Janieta Eyre: Leech Gowns and Manicures
Happening now at Henry Art Gallery, Out [o] Fashion Photography: Embracing Beauty presents a vast mix of styles, eras, artists, and subjects, including the pair of disquietly enchanting black-and-white portraits by Toronto-based artist Janieta Eyre. In Twin Manicurists, the identical women each wear a mantilla, a tiered fox stole, a full-length lace-floral dress, and bare feet, with excessively long toenails to depict the characters as "somewhere between animal and human," says Janieta during our phone interview. In Twins Modeling Identical Leech Gowns, the fashions layer antique ruffles and fleshy gobs: "They aren't real leeches. It's a squid. I remember its heavy smell. And I had to be careful sewing it to the tulle. It was very fragile; it frayed easily."
Janieta is compelled by twin imagery. One delightful legend suggests she is the lone survivor of a conjoined set: "That's a rumor, and I have no idea whether it's true or not," she says. "The body itself is like a garment—it can be changed... And when I [observe twins together], I see how differently they wear their bodies," she says. Similarly, Janieta transforms for her pictures, then arranges herself in stark rooms, among mutilations, dolls, flowers, dildos. Her narratives are rooted in costuming. "I'll start with a piece of clothing and create the character and development around it," she says. This might be a Value Village garment she "cuts apart, reassembles, alters, and puts back together again," while past rigorous apparel journeys turned up corsets, balaclavas, Mickey Mouse ears, crinolines, WWII-era gas masks, and nuns' winged cornettes. Objects can get incorporated, too: A cheese grater becomes a necklace pendant. So does a dead albatross.
Janieta's other works, not seen at the Henry, combine dire narratives and gelatin-bright colors. What I Haven't Told You shows a woman wearing a clown's red wig, metallic body paint, a delicate white slip, and an apron-like panel stacked with intestines and smeared in blood, of course. The piece addresses "the blurring between the clothing and the self," she says. Eating Meat explores a similar idea. A woman poses in a court dress with wide panniers, and her sculptural headwear recalls "the disturbing moment when you're looking at someone and you're not sure what's them, what they're wearing, where they start, and where their clothing begins." In Motherhood, a conjoined female figure cradles a decapitated sheep's head. Her dress pairs a sturdy plaid skirt with a sexy black lace top with cartoonish striped sleeves. "There's something monstrous about this costume. It is so excessive and strange and elaborate," Janieta says.
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