Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Getting Ready for The Big Day

(Above:  I Didn't Tell Him that I Was Already Pregnant.  Framed: 17" x 15". All these pieces are altered anonymous photos.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

More than a year ago I started planning a fortieth wedding anniversary installation called The Big Day.  I envisioned suspending forty gowns and surrounding them with other artwork.  Here on my blog and on social media, I asked if readers had an old wedding dress to donate.  (THANK YOU to everyone who answered this request!) I started looking in thrift stores and at my local auction house.  Slowly, my collection started to grow.  I don't quite have forty but I'm really close!  (I think there are 36!)

(Above:  Everyone Else Saw Only My Disability Except for Him.  Framed:  13 1/2" x 11 1/2".)

I was never really worried about the number of gowns.  Who would be counting, anyway?  I was, however, worried about finding a venue that would offer me time and space for this yet unproven installation.  It's hard to write a decent exhibition proposal without great images. It's hard to relate the concepts being translated through found objects that haven't yet been found!  It's hard to secure solo shows even during "normal" times.  This task was almost impossible during a pandemic!  Shows scheduled for 2020 were generally pushed back a year.  Few thought shutdowns would continue in 2021 ... but it is still happening!  Shows are still being pushed back!  Fortunately, I managed to find a place:  The Pickens County Museum of Art and History in Pickens, South Carolina!

(Above:  He Had to Convert in Order to Marry Me.  Framed: 12" x 14".)

The Pickens County Museum of Art and History is a special place for me.  During the summer of 2008 I took Blues Chapel there.  Although I'd shown this work at the Sumter County Art Museum (invited because I knew the executive director and she had a cancellation on her hands!), this was the first time I wrote a proposal and sent it to a museum.  Getting this opportunity seemed like a "once in a life time" chance!  I was nervous but some wonderful things happened.  The director (until his retirement) became my "go to" person for future letters of recommendation.  I met Ellen Kochansky, a two-time Governor's art fellowship winner who later started the Rensing Center art residency program.  (I've been to the Rensing Center twice and will be there again ... starting later next week!)  The connections were wonderful.  

(Above:  He Was Even Younger Than Me.  Framed: 17 1/2" x 15 1/2".)

Back in 2008, Blues Chapel felt like the pinnacle of my art career!  How little I knew then! I didn't know how many future exhibition proposals I would write, juggle, and tweak for various possibilities.  I didn't know I could come up with an increasing number of ideas for installation work.  I didn't know how easily a rejection would roll off my back because I didn't know how many places would even accept a proposal.  I'm still "flying by the seat of my pants", but I've come a long, long way.  Returning to the Pickens County Museum is like a homecoming and a sweet memory rolled into one.  It is a perfect place to mount The Big Day.

(Above:  He Gave Me His Ex-Wife's Ring.  Framed:  13 3/4" x 11 3/4".)

Everything was well planned for Blues Chapel.  I'd been working on this show for two years and had more than enough work.  I visited the location and studied the floor plan.  A panel truck was rented. There was a physical mailing list, a reception, and a well written statement.  I sent press releases.  For months leading up to this exhibit, all my attention was on this one show.  My life revolved around it ... happily and innocently.  I thought this was it ... my one, big opportunity ... the chance of a life time. 

(Above:  I Out-Lived Two Husbands.  Framed:  24 1/2" x 20 1/4".)

Right now, I have The Cocoon on view at ArtFields.  After installing The Big Day next Monday and Tuesday, I'm heading to the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee to hang Last Words.  Then, I'm headed back to the Rensing Center to mount The Clothesline.  

(Above:  I Promised to Obey.  Framed: 17 1/4" x 15 1/4".)

That's four different installations!  Last Words has been shown multiple times over the past several years.  The Cocoon was created and shown at the Rensing Center.  It even had a South Carolina Arts Commission grant.  Both have statements, an installation plan, great images, and lots of other "paperwork".  At this point, I know what I'm doing ... totally.  In a sense, these two installations are now easy.  

(Above:  I Saved My Gown and Veil for My Daughter. She Didn't Want Them. Framed:  14" x 12".)

I can't say the same for The Big Day or even The Clothesline.  They are at different stages of development.  While at the Rensing Center, I'm going to try figuring out how to create and install a temporary clothesline.  (Think galvanized electrical conduit hammered into the ground with string running from one to another!  Hope this works!)  I'm going to hang up all the things I've made for my clothesline ... and measure the length.  My backyard isn't large enough for this! Although I have a proposal, it is truly "a work in progress"!  It would be nice to have a tried-and-true installation plan.  It would be nice to know how many yards of hanging items there are.  It would be nice to know how many safety pins I really need to keep the items on the rope.  I am grateful for the opportunity to play around with my work during the upcoming art residency.

(Above:  If One There Had Been Same Sex Marriages.  Framed: 8 3/4" x 6 3/4".)

The Big Day is in a similar stage of development.  I have ideas.  I have artwork.  I have lots of bridal gowns too.  What I needed was a place to "work", to "play", to experiment.  Thankfully, the Pickens County Museum of Art and History is allowing me to do just this!  I will be back in the same room that Blues Chapel once filled.  I'll get to learn how best to suspend gowns.  I'll get images for a proposal.  I'll get to see pieces come together.  Frankly, I might not have been given this opportunity if it weren't for the pandemic!  Right now, the museum isn't encouraging visitors.  Social distancing, lack of school groups, a smaller staff, and less funding has the place operating on a scaled back schedule.  There will be no mailing, no reception, no press release ... but ... for me, this is the perfect!

(Above:  It All Went By So Quickly.  Framed:  14" x 12".)

In addition to the wedding dresses, I've invested in two, heavy-duty rolling garment racks.  Wedding dresses weigh A LOT and take up plenty of space.  Today, fifty padded coat hangers arrived.  Last month, I spent a weekend snapping selfies in all the donated and found wedding dresses.  The results are printed.  They will be hung from doll clothes hangers that have clips.  It's been fun searching on-line for these needed things!  (I'll blog some of the hilarious images later!)

(Above:  It Worked As Long As He Was Overseas.  Framed:  8" x 8".)

I've been printing various signs too.  One is my exhibition statement:

On September 12, 1981 I married Steve Dingman, the first and only love of my life. Although we’ve never been people who exchanged anniversary gifts or celebrated in other, traditional ways, our fortieth anniversary does seem like a very big occasion. For the briefest of moments, we thought about throwing a party. After all, our wedding had been the over-the-top extravaganza of my mother’s dreams. I soldiered through it by repeating to myself, “At least I got to pick the groom”. With a party no longer in consideration, Steve and I talked about other, creative ways to mark our anniversary. These conversations were often the result of hearing about a 2020 planned wedding and its adaptations to the challenge of health measures necessary during a global pandemic. In the face of these and other ceremonial disappointments, we thought the best way to mark our occasion was through a humorous installation, something that would poke a little fun at the needless socioeconomic pressures for an expensive, ideal day and the stress of pulling off an elusive event. After forty years, I can attest: The dress isn’t that important … nor is the cake or the invitations or the venue or the guest list or the music for the first dance. As an artist, it is my job to shift perspectives, challenge tradition, and uproot stereotypes. Collecting donated wedding gowns and snapping selfies in each was hilarious. It made me wonder why I kept the dress in which I was married because (like most of the dresses) it would never be in style later. It was too easy to find anonymous pictures of forgotten brides because these images are almost never a child's or grandchild's favorite visual memory. My hope is that viewers find a few laughs but mostly some thoughts on the importance of a wedding day, the promise of a lasting love that money just can't buy.

(Above:  Our Marriage Was a Circus Act ... Literally!  Framed:  19" x 15 1/4".  I did plenty of research on this antique cabinet photograph.  I thought it would be very valuable.  Some sellers on eBay have exorbitant prices on similar images by NYC photographer Charles Eisenmann. (He was really prolific and printed hundreds ... if not thousands ... of circus photos.)  I contacted an expert, Greg French.  He answered right away.  Our correspondence was honest and fun.  He let me know that my two, married "little people" were in such poor condition that the item worth about ten-dollars!  It was, however, quite an adventure!)

I've also been adding to my Wall of Ancestors Series.  This blog post shares the new pieces.  Each one features found, anonymous images with phrases collaged in individual letters clipped from vintage ephemera.  Most are in antique frames.

(Above:  The Man of My Dreams and Nightmares.  Framed:  12 1/2" x 14 1/2".)

There will hang with other pieces from The Wall of Ancestors.  This series is part of my solo installation Anonymous Ancestors.  I've shown this exhibit plenty of times.  Right now, it is in storage ... except for the ones dealing with love and marriage and divorce!  They get to be part of The Big Day!

(Above:  The Right Girl. The Right Boy.  Framed:  17 1/2" x 24".)

Some of the other pieces are called: Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride; Faithfully Devoted, Arranged Marriage; Happily Married for 40 Years; Home Wrecker, I Busted Up My Friend's Marriage; In Love, Eloped, Stayed Married; Match Made in Heaven; My Proudest Role ... His Wife; Old Maid; One Enchanted Evening; Our Love Affair was Epic; Prim and Proper; The Salad Days; Single Mother; Sister Spinsters; The Girl Next Door; Donna Reed Was My Role Model; Eloped as Teenagers; He Broke My Heart; He Cheated On Me; I Would Marry Four Times; Married for Money; Shot Gun Wedding; This Was Meant to Last Forever; I Lived in the Shadow of His First Wife; 'Til Death Do Us Part and Virgins on our Wedding Night.

(Above:  Third Time's a Charm.  Framed:  14 1/2" x 16 1/2".)

In this same vain, I made an artist book called Anonymous Brides.  Last February, I made two more books, guest books.  I'll share these and other things for The Big Day later this week.  I can't wait to see this all come together.


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