By a certain point in contemporary art it had become a cliché for female practitioners to use clothing, couture, stitching, textiles, cloth or crochet as critique of what was once regarded as “women’s work”. And then along came E.V. Day with her exploded wedding gowns and shredded nighties and nothing was the same again. As if combining Miss Havisham with Cornelia Parker’s “Cold dark matter”, Day created astonishing tableaux of distressed feminine clothing, stretched out, sliced, pegged up, with her signature 400-pound test fishing-line pulling remnants into every corner of the space. Day then gained even more attention with her large-scale installation “G-Force”, flying G-strings and thongs that filled the atrium of the Whitney at Altria (then Philip Morris) with sexy and perverse geometries, a formation squadron of female underwear worthy of Italo Balbo’s fantasies. Her second solo show in New York with Henry Urbach Architecture (until 21 December) combines many of the same materials—thongs, garters, nylon and resin—but to altogether more anthropomorphic, if not gynaecological, effect.
The Art Newspaper: Does your work in “Galaxy” represent a specifically new direction, away from clothing and into the body?
E.V. Day: Well, I’m not terribly linear about my process. The previous body of work called “Exploding couture” used very specific iconic images that represent female glamour, the masquerade stereotype, the highest essence of fashion, Marilyn Monroe as an icon for example. The red sequin dresses I designed were all identical, I had them made taller, skinnier than even a supermodel, they looked like a trio of singers or girls. It was really about a deconstruction, a freeing of those conventional stereotypes. Even if we are not living back in the 1950s, those stereotypes are still very intact, part of our culture, like a language. Then taking the G-force, or thong pieces, it was really giving them a motor of their own, so they had their own “Global Positioning System”. They had their coordinates and were shooting into Philip Morris or into another museum out West; they had a mind of their own, travelling as a fleet or force. Because they were public spaces, I saw them more as military planes than birds, it was about taking on the more masculine force of a Stealth Bomber. Female genitalia, usually seen as inverted things, were here more extroverted: these are only panty garments but they take on the form of what we think of as masculine high technology, with its own sense of force and also a sense of humour, I hope.
TAN: And the new materials used for these thongs also come out of the science of military technology?
EVD: Of course, polyesters, resins, all the good new stuff always comes out of the military first. Now it’s become underwear or pantyhose or it’s movie cameras from machine guns; it always originates there. It comes with a mystique because it is associated with the secret inventions of the military, and all that money and government intelligence. It’s partially about the material, but more about a psychological state of mind. People were wearing panties outside of their jeans, a new form of feminism, which means “It’s okay to wear my panties outside now!” You’re basically drawing a line to your crotch and saying, “Here it is”. It’s the power of exhibiting your sexuality, we have the right to do this, it then becomes mainstream fashion, it’s powerful but whether it really gives you much agency beyond that I don’t know. The Britney Spears version of post-feminist power I think is really bunk, really sad, but maybe I’m getting older.
TAN: People must always be asking you if you wear thongs yourself.
EVD: Sure! You do or you don’t, what’s the difference? I actually don’t wear them, it’s not that I won’t, it’s more to do with the shape of my body, some people say they are more comfortable or less, but I don’t think it’s really a comfort issue, it’s a fad. It’s hilarious how huge of a topic it’s become within women’s magazines and the general culture.
TAN: The latest exhibition still uses thongs, but more as inner organs.
EVD: It comes from the whole body, not a real human, just its skin, its surface, it goes from that to what represents the difference between men and women, the genitalia, like the thong flying out of people’s trousers. Working with these thongs, it evolved. I wanted to turn it more into an animated creature, not just the shell of a dress, but some sort of biological creature representing the inner organs of a female entity.
TAN: These objects are not specifically female?
EVD: Within them you’ve got very classic sperm-like forms as well, so they do become a hybrid. There’s a merging and melding of both, almost like the zygote having not yet decided what it is. The overriding feeling of the objects is definitely that of a female life force, but within that there’s absolutely a male counterpart that is integrated. One I called “Jock String”, a G-string with the clear head of a sperm: it’s hollow and blown-glass sitting in the jock pouch more than in a split vagina. It’s more about moments of biological sexuality on the inside, and then setting them in the stage of the gallery as something that is free-floating and anti-gravity. The work “Launch Pad” is like Phase One of the thong and garter that comes from my earlier work; it’s specific to the groin, or pelvic area. It’s shooting up through the ceiling, another one cruising, passing through walls with Superman power; it can perforate anything, it has no boundaries. Then it goes into all of these discrete creatures hovering and floating around, representing the next phase, the next dimension, where they return to or where they begin. But I don’t have a narrative or specific mythology, I still wouldn’t call it a story: it doesn’t have main characters or protagonists, and there isn’t a hierarchy.
TAN: I just saw an exploded dress on all those taut wire strings at the Mallin private collection in upstate New York. Is it elaborate to install these sculptures?
EVD: It is and it isn’t; probably no more than trying to get a video installation to work! As with the Mallins, what becomes elaborate is your architecture. If you have a steel ceiling we just have to figure out what the fasteners are; it’s really all just about getting the points fixed. Their ceiling was higher. I was very happy to extend the strings, so it fits perfectly. It can also be retrofitted. Its basic form is fixed: it stays the same, with all these different points of tension. I get very involved with all these nuances. What changes is the context and the lighting and the scale of the room.
TAN: Your work displays a linear progression, from the outside of a dress to the underwear and now with a sort of genitalia.
EVD: I suppose it’s true: it’s getting more and more into the inside. I guess the microscopic, the DNA will be next.
Born: 1967 in New York.Education: BA Hampshire College, 1991; MFA Sculpture; Yale University, Susan Whedon Award for Outstanding Student in Sculpture, 1995. Lives and works: New York. Currently showing: “Galaxy”, Henry Urbach Architecture (until 20 Dec). Solo exhibitions include: 2001 “G-Force”, Whitney Museum, Philip Morris. 2000 “Transporter”, Henry Urbach Architecture. Selected group shows: 2003 “Popstraction”, Deitch Projects, New York; “Doublures”, Musée National des Beaux Arts, Quebec; Armory Show; Paper Sculpture Show, Sculpture Center New York; “Larger than Life”, Susquehanna Art Museum, Harrisburg. 2002 “Rapture”, Barbican, London; “Mood River”, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus