Monday, June 12, 2006


Fatuous footstools –femininity as confection, cream puff, cupcake, tartlette…Kim Novak, (the Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders;) Lisa Kudrow, (Romi and Michele’s High School Reunion;) Caroline, dress-up duchess, (Anita Brookner’s novel, Providence;) Hyacynth (British TV’s Keeping Up Appearances;) the narrator’s (mis)calculating mom of purple hat debacle, (Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge;) and…

Footstools and Vanity Benches explores both intrinsic and fabricated femininity. Invoking “low art,” (read: “girl art’) --crafts, interior design, and fashion, I use fabric, hair accessories, beads, and Christmas and floral fare to debunk the value system of Fine Art where frivolity is still the poor cousin to austerity. Although undervalued, frivolity is not vacuous, but teeming with insight about our interior emotional life. Like itsy-bitsy, supra-beribboned doggies on Madison Avenue Manhattan, the benches are prim, preened, and poofed coquettes or wannabe princesses. The patterns --powder blue, French boudoir toile, striped Indian Shantung silk, and chartreuse Chinese silk brocade --make drawing room or bedroom culture palpable. All in all, spruced up, poised to please, both fetching and ungainly characters stir up the visceral desires of the beholder.

Like those of materials, twists of language, can divulge the paradoxical nature of what we deem “profound” or “superficial.” In Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, it is frills that spawn lucid, cogent prose. “Glamour” originated in a Scottish corruption of the term “grammar.” “Narmada,” the holiest river in India, means “whore.” “Cosmetics” and “cosmos” notwithstanding, harkened from the same French root, and on Keats’ Grecian Urn, prettified is even “petrified.”

“Maja,” one piece’s title, is derived from Maya, the Hindu goddess of material appearances. Maya personifies the central philosophical concept of Hinduism --that the physical world, although intoxicating in its multiplicity and diversion, is actually a veil of illusion. To Hindus, beneath what our senses tell us, there is a sustaining spiritual foundation. But in America, foundation is manufactured by Cover Girl. To attain the revered “flawless finish,” our goddess is not Maya but Maja, powder and perfume with a hackneyed Spanish flamenco dancer logo sold in cheap variety stores in Queens.

Fabric can be defined as both an internal framework, as in the fabric of society and as an external covering. Like veils which both conceal or accentuate, appearances not only lie but also tell the truth.