Project 3.1: Working from props

Props, costumes, masks, models – disguise or make-up as absence of human body

After part two with my exploration of objects that do related to how we as human being relate to our non-human environment, more a mental exploration with giving objects a certain subject-hood instead seeing them only as objects, to function, to use, to collect, to trash.

But what about us? What are the objects closest to us, that we not only take us as I did with my object-box, but actually take on and off with a routine without even thinking of it: clothes, undershirts, shoes, glasses, hats, and perhaps jewellery.

Objects that represent us, and objects through which we present. Not always consciously. How to move from fetish-objects to clothing?

Clothes are performing objects

The artist Paula Rego uses models, masks, costume and props to construct complex and often unsettling visual narratives that are being represented through her paintings. Her paintings could be considered as  the reproductions of telling a story, a story the objects did in her studio in the first place. Objects charged with memory, and empathy.

What I like is when she said

“It is real, or I pretend it is real – what is the same thing” – Paula Rego

There is quite substance in it, a constructivist approach, and resonating well with my experience in art therapy and constellation work: what we perceive or see as a visual mentally transcribed image is the real thing that matters to the person – it guides them in life, it is part of their life.

Rego works quite traditionally with her figurative paintings of things, she doesn’t work with human life models, but with made life objects. She stages a scenery similar to a film or stage director with found and made objects, all with a human touch, either through a likeliness with human bodies or through a human memory related to these objects. By that the objects are charged with power, a process that very much resonates with my exploration of subject-object relationship and fetishism.  I am wondering what was the motivation for Rego to work that way.

Another thought that Rego’s works triggers in my mind is the distinction – or no distinction – between objects, made, painted and the representative and observational painting of it. During part 2 I was shifting my attention from observational paintings to painting with and onto objects in order to let them perform for their own sake.

During my reflection on ‘Flatland – Abstract Narratives’ I was wondering how objects by themselves can perform and convey a narrative. Rego’s work shows another, figurative and charged with human memory, approach towards narratives. Question which way to go?

Example: Rego’s found monkey puppet is her life model for a narrating painting. Can the puppet be in itself the support for a narrative that goes beyond the subjective memory or her? Can the puppet be transformed into something else through a co-creation of the viewer? And what is the difference or advantage or a flat representative painting of staged object scenery versus an installation of such a scenery as I did in my Walking Through Painting, though not quite anthropomorphic as Rego is doing it.

Another work that I can related to this performing clothes might be the work by Carolina Burandt‘s work ‘FLURMOMENTE – Garderobe (example procedure)’  She graduated this year with a BA in Fine arts from the Academie Minerva, Hanzehogeschool Groningen (the closest brick&mortar university for arts for me) who won this year the Klaas Dijkstra Academy Award.  The work is a participatory performance art, about transitional moments in-between and as a research project. The audience is invited to redress and take on some construction gowns before be asked to do some tasks (see video here) What strikes me here are the element of dressing up for a performance (the dress as an objects to give permission?), the contrast between bright color of the gown and the environment, and the conception of addressing the space in between artist and viewer, art and mundane objects/tasks, visible and mental images, inviting for a dialogue, art as a mediator for collaboration. and social exchange.

Question: How do clothes contribute to identity ?

Mockup Patient Gown - acting and performing, (c)SJSchaffeld, 2018

Fig. 1: Mockup Patient Gown – acting and performing, (c)SJSchaffeld, 2018

Clothes are Identity

Pawel Althamer’s installation of objects as representing his identity in ‘Self-Portrait as a Businessman, 2002/2004. It is this question of self-portrait and identity that let me start looking at my frequent travelling and living with and out of suitcase at the start of part two (see my blog post here).

Althamer’s earlier work Self-Portrait in a Suitcase, 1996 seems closer to my idea as it developed over time. Although, I find the presence of the artist as a puppet a bit redundant, restricting a co-creation of narrative in the viewer’s mind too much.

The interesting aspect with Self-Portrait as a Businessman is possibly less the final image, but the process as it developed, unfolded: the artist took on clothes and props that he thought or representative for a businessman (external conception) and undressed him completely in a public square, walking away naked. This performance not only attracts more people but also adds a narrative to the installation. What if the installation was done without performance? Would it be less strong? Less narrating? The final plays with absence of the person (either artist or a businessman), the dressing and undressing adds another layer of artist’s intervention and intentionality. It reminds me of my own corporate business past, and how at the end I consciously undressed after work to ‘get rid’ of a layer, a mask, an identity perceived. Clothes do impact how we perceive ourselves, and how we are perceived by others. Clothes do tell a lot of the person wearing them. After death they are intrinsically charged with presence of the deceased. Buying new or second hand also can add a different connotation:. Who was the person wearing them before?

 Lisa Milroy’s use of clothing is perhaps more of topology (e. the ‘Dress’ series), paintings resembling an apparel boutique. At times fragmented like sewing patterns pre-cut and ready to be stitched together, e.g. Coming Apart, 2012. At times they remind of paper doll clothes, paper cut-outs, e.g. For White, 2012. Ideas of archive, as the collection of shoes shows. At first glance neat and in order, with closer view more with disorder and hard to distinguish one pair from the others (though they are all in pairs), e.g. Recent Shoes, 2014. The vast repetitive amount reminds me the work in series of Allen McCollum (e.g. ‘Surrogates’). Somehow I find her installation paintings PARTY OF ONE, 2013 or Split Personality, 2013 or 70 dress-paintings more intriguing, they are sculptural, painterly and building with references of visual language and eventually leading towards spatial curiosities, e.g One-to-One, 2015 – and they are to be engaged with, the viewer can get close. Her work White Shadow, 2012 is a painting that wants to get out of the flat surface, building on her earlier ‘Dress’ series but not at the stage of an installation painting yet. I have the feeling that her later works are getting more abstract and possibly more interesting as they build on absence and patterns across objects, e.g. Bag, 2014. Overall, Milroy’s paintings and installation flow between performative objects and identity-giving objects.

Mockup Patient Gown - a second skin, (c)SJSchaffeld, 2018

Fig. 2: Mockup Patient Gown – a second skin, (c)SJSchaffeld, 2018


With regards to painting, installation and clothing the Japanese artist and queen of polka dots’ comes to my mind : Yayoi Kusama, e.g. Dots Obsession ,1997 or Infinity Rooms. Often the artist wearing clothes matching the patterns of the objects and the room, making her a living object of it. In the 1950s she even created a fashion series with the polka dots. 

Clothes becomes skin

This brings me to a work I’ve notice in ArtForum, Anvar Musrepov, IKEA Costume, 2017. It resonates with my work from part two  (packaging material, useful object) and to transform it into an outfit, even an identity? A dress is what one wears, and the IKEA bag (blue is the one one can buy and take home, the yellow one is for in-story use only) is often see for many different purposes, it is big, and one can put quite an amount of stuff inside. A dress, a fashion, a cultural identity. As it is IKEA one could connotate this with a lot of lifestyle and consumption habits as well.  His work relates to the work of Edson Chagas and his series ‘Back to Purgatory’, appropriation of African tribal masks and a consumption oriented world, the bag becomes a piece of our clothing, our outer shell, or as C.G. Jung described our social mask once, our ‘persona’.

It seems as if clothing gets close to our skin, our natural outer shell before culture invented clothing. In the work of Toyin Ojih Odutola this becomes visible through regular patterns on the skin, opening question whether it is skin or clothing, conveying an unsetting feeling.

Re clothes and Sam Gilliam I find one notion relevant during my past exhibition visit when Gilliam was asked to get more personal in his drapes and eventually he incorporated found objects from his direct environment into the canvas, traces of his identity, concealed or trapped inside the drape as reference for clothes one wears and one is recognized for (e.g. Jail Jungle I, II, III, 1969 or Composed (Formerly Dark As I Am), 1968-74). Reading the joining exhibition text I was wondering how personal expression in painting and cultural identities are related with each other, as according to the text ‘some African Americans working in figurative modes described Gilliam as making art in service to the white power structures’ – quite a statement. Re my own work and reflecting on my tutor’s comments on my Object-Box ‘as apparently less personal’ due to ‘rather crude objects’

Another approach to that could be seen in the role clothes play through replacing as second skin, eliminating faces, disguised faces. Ewa Juszkiewicz (Beers, 2015:138-39) paintings are conventionally painted portraits, appropriated from original older paintings, in three-forth profile, fully clothed in the dress of the profession (Cardinal, 2012) with disguised faces, folded, clothes or locks (Locks, 2012), the backside of the head. This disruption of an expected picture disrupts the narrative, through a high quality execution of the paintings, the unsettling effect seems to be stronger as if applied more abstract paintings, e.g. as in Dana Schutz‘s provocative painting Open Casket, 2016 appropriating a photograph of the lynched African American Till Emmett (see my blog post for UVC) that opened up questions of who had a right for cultural appropriation.

One artist who explores fabric and social heritage across cultures is Yinka Shonibarembe MBE. In his recent exhibition ‘Ruins Decorated’ classical ruined white marble sculptures are decorated with Dutch wax textiles. Dutch wax are considered as staple in African clothing. Double side printed cotton fabric in batik method, originally known for the technique developed in the Durch West Indies. One manufacturer of that traditional style is With the contrast of materiality (white marble, Batik textiles) he challenges color conceptions of cultural appropriation and colonial power structures of a Western White and an African colorful. The materiality and iconic perception of Dutch wax fabric informed his paintings ( in a reduced abstraction moment with geometric shapes .

Without the content as such I  ponder choice of materiality alongside color, shapes and forms to be used in contrast or disruption of a narrative.

Below the Skin

Considering my tutors’s comment about my choice of bright red in my Fabric Wall #2 (too symbolic to connotate with blood? ), I was curious to see how other artists are handling bright red paint, e.g. Jane Lee‘s Solid Turn Liquid, 2015 (Melick and Morril, 2016:168-169), triggering ideas of blood dripping clothes, folded canvas that remind me of the multicolored canvas drapes of Sam Gilliam.  The paint on the floor alongside the painted canvas is conveying the spatial dimension of the material. At the end, it is all a painting. I find the comment in the book text interesting

“any symbolic violence is quickly undermined by the attention to material and form”

Another example is Turned Out, 2009, bright red painted canvas cut in thin strips and rolled like a firehose, certainly nothing to do with clothes any longer, but with materiality and surface. Both works emphasis the materiality of paint, the chosen color triggering ideas of blood might be just a reference to another reference, as blood could be seen as a paint as well (through its red color) Would the comment from the book mean that the chosen color and the chosen form are talking to the viewer through its materiality in a dialogue? Both bringing in different references, e.g. red=blood, form=fire hose?


What do I take away from this?

  • Clothes are a second skin.
  • Clothes are performing, are part of our identity, or part of our ‘persona’ (social mask)
  • Clothes do perform in absence of human beings.
  • Clothes are objects of desire, obsessive things to collect and to stage.
  • Skin:  human skin as clothes are the layer that surround us closely , in that sense clothes a second skin. Both protecting us, allowing us to interact with the environment, and give a sense of identity. Question what is behind or below? what is concealed? person, body  – blood, organs
  • Identity: Clothes to represent, they perform on us or for us.
  • Materiality : contrast alongside cultural connotations to disrupt narratives

Another object that is considered as identity given is the human brain, behind the skin, concealed by nature’s or culture’s clothing. An aspect that might bring me from a different angle to my personal project – to keep in mind, to explore.


  • All images are my own paintings as part of Ex3.1 (c)SJSchaffeld, 2018


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  • Nov 6,2018 at 1:49 PM

    Your comment, ‘Clothes do perform in absence of human beings’ is what I was thinking when I made my final series of prints in this workshop: (Scroll to the final prints – a printmaking equivalent of sketchbook pages?).

    • Stefan
      Nov 6,2018 at 2:20 PM

      Thanks for relating it to your own work and sharing it with me here. How familiar, can see that China is very much part of your being, your voice? Keep it! photo emulsion sounds so fascinating, do you use it the screen print way or another approach? I thought of it since decades, never touched it – feels photography related, mediated by light. Your stencil approach as a cut out? How is context (background) relevant?
      more thoughts to ponder

      • Nov 7,2018 at 9:12 AM

        Photo emulsion is really just a screen-making process using a photographic process, but what you use it for to make images of on the screen is only limited by your imagination (or interests). It was good to read someone else’s thoughts on the life of clothes!

        • Stefan
          Nov 7,2018 at 9:54 AM

          agree – different viewpoints do help

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