Tanya Marcuse - Undergarments & Armor
17 November 2022 - 18 February 2023
The artist anchors the project in typological foundations, formally expressed with highly precise yet sensual black & white pigment prints. The complete series of Undergarments & Armor was first exhibited in Northern Ireland at Belfast Exposed gallery. The series has also featured at the triennial of photography and video called Dress Codes at the International Center for Photography (New York) and in Love and War at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology (New York). A lavish 3-volume slipcased monograph of the series was published by Nazraeli Press in 2005 with an essay by Valerie Steele, chief curator and acting director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
I traveled to archives and museums in the U.S. and England photographing undergarments, armor, and the museum forms that populate the storerooms -- objects like breastplates, helmets, corsets, bustles, mannequins and dress forms. The earliest objects date to the 14th century while no object is dated past 1900, ruling out the possibility of a living owner. I see these garments and suits of armor as sculptures of the body that, like a carapace, outlast their wearers. These personal effects adorned, constricted and protected the body all at once. Now they are archived as artistic and cultural artifacts, shells of the bodies that once inhabited them. The project extends my long standing interest in sculpture and the body, presence and absence. While visual and conceptual dichotomies are clearly present in the relationship between the undergarments and armor (male/female, hard/soft, outside/inside, armed/disarmed), no one simple reading is possible. A bustle is an industrial contraption, while a breastplate is delicately adorned. In the 14th century the term corset was used to refer to a breastplate as worn by a soldier. And though one might expect the feminine undergarments to be alluring, they often appear clinical, even dingy, divorced from the body’s lingering presence. On the other hand the armor often conveys an aggressive sexuality, both gorgeous and cruel. Yet in both cases the garments are transformative. The undergarments enhance and constrict the body to support the fashion of the outer dress; the armor shields the body’s mortal flesh, while concurrently turning its wearer into a terrifying war machine.
Tanya Marcuse (b.1964) began making photographs as an early college student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. She went on to study Art History and Studio Art at Oberlin and earned her MFA from Yale. Her photographs are in many collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the George Eastman Museum. In 2002, she received a Guggenheim fellowship to pursue her project Undergarments & Armor. In 2005, she embarked on a three part, fourteen year project, Fruitless | Fallen | Woven. Fueled by the Biblical narrative of the fall from Eden, these related projects use increasingly fantastical imagery and more elaborate methods of construction to explore cycles of growth and decay and the dynamic tension between the passage of time and the photographic medium. Tanya’s books include Undergarments and Armor (Nazraeli Press, 2005), Wax Bodies (Nazraeli Press, 2012), Fruitless | Fallen | Woven (Radius Press, 2019) and INK (Fall Line Press, 2021). She teaches Photography at Bard College, NY.
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