I was surprised at the determination with which Seattle-based artist Kara Mia Fenoglietto was unhinging the mannequin’s arm. She was trying to take off a beautiful coat made of silk organza that she’d constructed for her first solo show at Shift Gallery, Wallflower, to demonstrate what it looked like on a Real Human Body. I attempted to help her.
I gingerly palmed the bald mannequin’s head in an effort to steady it as Fenoglietto wrenched off the appendage. She set the arm down on the floor and carefully slid the coat off the model, judiciously wrapping herself in it. Stuffed with dried flowers and cotton, the coat crinkled quietly. She looked like she was engulfed in the sweetest smelling cloud.
Fenoglietto moved to the Seattle area four years ago from Chicago, where she studied fashion design at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “I think a lot of the time when people think of fashion design they think of the material and consumerism aspect of it, but my approach has always been from ‘body as sculpture.’”
Her show is a mixture of garments worn by mannequins, garments hung on the wall, garments smushed between two plates of clear plexiglass and propped up on display. I found myself drawn to “Upside Down,” which was composed of a green velvet dress between these plexiglass plates. This entrapment really lets you appreciate the texture of the velvet in a way that’s difficult to when it’s worn as a functional piece of clothing.
As anyone who has worn pantyhose can attest to, the smushed quality of the velvet reminds me of the lines that those underthings leave on your belly and thighs, marking you, shaping you, putting you in your body in a very specific type of way. I always thought it served as a reminder of how far “out of bounds” your body goes, forever pinching what it doesn’t like about you. Perhaps that's the point.
The name of the show is manifested in “Just Woke Up Like This,” a dress made out of brocade—a fabric that is mostly used in upholstery and drapes. Fenoglietto told me that when making this garment she was thinking about the idea of women traditionally being like wallflowers, “camouflaged into the environment they’re in.” This led to her incorporating tapestry and interior inspired fabrics into her show. “I was creating these scenarios or daydreams in my head, of people being twisted into drapes or couches and having their garments interact with that scene.”
Another stand-out piece from the show was her “Oversized Quilted Cape.” It’s hung flat on the wall for display, but there’s a hole in it meant for your arm to go through, a button to secure it all together. If you look closely you can see little bits of fabric, lace, and other trinkets amongst the dried flowers and stuffing. Fenoglietto drew from the practice of quilting, which was a traditional “women’s craft,” and interrupting it by using a slick fabric like silk organza. She tells me that the garment captures emotions and movements, entrapping chaos.
This is her first year as a member of Shift Gallery and after a four-year hiatus from working on her art practice, Fenoglietto tells me that she wants to keep perfecting her work. Wallflower closes this Saturday—check it out before it goes away forever.