Walking the fine line between inverting stereotypical female iconography and reproducing it, visual artist Julie Laffin navigates the territory where meaning gets mediated through the female body. The artist often creates a spectacle to engage the audience; the spectacle of a woman adorned with a gown of enormous proportions. In choosing specific public sites that provide the appropriate context for her investigations, she transforms mundane spaces into highly charged ones to meet her own agenda.
The theme of "the dress" has been an ongoing iconographic source in Laffin’s work for almost twenty years and according to the artist, "Clothing not only engages the body in a direct way but is also encoded with existing meaning, often invoking class and gender politics. I couldn’t agree more with feminist theorists who have pointed out that women’s bodies are frequently the site(s) where ideologies get played out or "performed" in our culture."
For the artist, a crucial part of each piece is the process of making the garment which includes the conception, design, construction, and finally the wearing of overly large gowns. Each garment is always troublesome, sometimes creating great physical discomfort, and yet completely wearable. Laffin views the dresses as sculptures that are activated through durational performances, each lasting several hours. The work tends to occupy public spaces rather than theatrical or private ones.
Though the artist’s actions and events occur over time, the work can often be viewed, abandoned and returned to again, much like two and three-dimensional art. Laffin describes herself as a visual artist working in a multidisciplinary tradition that requires the dynamics of time to complete the images she makes.
In addition to numerous performances in Chicago and the midwest, Laffin's work has been shown in New York at Franklin Furnace Archive, The Streetwise Festival of Live Art in Glasgow, Scotland, the New Art Gallery in Walsall, England, The Prague Quadrennial, The Dutch Theatre Festival, Kings College, London and the Jakarta Biennale #14, 2011.
Julie Laffin is a member of Borderbend Arts Collective and an associate artist with Voice of the City, both in Chicago.