whitehot | October, 2008, An Interview with Vadis Turner
MODERNISM and Gender Roles
An Interview with Vadis Turner
By Kofi Forson
Domesticity has familiarly been ordained in the works founded and traditionally marketed by women. Technology and corporate consumption has long since dismissed the care with which women approached handicrafts, knitting and craft work. Vadis Turner, Tennessee born and current New York City artist, revamps the notion of handmade objects as they are incorporated in a defining and contradiction of conventional gender roles. Her mixed media pieces achieve an intricate, colorful and at times elegant pronouncement on matters feminine and are reverentially transcendental.
Kofi Forson: Gender politics made transferable in art has been for the most part shocking to say the least. We’ve seen it in design porn; I mean the advertisers eat it up… Much can also be said for the intellectualizing of what is sex, virtual or otherwise… How did you manifest from a proper upbringing as a southern girl and then reinvent the very nature of gender and sexual politics in what seems to be rather incredible pieces of art which other artists would have turned into something blue or trendy?
Vadis Turner: I started making work about behaviors and values that I wasn’t supposed to talk about and discovered the tension between traditional and contemporary gender roles to be stimulating. Many gender roles are diluted in our culture while others are still maintained. I want to visualize the complicated responsibilities and expectations that are associated with gender and sex.
I am developing a language by transforming the commonplace into a vehicle for social commentary. The wax paper lingerie for example is a sexy and beautiful object made from a domestic and functional material. I have high aesthetic standards. If the work becomes raunchy or trendy, the meaning is cheapened.
K F: Fashion is certainly not a focus of what you do…but I think of Man Ray’s fashion photography and yes they bring to mind some of your works. What inspires this… the feminine nature within these pieces? (Sigh) Not all of them give the impression of femininity but indeed in all of them there’s that sense of hand-made, knitted or quilted.
V T: Femininity is very often confused with notions about beauty and sexuality that are invented by men. It is hard to separate what is feminine about femininity and what are masculine ideals for females.
The concepts are often synthesized with ancestral forms of craft that are associated with women’s work. Handiwork (ranging from embroidery to jewelry) serves as a measure of a woman’s worth and evidence of her time(s). I am interested in how a culture can be embodied in an object and want my work to be a form of historical artifact. I am currently creating a series of contemporary heirlooms that will ultimately compose my dowry.
K F: Generally, one would be led to think these are post-feminist impressions of what is a society run amuck with celebrity culture and fun facts: That a woman may not tattoo Wittgenstein on her derriere or care to know who he is but she would solicit a man who works for Maxim. (Sigh) Is it more so intelligence is in the detail more or less and not much attention should be paid to what women are wearing and who or how many men they’re sleeping with? Does the word “post-feminism” mean anything to you?
V T: Yes and no. “Post-feminism” is historically accurate but a bit too polite and not very descriptive. Aggression is often associated with feminism and the title of “feminist” has become a turn off to men and women. It is an issue now just as much as was in the 60s & 70s. We have to understand and use it in the context of our culture.
My work couldn’t develop without the insights and perspective I have gained from other generations of women. There are similar interests and concerns that I want to expand on in addition to issues that are specific to this time for women in America.
K F: What voice if any are you bringing to a generation of young female executives or twelve year old girls who worry about eye-liner and lipstick…Who are you talking to and how are you being received?
V T: I love that female executives are considered a population, although they do not compare to “tweens” in numbers and size. The work is inspired by my age but the original intention is quickly transcended and re-imagined by other generations, which is incredibly insightful. The work is engaging on a decorative level for younger viewers. For the adults, beauty can trick you into looking only to reveal that there is something unattractive beneath the surface.
Our priorities and perceptions change with age. We make different emotional investments and time commitments with our bodies, career, home, sexuality, family, etc. It is both luxurious and complicated to have the freedom to choose what role to focus on. I think the sex swing and money fertility quilts deal with these issues. The quilts are deconstructed quilt patterns made with dollar bills and tampon wrappers. The sex swing looks like a 12 year old girl’s bedroom but hopefully a 12 year old girl doesn’t know what a sex swing looks like.
K F: What do you derive from the transforming of sexuality into handy-craft-works where dildos and rolling pins are given an impressionable treatment? Is this an anti-postmodernist query or better yet what do you value in the treatment of feminine products as works of art?
V T: Beauty and sex appeal has a universal value and can be exchanged as social currency. Making desirable objects and being perceived as desirable objects is a long-standing practice and ambition. Painting quilt patterns on vibrators and dressing garter belts on rolling pins allows me to employ the attractive making materials into functionless objects of beauty.
K F: Given the transcendence and evolution of the female from frontier woman to presidential candidate, how well has she been served over the decades past and is it important that your work reflects this or not?
V T: Ample choices present infinite opportunities to carefully craft your identity. The more women (and men) advance, the more dimensional they can discover themselves to be. That is incredibly important for me as an individual, a woman and an artist.
K F: Love this… what you do. It certainly encourages a new language for women, if not in beauty and dating tips, it gives them something else to think about. How to measure the peculiarity of dildos… Can a tampon be used in other ways outside of the very obvious? These are circumstances of non-conventionality and that’s good.
V T: Thanks so much. It is liberating for me to discover non-traditional art materials in drug stores, supermarkets, etc... It seems fitting to our expansive perception of what art is. I am most interested in the bigger picture of “measurements” and how they pertain to our worth as individuals and/or a society.
Thanks again for this opportunity.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief