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Between the Seam and the Skin Exhibition

  • Plummer Park's Long Hall 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard West Hollywood, CA, 90046 United States (map)

Open June 2-14, 2019 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon-6pm

"While I take similar care in ripping the seams as a surgeon making an incision, I also take the garment apart the way a child might take a doll apart, with the same curiosity to figure out how it is made. To me the surgical lens is more about repair. In that manner, the project begins to veer off from the entry point because I am not out to mend, but to disfigure in order to create something new.” (1)   There is a particular art to constructing a garment.

Sewing skill aside, the method of fitting a flat object (i.e. fabric) to a three-dimensional form (i.e. torso) is much more complicated than a quick swaddling. For all intents and purposes the body is a continuous, seamless topology, regardless if that surface changes from inside to outside and back again. (Consider the path from neck to chin to lip to tongue to throat to esophagus and so on…) Pattern construction necessitates a simplification of the body into more geometric planes; fabric follows the form of the body “naturally” when it is shaped with cut curves and darts.  

There is a particular art to deconstructing a garment as well. Studious sewers and pattern makers learn a lot by taking apart an item of clothing along its seams to see how the pieces fit together. Similarly, in the act of deconstruction, Pilar Gallego has created a series of new works that interrogate the codification of bodies through clothing, and expanding the definition of a body as a more complex form and source of subjectivity.  Gallego’s Deconstructed T-Shirts (2018) are sculptural works presented on the wall. Each piece is constructed from old white t-shirts; each has a distinct yellowed patina from wear. Gallego pulled apart the shirts along their seams so they laid flat, and then cut and sewed the fabric into new configurations to make outrageous flaps and holes. The edges of the shirts are exaggerated and stretch beyond their limits to make strange, biomorphic shapes. The holes, trimmed in white ribbed tape, suggest places for an arm or a neck, or other kinds of orifices, like a mouth or anus. Tacked to the wall, the deconstructed shirts appear like flayed skins, as if peeled from indescribable yet wondrous bodies. 

On the other hand, Gallego's Shirt Paintings (2019) are produced in a similar vein but are, as their titles suggest, much more painterly. Instead of monochromatic white shirts, Gallego’s primary source for these works are vintage men’s button-down shirts from the 1950s and 60s—garments they long to wear but, according to the artist, never quite fit. These garments are cut up and arranged in large assemblages, forming complex topographies that extend in multiple directions, somewhat reminiscent of the sprawling outline of a gerrymandered congressional district. Structural and functional details from these garments—pointed collars, patch pockets, or a long, ridged, button-holed placket—are flattened and incorporated into these re-constructions, while the surface is altered further by carefully cut holes.  Gallego follows a trajectory laid by a number of artists using textiles in formal abstraction—Richard Tuttle, Sigmar Polke, and Blinky Palermo, to name a few. But Gallego’s work is beyond surface: the works on view extend the artist’s project interrogating and dismantling masculine archetypes, in particular the image of the American rebel, personified by actors like Marlon Brando, James Dean and Steve McQueen in mid-century American film, in a white t-shirt and jeans.

It is no accident the shirts Gallego uses for the Shirt Paintings allude to a synchronous period. Conjured by mass media, this conventional, pervasive and ultimately toxic image of masculinity is desirable (to become that archetype) but unattainable. It is in fact a skewed representation of gender that Gallego chooses to skew further into new territories in order to grapple with the allure of this archetype, as well as dismantle its potency. Gallego elaborates:   “And what I am seeing in these dissections, is the same thing I did to my body when I underwent gender confirmation surgery, when I opened up my own body in order to create something new. It’s through my transformation that I am seeing I can remake these garments in a similarly anomalous form, so that they may visually speak to a body that has had no real point of origin itself.”

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