Emily Wiseman’s closing reception for Powerful at Shoebox Projects packed an additional potent punch: the continuation of the artist’s Occupy Series included an interactive reveal of each work. As attendees wrote a comment on a card as to what should be placed behind the zipper on each of her framed men’s business suit crotches, Wiseman revealed what she had hidden behind each zipper.
The exhibition was contained within a traditional gallery, with white and blue-cloth-covered walls hung with these suits, reduced, as Wiseman explains, to the “fly…isolated to the opening that accesses the genitals.” The portraits were contained within gold and polished wood frames, adding to both the gravitas of the presentation, and the scabrous wit of the subjects themselves. In the center of the room was a mesh sack into which viewers could drop their suggestions, positioned on a table centered on top of one of the artist’s lush and glorious flower-woven rugs. The rug represented the polar opposite of the suits themselves, symbolically warm, tranquil, and beautiful; an object of comfort not constriction.
“Working with men’s suits was really a continuation of a big interest I have always had in patterns and textiles,” Wiseman relates. “Florals, childish patterns, patterns appropriate for older women, all of that interested me with the idea of what these patterns were intended for. That led to an interest in the subdued patterns in men’s suits, and as I started deconstruction of them, they took on a life of their own.”
Creating using the unwieldy material of the suits themselves was “challenging. I think I’ve learned the hard way to let the material do what it needs to do, and let it have it’s own path,” she laughs.
At the reception, as Wiseman unzipped her crotch portraits, different secrets emerged. Within the unzipped “Four Ounce Rule,” is text from an unredacted TSA manual, word for word. Like the restrictions of the so-called four ounce rule itself, the words are rendered meaningless, inchoate. “Full of It,” when unzipped, reveals inflated plastic air bubble packaging – the artist appears to imply that like so many of those clad in the armor of these suits, what’s inside is mostly empty, over-inflated hot air.
Wiseman’s is truly doing “women’s work” here – woman as seer, prophet, and provocateur. “I think what I would most like people to get out of this show is how power directs our lives,” Wiseman explains.
The true power here is in the artist’s ability to present a witty, fascinating show that in a delightfully subversive way exposes what’s hidden beneath the cultural armature of those suits: the egos, the fragility, the secrets, the nothingness. In short, we can, as viewers, reclaim our own power by studying these intensely intimate “portraits.”
Watch for more from Wiseman: as she sews, so shall you reap.