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Artist Statement

Cindy Baker — Fashion Plate
(with assistance from Megan Morman)

As now existing, fashion is a form of social regulation analogous to constitutional government as a form of political regulation.

— H. Spencer.

One of my fascinations with this project is in examining the dance people will do between wanting to create something that will fit (and look good) on my (relatively enormous) body, while avoiding creating something so large as to be farcical. What would be more unacceptable; which of these results would be more embarrassing or hurtful — discovering that you have created something much too small, or overestimating the size?

I’m really interested in the idea of disappointed expectations. This project actively provokes disappointment through awkward relationships between artist & audience, model & designer, and plays off subject/object, creator/viewer dichotomies that I’m interested in through all my work.

This project in particular asks the viewer to look at me not as a performance artist but as a model – it is they who are the artist/designer, so there are many possible layers of awkwardness here.

This project gives people permission to look at me, to literally size me up. In fact, it requires them to, to look at me and really think about what they’re seeing. This is the most challenging part of Fashion Plate, I think – for the audience, to be asked to look at me and really think about it; and for me, to be looked at so critically by all the people I encounter.

The thing that I find curious about disappointed expectations is finding the truths hidden within – set up an unrealistic task, and map the strategies used to try to get there to reveal something real. I usually take on these tasks to learn more about myself (my limitations), but this project sets out to present small tasks to others: those who are willing to invest, and I will share with them in return. For this to work, we must both be willing to be a bit vulnerable. It’s a negotiation – the more they share, the more I can share, and the more information changes hands, the more interesting and perhaps wearable the end product.

Chances are that everyone will want to please. Who's to blame if the clothes do not fit?

What kind of connection can be made between that artist and the people who are asked, in effect, to sympathize with the artist, to develop a real (physical) understanding of her body, as well as the situation she finds herself in in relation to fashion and culture? (When I look in the mirror, I see a fat woman, not from the perspective of a fat woman but from the perspective of thinness that is the dominant image presented to me. Even when I shop for clothes or patterns, I must translate much further to decide what will look good, or even fit me.)

Chances are the clothes will be too small. Chances are, the audience will prefer to experience the short-lived embarrassment of the fat woman trying to squeeze into an ill-fitting garment, for the embarrassment is all hers – she's the one that's too fat. Who could blame the clothes, or the designer who clearly tried to accommodate a large woman into the design? Clearly, the artist is so big that she defies even those well-meaning attempts to accommodate her.

In comparison, by creating something too big, the embarrassment is transferred to the designer. Did you really think she was that big?

Yet, if all (or the majority) of the clothes are too small, it is the audience as a whole that will be expected to take a large part of the blame - Are you really THAT out of touch with reality?

This project isn't about blame or shame, it's about asking people to work towards a clearer understanding of ourselves and our relationship to others and the world around us, especially in finding ourselves in the media landscape. I'm asking, for at least a short period of time, for people to think REALLY HARD about someone else's body, regardless of size, about that body in relation to their own and in relation to fashion, which is, after all, a visual translation of society's rules or standards about bodies.

This project isn’t about my expectations being disappointed by the end result, it’s about taking a pile of categorically/chronically/traditionally/predictably disappointed expectations, culminating in nervous-viewer-meets-nervous-artist, and trying to come up with small solutions.

A curious blend of performance and object-making, the most important part of the project will be firstly what happens between me and the people I encounter every day; the conversations, the layers of negotiation and the things that are avoided as well as the things that are covered. Nothing in particular interests me about each potential garment, but it is the final product; the rack full of clothes, the finished collection – that has the potential to tell a story, to demarcate trends or reveal truths. Everything else in between is just work.

Cindy Baker, July 2005

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