The Underwear Project: Sharon Myers Goes Undercover
Two years ago I started an MFA program at an art school in Kennebunk, Maine. The first semester assignment was something that they call the ABC project: Do 26 versions of something that you see every day and that changes every day. Thinking that I was going back to school to improve my portrait sculpture ability, or improve my quilting images, I was stuck. I don't paint, print, had not drawn in years. So I went up to school to discuss it with them.
They just kept saying, "What do you see every day that changes every day?" and as a joke I said, "My underwear." "Fine!" was the answer.
Others in my class did paintings of sunflowers, gourds, prints of plankton, photos of family homes ... you get the idea.
I have boxes of fabric, some glitzy from a friend -- quilt makers are always sharing. The triangle has always been my favorite shape, so I thought with those two factors alone I could come up with something. I started by drawing, something that I had not done in years. Very detailed pieces. I also started playing with fabric: sewing, layering, cutting, and adding to figures or other materials. Many pieces were thrown into the wastebasket, but I kept going. There were dresses with underwear on the outside, figure torsos with underwear and drawings. Then I got the idea to make a lot of copies of the same drawing and do 26 versions of it. That became the "Flying Underwear" wall. I completed the ABC project, but much more had happened.
The second idea that I had was to do an installation of white hanging pieces still using underwear as the theme. That evolved into using pattern paper, sewing the figure through the paper and fabric and adding more details. It went from simple to very complex concepts. I was asked a lot of questions about women's roles, abuse, sexuality, imagery, fantasy, age, and so on.
I wanted to work with real underwear next, so I started scouring secondhand stores and asking friends to give me their old or uncomfortable pieces. There were lots of things that my friends no longer wanted to wear. I ran the corsets, bras, panties, etc. through a printing press, creating wonderful embossed images. From there I went to adding paper and ribbon while printing. Afterwards I started to enhance the pieces. Some are feminine, others are rough and use metal, brads, hooks -- questioning women's place and role, and how we are seen or used by society.
During these last two years I have been out of my comfort zone and have not known where I would go with the materials. But that is the reason to go back to school: stretching one's ideas and vision, and learning new ways of working and/or seeing.
This semester I have decided to work with pantyhose for an installation. So if any of you have drawersful that are old and no longer used, I need a few hundred pairs!
Copyright 2012, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont