Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Playing Dress Up With Vadis Turner

Written by Julie Fishkin
Vadis Turner uses typical objects of everyday girlhood to make even more girly-ish objects. The thing is, she inverts all of her material. In Vadis’ world, lingerie isn’t made out of lace, it is constructed from wax paper. Her cakes aren’t flour and frosting, they are layers of tampons. She has shown her work in galleries in Brooklyn, Boston, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. From my very first studio visit, when I spent hours playing with her tea party set, replete with fake little chocolates made from discarded kitchen materials, cupcakes made of yarn, and bead-filled cups of tea, I loved Vadis' work. I even became a proud collector of a Turner of my own—this amazing little prom dress made out of equal packets. Counting calories in hopes of fitting into this perfect dress with skinny straps and a tiny waistline—the simultaneous struggle and downfall of girls in a nutshell. We met at my place early enough to talk about her Southern sensibilities juxtaposed with being a  woman living in NYC, making art in this context, and—one day—having babies.
    

Vadis Turner uses typical objects of everyday girlhood to make even more girly-ish objects. The thing is, she inverts all of her material. In Vadis’ world, lingerie isn’t made out of lace, it is constructed from wax paper. Her cakes aren’t flour and frosting, they are layers of tampons. She has shown her work in galleries in Brooklyn, Boston, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. From my very first studio visit, when I spent hours playing with her tea party set, replete with fake little chocolates made from discarded kitchen materials, cupcakes made of yarn, and bead-filled cups of tea, I loved Vadis' work. I even became a proud collector of a Turner of my own—this amazing little prom dress made out of equal packets. Counting calories in hopes of fitting into this perfect dress with skinny straps and a tiny waistline—the simultaneous struggle and downfall of girls in a nutshell. We met at my place early enough to talk about her Southern sensibilities juxtaposed with being a  woman living in NYC, making art in this context, and—one day—having babies.

Julie: Start from the beginning. Little Vadis growing up in the South.

Vadis: The roots of work began where I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. My work is about gender roles and expectations for women, but not just in the South—I’ve learned that these gender roles are ubiquitous in many ways. What women make with their hands is a universal currency—be it something about maintaining a home or raising a family, all the things you have to make with your hands—but also traditional forms of craft, like, embroidery and even cooking for that matter.

Julie: Was painting accepted in that society as something you were going to pursue seriously, as opposed to something like finding a good husband?

Vadis: It was definitely something that made my dad nervous.

Julie: Why?

Vadis: Because you can’t make a living as an artist. It seems like a thrill in some ways. It’s a cool thing to be good at but not as a foreseeable career. That’s why I also got my degree in teaching.

Julie: Yeah, that makes sense. Tell me more about your materials.

Vadis: It first began with wax paper—a cheap common kitchen material that everyone has in their house—and I transformed it into ball gowns, prom, and debutante dresses. The idea of transforming materials is still so paramount in my work. It’s about turning something not precious into something precious.

Julie: Why prom and debutante?

Vadis: I wanted to communicate this world where a woman’s place is in the kitchen but also in society. She has to make these things that are beautiful but also be something that is beautiful.

Julie: Did coming up with these pieces require your moving to NYC, stepping away and reflecting on who you are?

Vadis: Sure, you have to have some perspective. I didn’t realize how varied gender roles are in different parts of America. Basically, in my mind, it’s all about time. How we spend our time defines us as individuals, as a culture. When I was growing up as a Southern woman, I went to a school where I was empowered to say, “You could be a banker, a lawyer, anything”—which is empowering, but there’s this tension between having these capabilities and also having the ability to give birth. To me, there is this tension and choice of what’s more important—how do I want to spend my time; what do I want my job to be?

Julie: Do you see yourself as still embodying a more traditional role as an inherently Southern woman? Do you plan to marry, to pursue this so-called traditional role or do you see that as some sort of regression, for lack of a better word?

Vadis: For myself, I don’t think there’s anything more important than creating life, and that act will definitely bond me to every generation of women before me and after me. It’s wild; obviously, we can compete with men, but just this ability to have kids will always make us different and create a tension between traditional roles and modern ones.

Julie: Tell me about your Birth Control Egg project.

Vadis: These eggs, for example, my egg pieces that I make out of birth control pills—it’s about this idea of having the ability to silence our most beautiful gift. We take this pill to quiet down the most miraculous thing we can do because we have the luxury to use it when we want.

Julie: What about the lingerie pieces?

Vadis: I looove the lingerie. It’s about hopeful virginity as a debutante, presenting yourself to society as an “eligible” future wife. Most of the lingerie is all wax paper and so much more expressive and intimate. In a debutante dress, you’re presenting your fertility and virginity; the lingerie is more about me coming to NYC in my 20s and living here as a single woman, going to bars and wanting to find a soul mate. I think that when you go out, you want to present yourself as a sex object. You want guys to think you’re hot and sexy, but you also want to present yourself as good marriage material. So the lingerie is about making something sexy out of kitchen materials.

Julie: Tell me more about your older projects, like the chocolates. I love this idea of discarded junk you have around the house made into these beautiful and delectable little pieces that you know so well but suddenly gain a new appreciation for.

Vadis: It’s also such a hackneyed gift that’s supposed to be thoughtful, and it’s so not.

Julie: I know! Like the most clichéd symbol of love in the form of this shitty gift—a heart shaped box full of crappy candy.

Vadis: Right, it’s supposed to be so thoughtful, but it’s so not. I use materials from around the house—pantyhose, cotton swabs, fake fingernails—anything that women use to make themselves and the spaces around them beautiful. I started to use pantyhose because the idea behind them is to make you beautiful, even you out, but they’re so uncomfortable—they suck you in, smooth you out, put you into shape.

Julie: Do you think you’ll continue working with the same themes and objects?

Vadis: You know, I just turned 30, and just this year I’m really tapping into fertility as being part of my work. I think with the tampon collages and cake—they’re new—when I started to think about those, it just brought everything together for me about what it means to be a woman. There are so many possibilities to succeed without gender being an issue and there are also so many traditional roles that are empowering.

Julie: Not everyone can be empowered from sitting at a sewing machine all day making quilts. Really, you found a way to make this work empowering, which is precisely why what you’re doing is so unique. You turned these concepts on their heads.

Vadis: Yes, right! It’s really all coming together for me.

Vadis Turner currently shows with Vanina Holasek Gallery
Upcoming show: Tag Art Gallery, Nashville TN, opens April 4
 
Check out her work.
 
 
Images courtesy of Vadis Turner 

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