.
Some of the artists in the exhibition use the ‘empty dress’ as a narrative clue or memento mori, exploring clothing as a repository of emotion, dreams, anxiety, desire, and ethos. Others use articles of clothing in photos, video, and sculpture as a surrogate for the human body in order to examine their meaning and to underscore the significance of the absent body. The common thread in Empty Dress is the role that clothing plays in the construction of identity. Removal of the body calls attention to the artifice of clothes and makes their implicit codes more accessible to interpretation. The body’s absence also demands that we read between the lines, examining the meaning of what is not represented – examining the conditions of representation itself. The fabric of each work is woven of many threads. “Everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered.”