Sara Greenberger Rafferty: New Works: Dresses and Books at Rachel Uffner
April 3 to May 15, 2016
170 Suffolk Street (between Houston and Stanton streets)
New York, 212 274 0064
For her fourth solo show at Rachel Uffner, in the gallery’s second floor space, Sara Greenberger Rafferty has made a series of mixed media works exploring domesticity, gender, fashion, and the page/screen. The show’s title, “New Works: Dresses and Books,” creates an immediate connection between the forms and contents of two kinds of consumables. The material combination is striking; Rafferty uses a combination of acetate, Plexiglas, inkjet prints, acrylic polymer, and hardware. Hardware is necessary for holding the work to the wall and is always listed as a material. There is always more hardware than is necessary, pointing to the necessity and the décor of objects.
The 10 works are of varying sizes and most take the rectangular or square shape of the page or screen. Dress (all works 2016), is cut to the shape of a dress itself, comprised of photographic images combined with acrylic polymer. They appear worn behind the glass. The images — vintage undergarments, designer dresses, and screenshots — are simultaneously flattened and thickened (each piece of Plexiglas is a half-inch thick). Rafferty points to dresses and books as generic objects: ones that require bodies to perform them. One of the books in the show — rendered in two dimensions, like the dresses, under clear acrylic — is Recommended Reading. The outline of Dress appears on the cover. A Hélène Cixous quote repeats down the length of the dress; it begins “I am entrusted with the dress,” and ends “I slipped them on to go to war.”
An artist’s book, and Recommended Reading (2016), with a text by Melissa Huber, accompanies the show. Its contents range from advertisements (current and old) to essays to clothing catalogues to collages. Rafferty shows us where she pulls some of her sources. There are drawings of dresses and bodies inhabiting dresses. There is a dress that contains a list to be checked off, with words wrapping around the body:
How do you feel?
ALL OF THE ABOVE
The image of the dress is empty but appears to be inhabited, the way that clothes are sometimes shown in clothing catalogues. The breasts are perfectly outlined and the dress falls to the ground as though there is a small figure inside. Rafferty astutely placed the above checklist on an evening gown-type dress. We inhabit clothing similarly to the ways in which we inhabit words. We know that fashion communicates, but Rafferty allows the stark pleasure of realizing again and again the ways in which consumer culture guides taste, preferences, the ways we feel about ourselves, and therefore the outside world. We can choose any combination from the list (confused, modern, moody?) or all of the above. Conversely, those terms are probably already projected onto the body inhabiting the clothing. Definitely women. Definitely those people in dresses.
In the gallery, Rafferty shows images of dresses and pages and screens; in the accompanying text, she makes visible her thought processes. Her Recommended Reading is simultaneously fashion catalogue and critique, process clue and question mark. There are two pages taken from Charles Baudelaire’s The Painter of Modern Life (1863), a paean to fashion and modernity. We see highlights and underlines (presumably Rafferty’s), including this passage describing “Woman” in the abstract:
[She] is obliged to adorn herself in order to be adored. Thus she has to lay all the arts under contribution for the means of lifting herself above Nature, the better to conquer hearts and rivet attention. It matters but little that the artifice and trickery are known to all, so long as their success is assured and their effect always irresistible.
Placed on the opposite page, over the text, within a yellow square matching the color of the highlighter, is an image of a young woman in a similarly yellow bikini, holding a piece of paper over her torso. The word “women” appears across her eyes, from the section entitled “Women and Prostitutes” from The Painter of Modern Life. Large text stamped beside her reads: ARE YOU OFFICE PRINTER READY?print