Sunday, May 09, 2021

The Big Day, a solo installation

(Above:  The entrance into The Big Day, my solo installation at the Pickens County Museum of Art and History.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Last Thursday and Friday were wonderful days!  I installed The Big Day at the Pickens County Museum of Art and History. Because the museum is only open Tuesday through Friday from 9 - 5, the show officially opens this coming Tuesday, May 11th and runs through July 23rd.  The museum used to have weekend hours, but that was before the pandemic, before the staff was cut, before social distancing, before ... like when art shows were scheduled years in advance. Getting this opportunity is like a "silver lining" after all the closures, cancellations, and indefinite postponements of 2020.  I'm so happy to have had this chance to work with my found and donated wedding dresses and to sculpt this installation.

(Above:  The exhibition signage and one of the two altered guest books.)

Although I got lucky in finding this venue, I was fortunate in many other, much more important ways because I started this venture well in advance of the pandemic!  I've been planning for two years!  Why?  Well, 2021 marks Steve's and my 40th wedding anniversary.  I wanted to mark the occasion as an art installation.  After all, I did something for our 30th.  Why not do something even more significant for this big event? (To see I Do / I Don't, the solo installation created for our 30th anniversary, CLICK HERE.  Yes, I've been blogging long enough that I have posts going back to 2011 ... even as far as 2006!)  So ... special thanks goes to all those wonderful people who donated their wedding dresses to this exhibit.  The pandemic could not hold me back due to your generosity! 

(Above:  One of two altered, vintage photo albums functioning as a guest book for the installation.)

Ordinarily, I take very little time to actually install a show, but ... ordinarily ... I am already familiar with the individual pieces, the general set up, and have a definite action plan. This was different.  This was the first time!  All I in knew in advance was that I would put my signage and one of two altered guest books near the entrance!  So ... that area was hung first.  (To explore the guest book, please CLICK HERE for an earlier blog post.)

(Above:  Some of the wedding dresses hung near the exhibition signage and guest book.)

After putting the guest book on the pedestal, I was face with nearly forty wedding gowns.  They had been rolled into the room on two, heavy-duty garment racks.  I knew some would need to "go on the walls".  But how?  Which ones?  At what height? These and other questions were answered intuitively.

Quickly, I knew that I needed to address the strapless gowns.  Also, I learned that the more voluptuously full ball gowns could hang in the windows.  I was mindful of the shifting colors, the long fabric trains, and the need to safety pin many to the fifty padded hangers purchased last month.  Also, this first area seemed the perfect place to suspend True Blue, a tiny, shrunken wool wedding bodice which is covered in embroidered wedding vows.  (For more about how I stitched True Blue, CLICK HERE.)
My prior idea was to suspend forty wedding gowns in a giant circle.  That plan was pretty much dashed as I collected the dresses.  Wedding dresses are often heavy, take up a lot of room, and an appropriate circle would have been wider than the room.  As a result, there are only three hanging from the dropped ceiling.  They are surrounded by the eleven veils made for I Do / I Don't, my 30th anniversary show. 
Each one of these veils is free-motion embroidered with statements about marriage and divorce.  I crowd-sourced for these special words.  Lots of people contributed phrases expressing pure joy, absolute anger, fond memories, words of wisdom, good advice, and special stories.  I used a water soluble stabilizer to do the embroidery.  Once stitched and washed, the stitched line is left on the veil.  Even though these statements are perfectly legible, one need to touch the veils ... spread them out in order to see the full lines. 
So, to make the statements more accessible, I created an artist book.  It sits on a small, tilted stand in front of my "selfie wall".  Each statement was collaged, letter by letter, using letters clipped from old books and magazines.  (To see the pages, CLICK HERE for a Flickr album.)
The "selfie wall" was so very much fun to create!  Well over a month ago, I spent an entire day trying on all the wedding gowns that had been donated or purchased at auction.  I snapped selfies in two different "sets" created in the house.  To be honest, it was exhausting ... but hilariously fun.  One set was in front of a very large mirror.  The other set was in front of gold brocade curtains.  Each selfie was printed as a 4" x 6" and hung on doll-clothes hangers that came with clips.  Who knew that doll's need hangers for their skirts and pants?  (To read more about this "selfie day" and see some of the images, CLICK HERE.)
From the moment I secured the Pickens County Museum of Art and History as the venue for this exhibit, I knew that I would transform this circular niche into a place for visitors to take their own selfies.  I envisioned three mirrors, just like a fashionable bridal boutique might have for viewing each gown.  Thankfully, Steve and I are picture framers.  We cut and built the mirrors. 
It was easy to determine the right dress for this location.  One strapless ball gown styled dress was size 28 XXXL. Carefully, the back seam was opened ... all THREE layers.  I turned the edges under and stitched them down.  Loops of elastic went under the arm area.  Heavy, wide lace was folded in thirds and made the hanging device.  Now ... visitors can literally step into this dress, wrap it around themselves, and snap their own selfie.
I know it works!  I did it too!
I couldn't quite get a selfie will all three reflections, but the niche does give that view!
Next to the niche is a wall that speaks to Steve's and my anniversary. I scanned our faded, 8" x 10" wedding portrait and had Spoonflower print it on cotton fabric in a size that fit into this lovely, antique frame.  It is free motion stitched.  (To read more about this process, CLICK HERE.)  Below is another altered, vintage photo album.  It is called Anonymous Brides. To the left is the signage for the selfie niche and the two selfies I took in my own wedding dress.  To the right is the original invitation to our wedding. Above is my wedding dress.  Yes, it is nailed and stapled to the wall. 
Like many of the donated and found gowns, my wedding dress shows some discoloration, I have no daughter ... and most of these gowns show the style of the era in which they were worn.  Few of these dresses are what any, upcoming bride really wants to wear.  The dress is personal, but it is also a large part of the socioeconomic pressures that come with "the big day".  While I worked, figuring out how to display these garments, I couldn't help but to think about the thousands of dollars in the room.
After forty years, I can easily attest to the fact that the dress wasn't that important.  At least four of the dresses in this show were bought for ten dollars or less at Bill Mishoe's auction.  They were still sealed in acid-free boxes after an expensive cleaning and packaging service.
Some of these gowns are covered with tiny pearl and seed beads. Some of these dresses came with specialty slips with layers of gathered tulle. Some date to the 1940s.  One is likely from the 1920s or earlier.  Most came from the 1950s through 1980s. Some of these dresses aren't quite as elaborate.  A few are down-right ugly.  Yet, trying them on for my selfies did bring feelings of beauty and charm.
One dress was put on a fiberglass dress form.  It is absolutely stunning ... and polyester ... and with 1980s puffy sleeves. It is equally gorgeous and currently unfashionable.   Many of these dresses and all of the I Do / I Don't wedding veils were ironed.  Yes ... I brought an iron and ironing board to install!  I ironed the full skirt of this gown right on the carpeted floor!
When ironing, I couldn't help but to wonder about the marriages each of these dresses started.  From notes received with donations, I knew that a few of the most beautiful dresses were worn for marriages that didn't last and that some of the rather ugly ones were donated by the children whose parents stayed together for more than half a century. 
On the largest wall, I hung my collection of anonymous brides and wedding pictures.  Fifteen of them were created recently.  The rest came from my installation Anonymous Ancestors. I've hung this "wall of ancestors" in several locations.  It is always a puzzle waiting to be solved.  I'm very pleased with the visual effect. Each piece is an original, anonymous photo collaged with individual letters that spell out suggestive narratives like:  Virgins on Our Honeymoon Night; He Cheated on Me; Shot Gun Wedding; I Didn't Tell Him that I Was Already Pregnant; I Lived in the Shadow of His First Wife; Made for Each Other; ... and ... of course ... Married for Forty Years. (To read more about the new additions to this grouping, CLICK HERE.)
As I worked, the number of dresses still on the rolling, heavy-duty garment rack began to shrink.  The atmosphere was developing.  Basically, the stage was set!  But, I had one more wall to transform.
This last wall became the place for ten different dresses.  I had worried over the blue dress.  I know who wore it.  She's happily married and I wanted to include it even though the color was so different from the rest of the room.  Yet, it wasn't the only one!  One satin dress was quite a vanilla color.  It didn't work well in any of the other locations in which I attempted to hang it.  Then, there was the itty-bitty, sparkling taupe strapless dress that looks like it ought to have been going to a disco instead of a church!  One beige dress was probably marketed for the mother-of-the-bride but was worn for a second marriage.  Together, however, they really do show the variety of dresses that once walked down the aisle.  To me, this wall makes a point of saying "the dress really doesn't matter".  On some level, all these dresses are special but it is the days thereafter that define a marriage.
I'm very, very pleased with how this show came together.  I learned a lot about how best to install it.  I have the confidence and images now that will allow me to submit this installation to next year's ArtFields, a competition and exhibition in Lake City, South Carolina.  (This doesn't mean my installation will be accepted ... but I couldn't apply without having this show first!)
I couldn't have done any of this without the generosity of others who sent their wedding dresses or without the staff at the Pickens County Museum of Art and History for the willingness to let me do this, but I definitely couldn't have done with without Steve.  Happy Anniversary ... now and forever.  September 12, 1981.


Margaret said...

I love your vision, how your mind works!

Linda Laird said...

Susan, your installations just get bigger and better and more significant!
Linda Laird

Susan Lenz said...

Thanks so much Margaret and Linda for reading my blog and especially for the really nice comments!

Altered Art Angela said...

Incredible! I hope to see it in person!