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29 garments removed from the body

photography, Chromogenic projection prints

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rest features a collection of 29 1960-70’s garments.  In addition to being a love story, rest is an experiment with form and material and a sketch piece in search of the chimaera set (from the mean body database). rest bridges the immaterial experience of my technological works back to the tactile drives of childhood.  rest explores push and pull relational narratives of vulnerability, intensity and detachment to examine nakedness and grief: death, memory, longing and longing for order.  The 5 works from rest document a series of intimate performances with a wardrobe of cocktail outfits belonging to the late Thelma Cullingham, a stranger to me; June Girvan, my mother; Toni Kiss, my deceased mother-in-law; Lily Tayor my deceased maternal grandmother and Käthe Reifarth Feldman, my deceased paternal grandmother.


The garments in rest are remnants of the late sixties early seventies – my bliss years of wakeful innocence. rest is an intention to know “Thelma” – a woman who came to me disembodied – rather, embodied by her residue. My romance with Thelma reflects my ongoing interest in the body detached from the self – the rituals we perform to mark the transition from embodied to body (as in cadaver). 


The garments in rest are more naked than the naked bodies in mean body. Each dress crafted, named, worn, soiled, torn and bequeathed – each a concentrated narrative seeking to be imagined. Thelma was empty – she left me few props, this absent woman become mother. I imaged her into being then put her away in neat packets. Her garments, her sweat, her blood, the tears, the unraveled hems, the cigarette burns were all a kind of making sense of childhood – my bliss years.


I often wonder what might happen if we were able to undo our socialization. Untangle the nurture from the nature. Reverse our colonization. Go home.


The body is common. Our bodies link us to others in time, place and history. Thelma's body was literally larger and smaller than my own – a reflection of evolving sociality. Economies, freedoms, choice.  Social hierarchies written into the body – hers – mine. We shared her interface, became intimate – I held her blood stains between my legs, her skin dust locked in the weave mixing with my own. I have low tolerance for Thelma's coarse wools.


Early in 2003, I became the fortunate recipient of Thelma Cullingham's wardrobe of vintage cocktail outfits.  The outfits were given to me by Allison Cullingham, a woman with whom I was only remotely acquainted.  Thelma, Allison’s mother, had recently passed away.  Among her numerous effects were a number of garments well preserved since her late 1968-1972 posting to Washington, DC in the role of the wife of a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation public relations officer.  During the Washington years Thelma was a frequent hostess and guest to parties attended by international dignitaries, politicians and press.  The little I know about Thelma Cullingham, I have learned by experience through examining, handling, wearing, undressing from and working with her garments.  


I have heard described one black and white photograph of Thelma standing arm in arm with Pierre Elliot Trudeau.  In that photo, Thelma was wearing a green dress suit of olive green wool with rich chocolate brown suede trim.  The dress is sleeveless and boxy, not too revealing of Thelma’s lean figure but for an inch or so of leg revealed above the knee.  A little sexier than the quilted pale blue wool with pale blue suede pant suit of similar inspiration and definitely more appropriate to the portrait with the Prime Minister than the pink and gold lame number that I wore to the opening of the Armory Art Fair in New York City that spring.  The olive green jacket is short, Chanel inspired, resting just above the hip.  The stylish yet conservative wool suit is defied by the dynamic bold strokes that pattern the suit’s lining.  Unlike most of Thelma’s cocktail outfits, which she hand stitched using Vogue sewing patterns, this wool and suede dress suit was custom tailored for her in Ireland.  From the numerous perspiration stains, couple of cigarette burns and well worn lining, I know that this was one of her favorites.  I wonder if Thelma traveled to Ireland on vacation or if she accompanied her husband to Ireland on CBC related business. 


nichola feldman-kiss ©2005

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pile of clothes

installation, 31 garments

folding clothes performance document

96 minute HD video loop

folding illustrations

self-adhesive vinyl

rest, 2003 – 2005 (in memory of Thelma Cullingham)

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