Mandy Greer draws inspiration from nature, creating outdoor scenes that blend in so thoroughly they seem "sewn into the landscape." To impart her many visions, she builds garments that performers wear, or that are performances in themselves—strung between trees or snaking along the contours of a creek. To gather materials, she sifts through piles and piles of discarded belongings at Goodwill. "I couldn't imagine using anything else," she says.
Unexpectedly, she prefers the "tacky and cheap" synthetics of old bathing suits and bespangled dance costumes, which she shreds and knits and braids and crochets into strange forms—embedding their many knots with an exquisite crumbling of sequins and broken jewelry. The results are grotesque and enchanting, seeming to drift up from the remnants of fairy tales. In her installations, there's the suggestion of caves, the magic kind, brimming with secret treasures and tucked away in some woodsy hinterland. There's also an earthiness that's blunt and sickeningly raw—like a human heart that's been carved out and delivered to the queen in a pretty wooden box.
Mandy's designs rest in fashion's outer void, where artsy considerations override practical ones. "When I'm making them, I'm making a sculpture," she says. She creates each garment by molding it tightly to a dress form that perfectly replicates the performer's figure: "I don't think about how people will get in and out." (For one gown, a woman had to begin on her knees, her arms raised in a diving position, while dressers worked the fabric down her body.) Mandy values this struggle, as much of her work references "extreme physicality and gravity and psychological weight." She is intrigued by Elizabethan corsets: metal and rather gruesome-looking. And hair shirts: once trendy among Catholics and severely uncomfortable, worn to punish the flesh encasing one's filthy, filthy soul. Mandy's art performances often track humanoid figures as they painfully exert themselves in the wilderness. And for an upcoming project, she is constructing a jacket made from stones so heavy they're "almost impossible to carry," with mantles rising dramatically from the shoulders and arms.
Her past projects—seen in such disparate locations as Camp Long in West Seattle and the Bellevue Arts Museum—are just as stunning and absurd. For a Slug Princess character in the art film The Silvering Path, she created an intricate, drippy gown spread with tidy knit rows and trimmed with ruffles in clumping, rippling shapes identical to sea coral. In costuming Book-It Repertory Theatre's A Tale of Two Cities, her garments resembled a draping of organs, bones in spindly patterns, and piles of tendrils swollen with blood. The wearer appeared as if all the meat inside her body had suddenly come gushing out. That mess is better left alone, it seems she's decided, so she'll just let it trail behind her, which is probably what I'd have done, too.
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