Did you change your name? What do the initials stand for? No. The "e" and the "v" are initials for family names that my parents could not decide between. I do like to ploy with the possibilities of what they could stand for, such as "escape velocity" or "electric vehicle" or "extra value." It is fun to be androgynous.
How did the earlier pieces in the show develop? I think the Dissected Wetsuit is the earliest? The Mummified Burbles are earlier, actually. I've been making them all along since 1991. One of the main reasons for working with Barbie is about referencing popular culture. Using such an icon can be very cliché and campy. A one-liner. That's why I didn't think that the piece would ever go very far. However, as simplistic as this image might seem, I think it's also very complex, in that it's so telling about our culture. We've always represented ourselves in these exaggerated forms, like the Venus of Willendorf. Our development as a species is at a stage where we can endlessly alter our bodies. A hundred years ago the idea of the cyborg would have been unthinkable. Barbie is also very complex because she functions as a mirror that can be debilitating to women.
In your work, it becomes clear that Barbie is more about male fantasies. Exactly. I think lingerie, too, is more about male ideas about femininity. To me it is a question of how to frame these things in a way that's empowering instead of being dominated by them. I'm interested in ideas of feminine wile and how men can feel so threatened by it.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? Where do you position yourself in the context of so-called postfeminism? Yes, I consider myself a feminist. The term "feminist" shifts in degree of meaning and attitude, from militant to wallflower, but the term "postfeminist" makes me want to gag. It seems to describe the kind of "empowerment" associated with pop stars such as Britney Spears—young, hardworking entertainer who dresses like a stripper and sells tons of records. The postfeminist creed being, "Yes, I flaunt my sexiness and enjoy being looked at, but I am in control of it" It seems dangerously regressive. I suppose I prefer the term "Third Wave Feminism." It acknowledges that something came before and is still in motion.
How does your own experience as an attractive woman comfortable with her sexuality inform your work? Being [size] 34 DD since high school has informed my awareness of being considered "attractive." Sexual objectification from early on has been a personal conflict that informs my work. I used humor as my survival mechanism to counter absurdly superficial treatment for my body type. As a teenager I would do this extreme drag thing, or I would just totally cover up. It was one or the other. I was very aware of the performative aspects of sexuality and more comfortable in a persona that was joking about being female. I don't do this anymore. Although, I still like to play with platform shoes and things like that. They have some kind of agency.
You're doing the same thing in your work, in many ways, by utilizing sexually over-determined pieces of clothing, like thongs and billowing party dresses—in this way, walking a thin line that teeters on the brink of the cliché and camp. Where does that come from? It comes from wanting to keep humor in sex, as well as sexual politics. Sex is a broad subject and the stereotype is a point of entry.
In the early nineties you worked with Barbie dolls. How did you end up dissecting wetsuits, which art critic Jan Avgikos has described as "resembling insects or machines or radically altered human forms"? I think I was attracted to issues of sensuality and the body and trying to orient myself in a less gendered way. The bodysuits have more of a unisex quality. They are like cyber garments, very high-tech, designed for alternate environments. They are about a thermal, aerodynamic thing. The frames, in which the suits are suspended, are not rectangles because that seemed too static. I wanted to imply propulsion or acceleration. Actually, most of my pieces are about potential motion.
The Dissected Wetsuits seem like a merger of biology and technology, in which science interfaces with the human body and its evolution. I am interested in how wetsuits are designed with the veneer of technology that portrays a sleek transcendence of the physical body.
Your wetsuits, but also the Exploded Couture series, seem to reflect a fascination with and fear of the obsolescence and limitation of the body. On the contrary, popular culture has never been more obsessed with the preservation and maintenance of the body. The Exploding Couture series as well as the Wetsuits focuses on the costume that represents the identity of the body.
While you were working on the Dissected Wetsuit pieces you started the Exploded Couture series. How did you make the transition from unisex wetsuits to ultra-feminine party dresses? After graduating from Yale I was noticing that many young women artists right out of school were getting a lot of attention for their looks. I felt fed up and got this idea that I wanted to blow up a party dress. I was never the type to wear a dress like that. In a way, I thought it would be a cheesy idea to actually do it, because I didn't want it to be a metaphor for violence against women or that kind of a thing. I wanted it, rather, to be about transformation.
It seems related to your Barbie project in that you were again confronting a feminine icon in the context of popular culture. Yeah, right. I thought, again, it would be such a one-liner. The dress I used for Black Bombshell had all the crucial elements of a basic evening dress: tied around the neck, a nice heart shape over the bust, and lots of tulle. It was a classic. After the black one I really wanted to do one in white. And what could be a more classic dress than the one Marilyn Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch, blowing up around her legs as she stands over the subway grating? I commissioned this amazing seamstress to make one for me. I asked her, "Could I commission you to make a dress that I am going to destroy?" She was into it. To get across the larger-than-life quality of the Monroe image we scaled the dress up 100 percent to twice the size. When you are looking at Bombshell you are confronted with a mediated image already but you don't really think about it. While I was working on Marilyn's dress, I thought of a red, bloody sequel, which became the Sanguine Sisters series.
The connection of the billowing skirt and the nuclear mushroom cloud in Bombshell seems to point to the prevalent notion of seductive femininity as predatory and dangerous. I think synthesizing the mushroom cloud with Marilyn's dress is an attempt to have fun with the possibility of dissolving the voyeuristic gaze. It takes atomic forces to break down the tenacity of cliched images of women in popular culture. Among other things, the piece is ironic.
Earlier you said that you were more oriented toward humor in representing sexuality. That is an aspect of your work that Wayne's essay in this catalogue really gets at. Could you talk more about the humor in your work? I like to employ humor as a tool of critique. It is usually evident in the title to clue in the viewer and add layers of meaning by disarming the formal force of the piece. For instance, G-Force plays on the connotations of extreme speed implied by the flying thongs in the installation. But it also alludes to the G-spot, which perhaps fuels the flight of the thong activated by a stimulating pressure applied by the G-string.
Where did your interest in the thong come from? Shamim Momin's essay really talks about this quite wonderfully. A few summers ago on the streets of New York City, women were sporting thongs high over the hips and waistbands of their pants in such a fashion that it enhanced the cleavage of the butt cheeks, pointing to the crotch. It was impossible not to acknowledge this fashion craze that beheld the butt as the new breast in terms of attention and accentuation. I don't think there has ever been such a public phenomenon that focused so clinically on the female genitalia. The hiked-up waistbands looked like wings ready to fly out of their pants. They don't seem to have much function but to be a pasty for the pussy. I thought, let's let these poor ensnared thongs fly and resemble their own sense of power. It doesn't take much to turn them into a slingshot. I took this trend of display seriously. It marked a new freedom of expression, whether everyone who sports a thong feels that way or not; it has truly become a trend of empowerment in pointing to your sex. It's like men wearing tight pants to show off their "package." It seemed a bold statement by women about having control of their sexuality. The hiked-up thong is like a bumper sticker saying, "Here's my pussy, check it out!"
Transporter is different from other dresses in the Exploding Couture series. It seems more contained, almost phallic, and in that sense reminiscent of your Mummified Barbies. You mentioned that Transporter is a transitional piece between the Exploding Couture series and newer science fiction work. Transporter is the only piece not "exploding" in this series, but appears to be dissolving into a column of light. Stretched between two mirrored disks the sequins shimmer into an infinity column, creating the illusion of travel and transcendence. It alludes to the "transporter" from Star Trek that propelled crew members to uncharted territories of exotic planets. Transporter lures the viewer into a realm of science fiction fantasy. The dress was given to me by the late designer Stephen Sprouse, who was obsessed with visualizing "the future," which also influenced the direction of this piece. It is a challenge for me to make a static object that is about motion. This is where I connect with Italian Futurism.
Transporter reminds me of Yayoi Kusama's recent sculpture, Ladder to Heaven, in which a glowing fiber optics ladder is suspended vertically between two mirrors. In addition to Italian Futurism you have also mentioned Harold Edgerton's photography and Eadweard Muybridge's early experiments to represent motion in photography as influences in your work. The stop-action quality of my suspension pieces, and even the resin pieces, is an attempt to represent a moment in a process of change, to memorialize this moment in history when women are thriving with newly experienced freedom. The famous Edgerton image of the bullet blowing through the radish is awe-inspiring. It is like sustaining the moment of penetration for eternity. I see that image of penetration as positive. The Futurists ratcheted up the cubist technique of simultaneity, which expressed an emotional exuberance about the "speed" of life afforded by new forms of technology. I think we are in a similar boost, for better and for worse, with digital technology upgrading every day.
Could you talk about the title and the installation for your last show, Galaxy? Galaxy became the title for the show as a way to contextualize the sculptures in a space that is not defined by boundaries, but is a context of open potential and discovery. Many of the pieces were science fiction—like entities ... cyber/organic creatures comprised of lingerie, bones, pearls, eggs, blown glass, and resin in a process of metamorphosis. I also liked that the title included the word "Gal." My previous solo show was called Transporter, a pun on "transport her." I use puns in titles to let viewers know that I am playing with stereotypes. The backdrop of Galaxy was entirely black gloss with pin spots illuminating the suspended creature sculptures. The resin-coated crotch creatures hovered about the space at varying heights, their liquid quality making the gallery ooze with fertility.
Many of your recent works deal with issues of fertility converging in a kind of orgasmic explosive power; "a moment of convergence," as one critic called it, "that is already a single moment for men." Could you talk about Flirting with Fertility and Egg Drop in this context? The tongues in Flirting with Fertility are wet, salivating with hunger and desire and sharing an egg, alluding to sexual appetite in regards to procreation. They do have a relationship! Somehow reproduction seems to be presented in puritanical terms, when the point is you have sex to make babies. Those two issues are not in dialogue in this culture, which is obsessed with talking about sex in every different permutation, but when it comes to procreation they don't seem to be connected. Egg Drop is about sexual pleasure and ovulation. The female's reproductive mechanism is on the inside, so it is not a common thing to see or discuss, and men really don't know when you are dropping an egg, but women do because they get juicy.
In the early nineties, pornography, female ejaculation, and pleasure activists like Annie Sprinkle and Susie Bright entered academic discourse. I see your work as part of that cultural moment. Definitely. Female ejaculation was a hot topic in feminist critical theory then. There were videos proving the fact that women can shoot, too. It meant to broaden awareness of the clitoris as biologically analogous to the penis and prove its equality in its sensitivity and power. With this subject also came female liquids. Women should acknowledge their wetness as substance essential to creation, not a negative side effect. Many of these "hard core" feminist performance pieces were enacted to challenge the still dominant, but antiquated, view of woman's inferior status due to her fundamental "lack." Much of my work generates from that period, and it underlies most of it now. I imagine many of the pieces as surrogates of myself forcefully shooting through space and erupting boundaries with orgasmic force, comical superhero stuff. Also, I want to make forms that are sexual composites, but with an emphasis on female power, but never exclusionary. The G-Force thongs do this with the pearl bead inside the crotch that stretches the thong into a semi-phallic jet fighter.
The sensual baroque quality in your work seems to be related to your ideas about female sexuality. I think it is an intuitive choice in terms of style, which has to do with the belief that there is nothing minimal about female sexuality.
Let's address the issue of "an active female pleasure" in your work. I believe it was Shamim who wrote that your feminism is passionately feminine. Could you talk about that in relationship to the issue of pleasure? I am also interested in how your work engages issues related to female masquerade; meaning, basically, that women have to adopt a masculine subject position in order to experience pleasure or control. I believe your work provides a way out of this limiting view. I place the female subject in my work in control of her extrication from convention and restraint and propulsion toward autonomy. She and I are in control of creating pleasure in the process of reproduction or production. The pieces from the Galaxy show in particular allude to the possibilities of self-sufficient reproduction. I don't advocate a separatist position from male culture but a focus on sexual self-sufficiency in regard to pleasure for women. I feel it is important to portray these ideas in sculpture. A three-dimensional representation can serve as a "monument" to female pleasure in an experiential way that painting and photography cannot.
A recent article by art historian Johanna Burton about Anish Kapoor and Olafur Eliasson's projects in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall made me think of your interest in galactic space. To Burton, both installations call to mind the womb, "that first space of materiality that is indubitably linked to maternity." Burton continues to argue that this "urmateriality might be seen as a conduit for the experiential —ungrounding the viewer through the most deeply familiar, yet deeply unnamable, space." Referring to Luce Irigaray's work on the maternal, Burton concludes that a bodily metaphor of spatiality appears to be easily usurped by male artists, while women artists seem to have an inherently uneasy relationship to space. In a way, your work complicates this view as you populate space with images of feminine fertility. Perhaps you could elaborate on my sketchy ideas about how your work seems utopian in this context. I disagree that women artists have an uneasy relationship to space. I think women are not socialized to think that they can take up space or use space with such permission. It is a simple fact that is slowly changing—men have mostly been the architects and women the decorators of space. I think it's a question of experience and opportunity. The collusion of "maternity and materiality" is interesting but a limited argument.
Could you talk about how the prints relate to the rest of the work in the show? The blue prints use the formal language of architectural rendering to imply that the contents of the drawings have the possibility of being realized in real space. It is a humorous play on the "master" builder who plans his vision with exactitude in scale. My images are of Hugh Hefner's private plane colliding into itself and of cell phones being handled as phallic objects. I am playing with an antiquated form of male ownership and power.
You mentioned that the idea of luring the viewer informs your work both conceptually and formally. I love these questions! Lingerie is all about the lure. Feathers and reflective materials. It's the same thing. My installation work began in graduate school by what I call drawing with wire. It turns out fishing tackle equipment and hardware is the best way to control cable. I ended up at a tackle store realizing very quickly that I was in a male-dominated environment.
Like a porn store. It is like a porn store. It didn't occur to me for a while, but I was always interested in using the turnbuckles and oversized hardware because they introduce a stereotypical masculine element in this very cliché way. People say clichés don't matter. The fact is they do matter. You can't escape them. The oversized hardware is about that. It's attached to your floor and ceiling. You can't get away from the fact that Marilyn Monroe is a powerful image that plagues you. I want it to be about how much energy it takes to transform a cliché or something that's so rooted in our culture. The fetishistic quality of the materials and their inherent design to lure and ensnare is metaphorically rich. The work has developed with these materials informing the message. With Stealth I find the use of fishing tackle and military espionage an especially satisfying medley. To lure, seduce, and ensnare is language critical to the feminist theory regarding the concept of masquerade. String can be juicy.
At first glance, Stealth seems not to fit in this grouping of works at the Johnson. Could you talk about its purpose within the show? Stealth is a 3-D—scale outline of the Stealth jet fighter F-1 1 7A. Its revolutionary faceted design, now outmoded, is so unusual that it has become an iconic image of military prowess: conceptual, secret, undetectable, and futuristic. Conceptually, it is analogous to a symbol of personal, political stealth. It represents the political strategy by women to maneuver under the radar to be effective. Stealth resonates as permission in this context.
You mentioned you are working on a NASA Commission. I am working on a piece for NASA specific to the Mars [Pathfinder] Project. I have visited the Jet Propulsion Lab in California where NASA created the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. They have given me some extra parts, materials, and images to use that went into creating the mission. The piece will remain in NASA's domain, but the experience has been one I hope to incorporate in future pieces as well. Being introduced as the NASA artist to the rocket scientist at JPL was a surreal and ironic experience.
What will the new piece be that you are making for the Johnson? The commissioned piece is a thong of shining armor, mode of chain mail, stainless steel wire, and steel turnbuckles. The title is Warrior G-Force.
The interview was conducted in person and over e-mail between July and September 2004.