The Hungry Dress, (Or a post on my creative process)
Post date: Oct 10, 2014 10:35:37 PM
I am not good at pinning things down, but for this post I will try. To begin, some background, then a few tangents, then some academia, then some art, do I call this a process?
Background: After art college I got a job in a bookshop in Dublin city centre (Easons on O'Connell St if anyone knows it) with the aim of making some money after
the poverty of final year and saving enough to go travelling around the world for a year with a good friend. A few months before we left I met and dated a wonderful man, funny, smart, sexy but when it came to it I broke it off (nicely I hoped but clumsily in reality, and this is only the edited version, of course there is more, there always is) and set off for pastures new. Travelling is everything everyone says it is, it widens the horizons, but it also exposes you, everywhere you go there you are. Anyway week one and we are in a dreadful hostel in Hong Kong suffering from culture shock, wonder and jet lag when I have a dream. I am not much of a believer, I am pretty damn cynical, science is my security blanket and I leave the subconscious to Dickens, but this dream has stayed with me and when I woke up and read my scribbled notes I knew when I got back in a year, 2005, that this would be important. I dreamt that a wedding dress was chasing me, mouth wide, ready to swallow me whole. It was terrifying. I imagined little gremlin size ones waiting around street corners, dresses with straps for sleeves, like lunatics were forced to wear, dresses with sharp teeth and drooling maws. The stark white of the dress and the red of bloody gums haunted me. And then I put it aside and travelled for a year, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, USA, Canada again, then London and home to Ireland where I had a loan to repay and a life to build.
Tangents: It is easy to become distracted. I got busy, first repaying the loan, then saving for stage two art career, then travelling and reading and friends and family and I still knew that I wanted to make the Hungry Dress, that it was important. Why was it important I have tried to answer ever since that dream. I knew it was my
own subconscious articulating my rejection of the traditional route of Irish (Western) womanhood – education > marriage > mortgage > children – and my decision to journey far in search of my own story, but it was also universal, a call to arms, or putting flesh on a common fear, either of the marriage machine or adulthood. A fear of ageing alone or maidenhood, dying an old maid, becoming a crone, marriage is sold as the cure, the salvation for all single women. Hungry Dress is that fear, the voluntary sacrifice of independence for the security of a (heterosexual) relationship (although we hope it is not that). It also ties in the fact that in Ireland Equal Marriage is still not available, although the genesis of this work covers the period of that changing. But I worked on it/her. I decided early on to make the dress myself, as although I could use a ready-made dress, it would not be my vision, and it would be incredibly difficult to find a dress with all the practical necessities, long sleeves, tie's at the back, detail below the knee, a high plain neckline and a classical ageless style. Dressmaking is a beautiful and useful skill, and I would not say I have mastered it, but over the past few years I have taught myself the basics and beyond. I reached the point where I would have been comfortable making the dress, but life got in the way, as it has an awful habit of doing. Money was always a factor, and my lack of artistic courage, I did not take the risk of giving up a full time safe job for my art, and so I never made enough money to cover the cost of it's making. But that is story for another blog. Dressmaking was a beautiful frustrating expensive creative tangent which you will see in other parts of this website.
Another tangent is of course my changing relationship with the Hungry Dress, she would sit at my shoulder and peck peck peck at my thoughts. Friends were getting married, and my ideas about marriage tempered and adjusted, but still she would recede only to reappear stronger and angrier and more relevant. Other creative paths were not as sustainably interesting, and to this day I am not sure if anyone else would like her, accept her, or accept the part of me that created her.
In 2011 I left my job and took my savings and decided to do a Masters in feminism, something I had only the vaguest ideas about when I applied, but it attracted me
as a safe stepping stone back into art, that would not require an up to date current portfolio, and I had just enough money to get away with not working for the year, so I could find my creative feet while I was at it. That year changed my life. In the end I did my 20 thousand plus word thesis on the White wedding, she would not leave me alone even in this, or perhaps she led me to this. Where else would I find answers for the questions she raised? My thesis is definitely grist for a different post, but I will give you the bare bones of it's layout here, and just add that a lot more was taken out than was left in. The first half was a historical exploration of the white wedding in Ireland, and this touched on the close relationship to English culture and Western culture. Irish wedding traditions such as the Straw Boys which we have lost, and the strata of classes and how they have evolved in tandem with wedding size and cost. The media and how the growth of printing and photography (particularly black and white in the early days) has influenced a growing middle class, and the establishment of the “White” wedding with Queen Victoria. So your basic post-colonial Westernised tradition with added ritual power. I touched lightly on the power of the wedding to “do” something in a community, to be a ritual of adulthood and changing the state of a person/couple from single to married in the eyes of their community. This ritual power is usually obscured and I will return to it another time. The white dress specifically is a symbol of the wedding as a whole and it could be said to exist outside the wedding in the particular, standing as it does for the idea and becoming the locus of cultural expectations, while also being a particularly female symbol.
The second half of the thesis was a study of the wedding industrial complex, in the Irish context. It involved interviewing people who worked in the wedding industry in a variety of roles, but my aim was to find people who had dealt with dozens, perhaps hundreds over the years, so photographers, wedding co-ordinators and a solemniser (in Ireland this is the person with the right to perform a legally binding wedding). It was a fascinating window for me into the industry which touches peoples lives so rarely and I will perhaps return to the data I gathered. I do not think I used it as well as I could in the thesis, but I was able to draw out several clear themes such as fashion, expertise, the bride and her role, etc.
Then it was over, thesis done, and I could feel the hold she had over me recede, doing it was cathartic Uninvited Guests: An Exploration of the White Wedding in Ireland in on a shelf in Trinity College Dublin, and so back to life, back to reality. When I made the decision to leave and later to move to London, I knew I had to finish her, give her body. I had listened when she spoke to me and I had to repay that. There were other tangents, the dress from Medea, the British Royal Wedding, celebrity weddings in general, the Equal Marriage movement, the backlash re: religious and 'traditionalists' and their lament on the death of marriage in the West (gah), television shows even channels devoted to weddings, Disney. Plus it is fucking funny, it's a Hungry Dress after all, but I hope this humorous element stems from the visceral nature of the piece, it's punch to the gut action/reaction. And lets not forget Bridezilla, a term combining bride with Godzilla, a monster woman, the butt of jokes and very real experience, a horrific term that combines the idea of a specifically female role, bride, with monstrous unrestrainable destruction, anger and misused power. Vagina Dentata would I hope be an immediate touchstone.
I know I will return to her, fix the mistakes I made in her execution. But not yet. She has released me and I can move on creatively to pastures new and far.