I suppose there's a story behind every dress. This is the dress that Ivana wore in Jakarta. It's two sizes too big for me and probably three sizes too big for Ivana. The bodice (top part from waist the shoulder) kinda, sorta of fits me with what seamstresses call ample "wearing ease" but the rest is downright huge and due to so much excess fabric and built-in inner structure makes me look all balloon-y around the middle....not exactly what a girl is after when selecting an evening gown.
Okay, so it's not the most flattering dress in my collection and Ivana and I are/were both swimming in it. But there are several good reasons for this. Heavy nylon tethers are sewn into the entire length of the dress to provide supportive structure when it attaches to the architecture at the site. It had to be roomy enough to accommodate. It, also, had to be strong because of monsoon season...so extra thick tethering. Heavy rain and high winds can wreak havoc on any dress, even my most indestructible ones made out of nylon and polyester rip stop. But this one is 100% silk. You can see it in the photo. As opposed to reflecting light, like shiny synthetics do, silk does this interesting thing where it actually absorbs light.
Clover Morell was supposed to wear it in Jakarta before our Kickstarter campaign to get her there went bust. To be on the safe side, she sent me her measurements and then I made it extra generous because there was no time for a fitting before her departure and her arriving in Jakarta to do a performance with a dress that was too small would have been well, in performance terms, quite tragic. Also, the design of the dress is like a cone requiring the hip area to widen and follow the overall line of it. This was a huge defining factor. In short, this dress had a job to do. There was moment where Aimee Lee and Anida Yeou Ali were both slated to take Clover's place as performer in Jakarta, but again the funding was problematic. In the end the Jarkarta Biennial team did secure the funds for me, and having Ivana already on the ground in Indonesia eliminated the expense of an international flight from the U.S.
I, personally, was never supposed to wear this dress in any context because I couldn't go to Indonesia and because of my health, still can't. I've been chronically ill for almost eleven years which has dramatically impacted my ability to make anything, let alone work with large amounts of materials and engage in the very labor-intensive act of sewing enormous gowns. I become sickened by minute amounts of chemicals 95% of the population never even notices and fabrics are very chemically-intensive. The only reason I was able to sew this dress is because the fabric had been airing out for almost twelve years before I crafted it. In fact, the fabric of the Jakarta dress is the scrap fabric of what remained from another precursor dress. It was the "negative space fabric". I literally used the pieces that remained on the floor after the precursor dress was cut out, creating a negative of the original. Gratefully, the fabric had been washed, ironed, aired and then stored away during another life: my pre-illness existence.
The precursor dress, the mother of all my dresses were it to ever see the light day, never had a performance life and has been languishing in the basement wine room of my house now for 15 years. The cats have thrown up on it from time to time, it gathers dust and I'm sure it's very musty smelling. But I haven't actually been able to part with it either. I've invested a lot of hours in it from sourcing the two hundred yards of fabric in NYC to hours and hours of stitching (and unstitching). My friend, the architect, Cheryl Noel helped me with the pattern and printed the pieces on the blueprint plotter. I hired a custom bridal gown fitter so it would conform exactly to my body. Once every five years or so I unwrap the cloth that covers it and try it on. Oddly, today it fits.
Back to the Jarkarta dress in the photo. In summer of 2013, Anni Holm sent it to me while I was in Arizona after the exhibition she curated, "Material Possessions", with Patty Carroll and I came down. After a few weeks of airing it out on the clothes line in Arizona, I decided to take it for a spin. My friends Melinda and Marsha Honn suggested I do it at the rocks behind Bill Sullivan's house so we went there on a location scout during the evening light. The next week we all came back and Melinda and Marsha helped set up the shoot. I composed the shot and set my fstop and film speed, the sisters helped arranged the gown, give me feedback as to what poses were working (and not), and helped get extraneous brambles out of the way.
When I look at this photo today, I don't see a decade plus of illness and limitations. I see work-arounds and possibilities. I see the friends and colleagues who stand by me and help and support me. But perhaps selfishly, and most importantly for me, I see the future and the living embodiment of my own life force. I feel the fire inside me surging.
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