The first impression you get when you see Heather Marie Scholl's installation "Sometimes It's Hard to Be a Woman" is that of seeing a fairytale romance. The two mannequin standing in front of you - a man and a woman clad in costumes covered in delicate embroideries - are indeed holding hands.
Yet, when you look a bit better, you discover there is something disquieting and disturbing: semen drips (scroll down and read Scholl's interview to discover the layered meaning behind it) from a codpiece sticking from under the period coat donned by the male dummy, while the red petals scattered on the woman's white dress point towards blood and therefore violence.
Moving from Tammy Wynette's "Stand by your Man", Scholl addresses through this installation - displayed at the Freeman Space in Brooklyn at the beginning of November - issues of domestic violence, dating based sexual assaults and the subtle signs and traits of abusive relationships.
We all employ fashion to express our personality and personal narratives, but Scholl has found a way to use the fashion medium to look at several issues - body, women, feminism, identity, and sexuality - in a striking way that elicits the response of the viewer and sparks the debate about such topics.
While the artist and designers explains today in this interview the meanings and symbolism behind her installation, she also remains with us for the rest of the day for a Black Friday Competition.
Scholl is offering as a thank you note to all the Irenebrination readers who have been following her through previous posts her silver plated 3D lapel pin of the HMS legs logo in a little competition event.
The competition is open to readers based all over the world and takes place today from the moment this post goes live until midnight. The winner is the first person who retweets this post and sends their personal details (name and full address) to the email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Heather Marie Scholl Black Friday Giveaway".
If you take part but don't win, don't despair: Scholl has recently relaunched her shop with several items available in limited quantities of 20 each. There are prints, self portraits, necklaces and pins on offer, and, from today until December 1st 2014, there is also a holiday discount (20% off when you use code OWNHMS1). Good luck with the competition, enjoy your shopping and scroll down to read the interview with Heather Marie Scholl.
Style-wise the costumes in the installation make us think about Romaticism while the embroideries point us towards the Renaissance. Can you tell us more about the symbolisms behind the installation?
Heather Marie Scholl: With this work I knew I wanted to create a fairytale-like setting. Fairytales are timeless and I see issues of relationship violence as timeless as well. We have been forming relationships and doing things that harm each other for generations. For me a merging of Romanticism and the Renaissance is the perfect dark and beautiful aesthetic platform. The embroidery in each look carries special meanings and metaphors: on her dress there are roses and Botticelli's Venus, both of these represent idealized femininity and sexuality; on his jacket there is Michelangelo's David, a symbol of perfect masculinity. The tree wrapping around the edges of his jacket is a hawthorne tree; as it moves up the jacket it shows each stage of growth - bare, leaves, flowers, berries. This is a symbol of masculine energy - particularly in the bare stage when it's a dark omen, and feminine, fertility energy in the blooming and fruit stages. I loved that it had these layers of meaning to it. This choice of imagery and the romantic display of the figures points to how we can be so busy trying to be who we should be - especially in heterosexual romantic relationships - that we don't notice the ways we are being destroyed. And the ways we are destroying.
There are disturbing elements in the installation - semen trickles from the penis forming a pool around the feet of the male figure, and red petals make us think about blood - are these hints at violence, at the hardest aspects of 'being a woman'?
Heather Marie Scholl: This imagery is intended to point at violence but in a subtle way, because violence is not just physical violence. What is dripping from his codpiece is actually bleach water. It may not be obvious in the photos but her dark red underskirt turns into the rug they are both standing on, and he is bleaching. This part of the installation is trying to talk about the ways women are often the ones building the bases for men and the world, and, without even knowing it, men often destroy this base. I wanted to present this violence in a way where both are being harmed by it. And the ways that men are unconscious of the ways they harm the women around them. This is why Tammy Wynette's "Stand by your Man" became a key point of inspiration for me. She articulates this awareness of being harmed in a romantic relationship, and his lack of awareness. You can hear the resignation in her voice that I see all too often. This is just the way it is, because it has happened for so many generations. There's no beginning, so there's no end.
What was the feedback of the visitors at the Freeman Space and will the installation be displayed somewhere else soon?
Heather Marie Scholl: Many were quite taken with the work. In person the detail of the stitch work shines, and folks were impressed. I was pleased to see that the subtlety of the piece came through. Because of the romantic scene created, the bleach did an excellent job pointing towards the layered meaning in the work. Currently there are no solid plans to show the installation again, but I am keeping my eyes open and would be thrilled to get the chance to show the work in a new setting.
You have recently relaunched your shop - what kind of items can we find on it? Do you accept commissioned work or customized pieces?
Heather Marie Scholl: The shop is a place to find limited edition pieces by me. You will be able to purchase numbered giclee prints of my embroidered wall hanging pieces, but also limited edition wearable items. For this season I have The Mermaid Choker up, each one is handmade/hand painted. I have limited the quantities, because I am constantly working on new stuff and will regularly update the shop with the latest pieces. I also have The HMS Pin, which will be a constant item. In the future, I may add other items that are restocked. Yes, I do accept commissioned and customized work and I take it on a case by case basis. My favorite is when I can be inspired by you and what you want, and you can be inspired by my voice and way of working. The flow of inspiration between me and a custom client is important! You can go directly to the store here, or get to it through my main website here.
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