Inverted dresses

INVERTED DRESSES

Oscillations in Contemporary Female Praxis
Written By Diana Rodríguez
Translated by Susan Bryan

Within contemporary Mexican art, Miriam Medrez is an established artist whose interdisciplinary practice has evolved over three decades. A renowned sculptor, she received the “Artistic Creator” award in 2010 from the National Systems of Art Creators in Mexico. That triennial fellowship coincides with a reestablishment of her sculpture activity, in which she moved her aesthetic discourse from clay to cloth.

Medrez has produced artworks in series throughout her career. In 2011 she finished “Zurciendo” (Mending) and “Lo que los ojos no alcanzan a ver” (What the eyes cannot see), both receiving positive reviews (Cordero, 2012), and more recently began “Vestidos Invertidos” (Inverted Dresses). These three series present fabric sculptures and have some elements of continuity, such as the reference to self-reflection, the use of narrative as a shaping agent of artistic expres- sion, the employment of artisanal techniques traditionally associated with women, and the solidary dialogue with other women who may be models, colleagues, or collaborators.

Medrez has produced artworks in series throughout her career. In 2011 she finished “Zurciendo” (Mending) and “Lo que los ojos no alcanzan a ver” (What the eyes cannot see), both receiving positive reviews (Cordero, 2012), and more recently began “Vestidos Invertidos” (Inverted Dresses). These three series present fabric sculptures and have some elements of continuity, such as the reference to self-reflection, the use of narrative as a shaping agent of artistic expres- sion, the employment of artisanal techniques traditionally associated with women, and the solidary dialogue with other women who may be models, colleagues, or collaborators.
In accordance with the first two series, Inverted Dresses invites the viewer to rediscover the female body and delve into its unexplored spaces, and above all, to identify common places using the inner self as point of departure. The series consists of eighteen dresses, a significant number that marks the beginning of adulthood in Mexico and Medrez’s choice to work with fabric. Forgoing titles enable the viewers to form their own opinion about each work .
In contrast to the first two series, in Inverted Dresses Medrez builds metal structures that provide a vertebral appear- ance to the pieces, uses a varied palette of colors, explores the aesthetic qualities of materials such as jute vegetable fiber and acetate sheets, alludes to the dynamic character of women through the incorporation of small wheels on the artworks, and combines artisanal techniques such as embroidery and knitting with modern techniques such as the digita- lization of images and numerical printing.
For Medrez, Inverted Dresses deals with the notion of domestic space as a microcosm and a place of epanouissement. Under this premise, she creates the House Dress, a piece that articulates domestic spaces, feminine figures, and small mirrors. The spaces, represented by monochromatic vintage images found online, correspond to the vintage coated fab- rics in pastel tones of the homes. These interiors and exteriors of a previous time converse with today’s feminine figures. About the purpose, the artist shares: “I invite you to get a glimpse of that intimacy, to reflect yourself in the small mir- rors, to inhabit those spaces that are common to all women.”
The House Dress is quite meaningful, because on the one hand, it deals with a clear temporal discrepancy. We observe contemporary women comfortably situated in spaces that evoke a previous era. On the other hand, the piece under- scores the value that Medrez accords to dialogue and interaction in her creative process. Exemplifying this are the femi- nine figures that inhabit the homes, which are product of her dialogue with models, and the recovered coated fabrics, a gift from artist Cecilia Martinez.
Medrez’s interest in narration guides the series from the First Dress, a type of “creative logos” and the only piece in the series that refers to the public life of a woman, through embroidered phrases that allude to social and religious mo- ments. In the same manner, it is the only portable dress. In relation to this matter, Fabiana Barreda says “the attire is transformed into a political and cultural construction that determines private as well as political subjectivity.”
Moreover, Medrez addresses the construction of gender through the articulation of pieces that evoke feminine and hu- man anatomical characteristics. In this manner, the Entrails Dress and the Vagina Dress represent the female reproduc- tive organs, while the Skeleton Dress, the X-ray Dress and the Soul Dress allude to the human aspect and the essence of the being. Medrez also tackles the stages corresponding to the cycle of life. For example, she addresses birth in the Last Dress; different stages of maturity in both the School Dress and the Arid Earth Dress; reproduction in the Entrails Dress, the Vagina Dress, and the Tablecloth Dress; and the last stage of life in the X-ray Dress and the Death Dress.

The artworks of the series combine hard structures with soft materials, inviting the viewers to question the notion of fra- gility in the representation of the feminine. This can be observed in the Bridal Dress where the metal structure provides contrast with the soft fabric that covers the spools of thread. This dialogue of materials brings a poetic tone to the piece and is a resource frequently used by artists such as Safaa Erruas, whose mobile Nuage has a special relationship to the Strainer Dress.
In the Inverted Dresses series the female figure stands out as the “caretaker” an attribute traditionally associated with women in the domestic environment, which the artist accentuates with soft hollow spaces, knitted or embroidered recep- tacles, and structures that open and close. This is observed in the treatment of the dress as a uterus in the Entrails Dress, in the knit receptacles in the French Bread Bun Dress, and in the charms in the Cameo Dress. .
The “nourishing” element is also underscored by Medrez, the notion of woman as the one who sustains and becomes sustenance for those surrounding her. This can be seen in pieces such as the Tablecloth Dress, where the form alludes to a uterus and the central cone to the navel, referring to the time when women provide nourishment through the umbilical cord.
A valuable attribute of Medrez’s work is her ability to logically articulate antagonistic but complementary concepts, an exercise associated with complex thought, if we understand complexity as “a tissue (complexus: tissue that is knit together) of heterogenic components that are inseparably associated” (Morin, l997). In this framework, Medrez man- ages to articulate a complex thought from daily feminine practice. In this manner, we observe elements of connection-
disconnection in the House Dress, of separation-union in the Abyss Dress, of vacuousness-presence in the Bridal Dress and of freedom-dependence in the Soul Dress.
Furthermore, although the purpose of Medrez is not to speak out against phallogocentrism, the series does speak to this issue. Specifically, three pieces refer to the perception of restricted access and confinement in the feminine psyche, the Abyss Dress, the Strainer Dress, and the Grater Dress. This appreciation is seen with the use of domestic circular objects that reproduce the feminine figure in her interior and suggest a regression to the historical moment identified by Amelia Valcarcel as Mysticism of Femininity, in which “each housewife was a directing manager on whom the complete success of the nuclear family depended.”
If the Mysticism of Femininity is situated historically around the 1950s, it is evident that its discourse has not lost validity. In this respect, Elizabeth Jelin writes that “in modern western societies this work is fundamentally performed by women without monetary compensation, justified under the terms of social virtue.” Another element that reinforces this is the no- tion of partition, expressed by Medrez through the breaking of mirrors in the Cameo Dress and the structure divided in half in the Abyss Dress, division accentuated by embroidered roots that evoke the multiplicity of the self.
Through her series Inverted Dresses, Medrez offers three significant contributions to the global aesthetic discourse on gender. First, she shows a verification of the feminine perception of her surroundings in a specific cultural context. Sec- ond, she refreshes questions concerning the construction of gender. What does being human mean? What does being a woman mean? Are the challenges that we as women confront today imposed by others or self-imposed? Are we the victims of our own mental structure? Finally, the series awards visibility to the contemporary feminine practice starting with a specific aesthetic discourse. This latter element constitutes, to paraphrase Valcarcel, one of the immediate objec- tives to open the road for equality.

Statement

Miriam Medrez was born in Mexico City in the year 1958; she studied Plastic Arts at the UNAM, as well as at Montreal’s Concordia University in Canada; she also completed educational labour at Jerusalem’s Betzalel University in Israel.
In the year 1985, she established herself in the city of Monterrey, located in the State of Nuevo León; during this time, she intensified her work as a sculptor at the start of the 1980’s; since then, she has undergone a constant search; addressing different means, and experimenting with diverse techniques filled with notable quality of execution and craft. All of this has brought her to obtain recognition, awards (1st place in sculpting, IV Bienal Monterrey Femsa, 1998), institutional stimuli (Sistema Nacional de Creadores FONCSA/CONACULTA 2006 – 2009, 2010 – 2013 and 2015 – 2018); she has also exposed her work in museums (individual retrospectives at the MARCO Museum of Monterrey from 1995 through 2008); as well as other public and private forums in Mexico and abroad.

Even when she transited through abstraction, her link with corporeality has always been present—particularly in her most recent work. Her consideration of the female body is the main subject and constant theme of her work. Images of the female body abound in the history of art; generally made through a man’s optic vision, as an erotic object; nevertheless, the work presented by the artist, Medrez, is accomplished by means of her very own vision and entrails.
The view applied to every one of her individual pieces is made from the inside out and successfully emanates from genre ideas taken from an intimate, as well as a universal perspective. The essence of Medrez’s work is focused on the importance of manual work; one which gives the capacity of giving form to a sculpture through the dexterity of her own hands and sense of touch; lovingly creating and carefully molding each piece. Every work of art made by her, transmits the most powerful connection between the human eye and hand. It offers a successful transmission of feeling and gives the spectator an opening to a portal which will take them into world’s never before reached or even imagined.