For over twenty years I made drawings of clothes I planned to wear. This drawing practice was a way to imagine myself in future situations, in an idealized state, and served as a positive form of visualization. They were quick, gestural sketches, sometimes precisely annotated with descriptive words that helped round out the “image” I was hoping to create, through dress. Yet these drawings were also an index of my ambivalence about my appearance; they speak to an unsatisfiable yearning for confidence and control.
A very private activity, this sketching also served me in a fundamentally practical way. Without a visual list I used to be unable to successfully pack a suitcase. My drawings were an important means by which I pictured myself in space and time, a method through which I helped myself think about what I would need and wear, and where. Drawing thus helped me to prepare for what I expect to encounter in public, from inclement weather to the judgements of others. Through them I groomed, mentally, for the physical experience of being in the world, not in the Heideggerian sense, by which there are “authentic” and “inauthentic” modes of being, but in the material, embodied, gendered reality of emplacement and subjectivity, which I see as inherently multiple. I must be more than one self; my life requires it. During these years, the act of drawing helped me to costume myself for the various parts of my life I had agreed to play.
These dressing sketches are scattered across my private journals from the 1980s to until 2012. Although no drawing in the series can claim status as art, cumulatively the images are a visual practice that speaks to a creative negotiation of the fine line between private and public. That line is also at stake in the physical spaces of Ludique, a consultancy/art gallery in Montreal’s Mile End district. Ludique’s day job is to professionally counsel women and men in their clothing choices, and thus, enable and encourage their own embodied navigation between private and public identities.
La Boîte Ludique is an exhibition platform within the consultancy, whose mandate is to show art that addresses clothing, self-image, or garment design. For the inaugural exhibition of La Boîte Ludique, I chose to engage with the context and affect of Ludique, where clients seek to cross the threshold between private and public with greater confidence.
A selection of approximately 100 dressing and packing sketches made between 1992-2002 were hung, salon-style, in one of Ludique’s private consulting rooms. My intervention made small adjustments to this room, such as placing a red chair and sketchbook in one corner of the room, where visitors could sit, and draw themselves. In this space of withdrawal, I shared my dressing sketches not as “high art” but ather as an invitation to visitors to reflect on their own practices of thickening the skin. Implicit here as well is the invitation to gaze upon the drawings, and to gaze upon oneself. Who would be able to resist the opportunity to assess their appearance in the mirror before returning to the larger, more convivial space of the vernissage?
drawings for a thicker skin was a public showing of a personal drawing practice. By exhibiting this work in a mirrored room, in the spaces of a personal image consulting firm, I aimed, to borrow from Elizabeth Grosz, to make visible and intensify through the translation of this private practice into public art – an installation. I aimed to engage in a dialogue with the discerning, self-critical, yet also creative and pleasurable work that people undertake as they dress every day. Through its context, the installation also invited reflection on the role of clothing as a key medium by which people effect their transition from one space, and one self, into the self they share with the world.
After this exhibition, I stopped drawing clothing sketches.
For a fuller discussion of this project in relation to body image, skin studies, art and gender, please see this interview between Cynthia Hammond and Marc Lafrance in Body & Society (2018).
Special thanks to Isabelle Pichet for help with French translation for the accompanying catalogue, and to Caroline Alexander and Jeff Golf of Ludique/La Boîte Ludique for inviting me to have their inaugural exhibition.