Her UnDoing 2011
Her (un) Doing uses the form of a fabric book to explore the simple tasks involved in dressing a small girl, examining the unstated power structures embedded within such everyday actions. In this work, getting dressed is reduced to a series of encounters with different fasteners – the buttons, zippers and snaps that keep clothing in place on the body. Simultaneously, getting dressed is recognized as not only a functional procedure, but also as the process of being fastened into a gender and a consequent vulnerability through donning the specific forms and functions of female clothing.
Her (un) Doing was inspired by a 1950 fabric book entitled “All By Herself,” in which a young girl practices buttoning, snapping, tying and tucking so that she might get herself dressed unaided, no longer dependent on a caretaker to prepare her appearance for the larger world. For the reader there are actual buttons, snaps, and ties upon which to practice these fine motor skills. The unwavering focus of the book is on doing up - buttoning up, zipping up, tying up. Her (un) Doing seeks to deconstruct the assumptions upon which such a text is built and to imply the hidden converse – the inescapable exposure of also being un-done, of being unbuttoned, unzipped, and untied, all of which are necessary if one is to be then dressed again.
Unlike the fasteners of boys’ clothing, which are functional without being presentational, the hooks and buttons and ties of girls’ garments often hint coyly at what is covered and could be revealed. From the first piece in each trio, I have removed the specificity of context in order to present the fastener as an ideal, a perfection of action. For the middle piece, I have used descriptive text to indicate set patterns, waiting to be enacted. For the final piece in each set, I have set the visible histories and usage of vintage girls’ clothes within a frame, noting how the job of being fastened is attended to in practice.
Pink tints, delicate patterns and decorative ruffles and lace commodify small girls as delightful and delicious objects, yet the processes and structures of getting dressed also subject them to an unyielding signification of femininity. Her (un) Doing works to make visible those structures that both obscure and reveal, fastening small girls into packages of gender and expectation.