I have always loved art that deals with the human body. Aestheticism, gender, sex positivity, body positivity– these are all realms that inspire and provoke me. And so, my fascination with Dara Vandor’s work was immediate and intense.
The artist details in pen and ink the fabrics that come closest to our bodies– silk, lace, and nylon. Despite the absence of flesh, the renderings of lingerie feel animate. There is a buoyancy to their weight that reminds me of bouncing bodies. The detail of the thinnest nylon fabric resembles the tiny cross-hatched markings on our skin. Vandor’s lacy still lifes are alive because the objects around us are always alive– they are full of memories. And sexual memories are among the strongest and most sensory.
Garter with Bows is a wonderful example. It caught my eye at SPRING/BREAK this past March, where I first encountered Vandor’s work.
I love how the artist has positioned the garter belt so that the elastic garters seem to float upwards. It’s hard to tell if the garment is falling to the ground (in a heated frenzy) or being lifted up (by some sexual divinity, of course). Static against a white backdrop, the garment maintains the energy exerted in its fall/ascent. This is what lends Garter with Bows its sense of being alive. Like a human being, it continues to vibrate and emit heat whether it is moving or not. The artist has her own explanation for the work’s sensation of liveliness. “The medium itself [pen and ink] seems ordinary: it produces small, intimate gestures…Yet when tens of thousands of tiny strokes are marshalled en masse, they begin to assume a life of their own.”
It is a common tendency for humans to invest emotionally in objects, specifically clothing and accessories. I have been known to cry over a lost earring, and swear by the magical powers of my “first date shirt.” There’s something about the way a stretch of fabric feels that can take you back to high school free period, scorching summer Sundays at Coney Island, and to fuzzy nights at the disco. Lingerie, tied up in the complexities of intimate experiences, is often the reminder of intense memories. What does it mean to hold a piece of fabric you wore for a former lover? It’s like holding that person once again– which can hurt, or feel wonderful, or both.
In Her Dirty Underwear, Vandor goes a step farther. She attaches to the emotionally-charged garment physical remnants from a sexual encounter. The dirty underwear recall not just a person, but a specific moment.
It could also be that this pair of underwear may not have been worn for a partner. I would read this then as a love letter to our bodies, and to the power of self-love. Vandor celebrates the bodily processes for which we are often shamed. Seen in conjunction with gorgeous silk panties, the bodily fluid takes on the garment’s feminine, aesthetic associations. In such a way, the fabric legitimizes the presence and beauty of feminine bodies.
These were the thoughts that ran through my head as I studied Vandor’s intricate drawings. It was fascinating, then, to pose the question of significance to the artist herself. “When I started working with lingerie,” Vandor recalls, “the series was about desire, performance and the fleeting nature of pleasure– about the power of clothing to make you feel a certain way, and make others feel a certain way. Though now, years later, I look at it very differently. That’s sort of the magic of making art: it never means only one thing forever, even to one person. There are many ways to get in and out of the images.”
Vandor’s words allowed me to simultaneously see the work through a different lens. Infinity Garter dances past me like something I want to touch but can’t quite reach. It snakes up and down, mirroring the undulating curves of the body, bending away from the viewer’s grasp. The work seduces us, teases us, and ultimately, eludes us. The work is a performance of desire.
I found it quite interesting to learn that Vandor studied art history during her undergraduate years at McGill. I was curious how this background may have influenced the artist’s work. “I think it’s really important to understand the art and artists who came before you,” Vandor says. “Good art acknowledges where it came from but then twists your eye into seeing something new, or thinking about something in a new way.” I see in Vandor’s work the intimacy of M. C. Escher, the dark whimsy of Edward Gorey, and the object-based practice of Jana Sterbak, all of whom the artist counts as influences.
For the viewer, there is nothing referential about the experience of consuming these drawings. Well, that’s not quite true. But the references are personal rather than art historical. To look Dara Vandor’s work is to recall loves ones, and to anticipate new ones with a sharp tingle of excitement. It is to feel deeply in tune with one’s flesh and one’s rapidly-beating pulse. To freeze all these feelings and save them for later.
Until next time!