If ever an article of clothing symbolized the notions of desire and display that underlie women’s fashion, it would be the thong. The thong is as ubiquitous in lingerie shops and department stores (where thongs account for ninety percent of overall panty sales) as it is in the popular imagination. As the subject of casual cocktail party conversation, countless magazine articles, and even popular rock songs, the thong is now literally talked about everywhere. Fashion-conscious women ignore its original intent—invisible underwear. Instead, thongs are flaunted, worn wrapped up high over hips with backsides exposed by low-riding pants and skirts—the brighter, the better. As with bras in the eighties, the idea of a woman’s intimate apparel being an exclusively private aesthetic and erotic statement for the male gaze has been discarded. The thong has been reclaimed, and aggressively and publicly presented. Nowadays, the focus is less on who is looking than on who has decided to display.
E.V. Day’s G-Force, a new installation in the Sculpture Court of the Whitney Museum at Philip Morris, plays off this contemporary moment and the politics of desire and display—fantasy and fashion, femininity and fetishism—that have been of issue since women first got dressed. Drawing on elements of her earlier work exploring female icons, popular culture, and fashion, Day has cre-ated configurations of sleek flying objects from multicolored thongs and G-strings (black, silver, pink, and blue) that hang in groups from the ceiling. Approximately two hundred of these forms dive and swirl through the 40-foot-high space, transforming the cold, corporate architecture of the Sculpture Court into a kind of public aviary. The thongs, stretched and then hardened with polyurethane resin, create abstractions of flight and movement that animate the boundary between indoor and outdoor space. Caught in a moment of exploration and dynamic motion, they dart through the air with a purposive trajectory, imminently departing to parts unknown.
Day was inspired to use the thong in flight when she noticed increasing numbers of women wearing externally visible thongs. Seen from behind, the typical shape of a thong rising above a waistband closely resembles a child’s schematic drawing of a bird in flight, a curved letter V with a thicker middle juncture approximating the bird’s body and wings. Day envisioned a fantasy world in which thongs achieve sentience and spring off women’s bodies into the air of their own accord. She humorously describes this as the “liberation of the thong.”′ In a witty twist on the idea of women’s empowerment, the thong is itself empowered to soar. Thongs have shed their identity as mere bodily accessories and become beings in their own right, with focus and direction.
The arrested motion in G-Force—thongs frozen but definitively in transit—is characteristic of Day’s earlier work, which often presents her subject in a moment of trans-formation or transition, both spatially and conceptually. The suspended sculpture Bombshell, from her Exploding Couture series, captures an iconic object of clothing—the white dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch—at the instant it explodes. The motion of the dress recalls the famous scene in which Marilyn’s dress is blown up by air from a subway grate. In Bombshell, the force that lifted Marilyn’s skirt has become aggressive and explosive. The dress shatters into pieces, caught in the air on monofilaments strung from floor to ceiling on turnbuckles. The violence implicit in the piece is transformative rather than destructive. Day has isolated “a moment of release” when a woman “explodes the conventions of femininity.”′ By referencing an iconic female figure such as Marilyn Monroe, Day universalizes the possibility of breaking seemingly indestructible social constraints for all women. It is an ongoing and unfinished process, punctuated by drastic moments.
A similar logic applies to the most recent of Day’s Exploding Couture works, Transporter, in which a deconstructed silver sequined dress is also caught in a moment within the process of translocation. Transporter might be the next step after Bombshell; once convention has been shat-tered, one is free to achieve true transcendence. Transporter’s silvery scraps of fabric create a vertical outline that retains the essential shape of the dress, implying a transitional moment in which the dress (as woman) is dematerializing from this world to another—a sublime state of motion rather than one of violent rupture. The reference to the transporter in Star Trek links the work to an imagined world yet to come, a place still undefined and replete with possibility. Looking at the trajectory of Day’s previous work, the thongs in G-Force might be the inhabitants of this other world, returning en masse in perfect, unified formation to survey the world they left behind.
The installation of Transporter also included a collection of Day’s Celestial Pelvis sculptures—surgical wire shaped to suggest female genitalia and pelvic bones. Dripping with glittering drops of clear resin, the sculptures hung from the ceiling on monofilament, gently bobbing and swaying around the dematerializing sil-ver dress. Like the thongs in G-Force, the pelvises glorify the female genital region, and are glamorous, self-sustaining, and self-propelled. Hung in groups that suggest a sentience similar to that of the thongs, the pelvises propose a creature that is both familiar and alien, a hybrid state of being that suggests humanity but is clearly something else.
Like the Celestial Pelvis sculptures, much of Day’s work explores the interface between the organic and technological that so captivates contemporary society. Day, however, rejects the moralizing nature/science dualism that commonly characterizes discussions of the issue. In her work, the pelvises, thongs, and dresses offer the possibility of beauty and transcendence. They are a potential evolutionary step forward rather than horrifying aberrations. For example, Day’s wet-suit sculptures, dissected rather than exploded, are strung on surgical wire within metal, cagelike structures, that suggest the human form but as a new, artificial creature. Like peoples and societies on display at an anthropology museum, the wet suits are new beings to be observed. Yet the Dissected Wetsuit sculptures are not life-less, sanitized, emotionless, and scientific—they are uncomfortably alive. The rubbery material and the suggestion of bondage or capture enhance the sexually suggestive position of the figures. Although fixed, the wet suits’ various postures imply movement, bodies poised for action.
Unlike the glamorous, “feminine” materials of the Exploding Couture series, wet-suit fabric is technologically advanced, designed for perform-ance enhancement rather than aesthetics. The dissected wet suits, like the dresses, suggest a moment of transformation, and offer the possibility of transcending bodily constraints through technology rather than fan-tasy. Day’s work flirts with the questions, What is natural? What is artificial? It explores the body’s limits and anticipates the inevitable desire to overcome them.
With G-Force, Day continues her investiga-tion into the relationship between the organic and technological, and its inherent possibili-ties—both terrifying and thrilling—for transcendent synthesis. The thongs’ sleek, ele-gant forms simultaneously suggest diving birds of prey and high-tech fighter jets. This relation-ship is reinforced by their configurations, which mimic the formations of fighter jets and migrating birds (on which jet patterns are based). Although the thongs’ forms are stream-lined, sharp, and potentially dangerous, they do not resemble the animated objects of horror and science fiction. The fleets of thongs convey purposiveness above all else, “flying with some kind of intent”′ as they enter through the enor-mous windows, trace an exploratory reconnaissance around the space and then exit through the windows on the other side.
G-Force shares the fantastical aspects of Day’s previous work that is anchored in popular cul-ture by her choice of material. Like the dresses and wet suits, the thongs are re-envisioned, twisted and shaped into creatures whose basic material is not immediately recognizable. This is critical to the essential power of Day’s work, which has been described as “respatializ[ing] cul-tural artifacts...expanding and re-editing their fixed cultural value....” Day goes further than revealing the dormant meanings embedded in these familiar objects—she transforms, and often explodes them.
Thus G-Force is comprised of thongs that might have been purchased and worn if not other-wise employed in the installation. Day had no interest in creating her own thongs, despite some initial difficulty in procuring the ones she wanted. To have designed her own thong would have been to create “a sculpture based on a thong,” thereby weakening the installation’s associative meaning by eroding its connection to the thongs’ contemporary function. Using manufactured thongs also links the work to the commodification of desire and feminine sexuality, the material exchange of intangibles that underlies nearly all contemporary media.
The historical objectification of the female form, and its deconstruction by contemporary critical and cultural theorists, informs all of Day’s work. However, despite the serious nature of these issues, Day never loses her appreciation for the comedic surreal or for physical, sensual impact. The interpretation of clothing as metaphor for the female body enriches the multilayered meaning of her Exploding Couture series, while at the same time the work embraces the idea of pleasure even as it critiques it. Day’s feminism is passionately feminine, as evidenced by the delirious motion of the Exploding Couture dresses or the evocative glitter of the Celestial Pelvis.