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Reflections on Venus

To pay the bills most fine artists have to turn to commercial work of some sort, in or outside the arts. Photographer Zuzanna Audette, a native of Poland who earned a BFA at Pratt Institute and an MFA in Photography at the University of Utah, is a fine-art photographer who pays her bills with fashion and portraiture work, for both editorial and advertising clients. Her glossy glamour shots, however, are never far from her artistic interest in exploring personal identity.

“The examination of personal identity inevitably leads to questions – the most common of which is what enables the perpetuation of the self,” Audette writes. “Who am I? Am I myself because of my past, my present, or what I hope for in my future? Or does my identity emerge from my personal relationships with others, or through my personal environment and belongings? If I wake up at a different time, in a different place, could I wake up a different person?”

She might also add, if I go out in different clothes, am I a different person?

Oscar Wilde is frequently quoted as having said, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months” — this coming from a dandy of a man who loved to be photographed in costume. The most-well known shot of the writer has him with his shoulder length hair, in a fur-collared jacket, holding his walking stick and a large ring on his left pinky. Is his statement, then, a contradictory bon mot thrown about to agitate and excite?

The actual quote goes like this: “. . . what is a fashion? From the artistic point of view, it is usually a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months,” and the aesthetics of the matter were not Wilde’s principal interest. Writing in Woman’s World in 1887, Wilde the feminist was making the point that as women began to take their place as equals in society, and began to join men in the workforce, fashions would have to change because “with the exception of M. Felix’s charming tea-gowns, and a few English tailor-made costumes, there is not a single form of really fashionable dress that can be worn without a certain amount of absolute misery to the wearer.” He also referred to Victorian fashion as barbarous and unhygienic.

At the core of Wilde’s article is the idea that clothing is used to define roles, and the constricting female attire of the 19th-century leisure class left to a woman only very restricted roles. Wilde concluded his article with the prediction that, “It is more than probable, however, that the dress of the twentieth century will emphasise distinctions of occupation, not distinctions of sex.”

Women still wear skirts, though they also wear jeans, and you can still buy a corset or gown with a score of tie-ups, but these purchases are usually a matter of choice for special occasions. That is not to say that fashion is not still used to define roles. It is. There is just much more flexibility in the definitions.

Audette’s photographs have always explored the role of space and costume in establishing feminine identity. During her MFA studies at the University of Utah Audette was awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship for her published thesis series ‘a woman’s place,’ a collection of works that examined women’s roles as defined by space and relationship (a review of the exhibit appeared in these pages).

Audette’s current body of work, Reflections on Venus, continues this exploration by examining both costume and space. Now on view at The Photo Collective, Reflections on Venus is an expansion exhibition from Deconstructing Venus, a group show premiering at Art Meets Fashion 2011 (see our article in the October 2011 edition). In Reflections on Venus Audette pairs specific clothing designs, from the six fashion designers featured at AMF 2011, within a specific environment, a Salt Lake City location know as “The Pleasure Palace.” The images in the series create narratives and character studies exploring classical visual and literary interpretations of the goddess Venus and Audette’s personal ideology on femininity, sexuality, love, and beauty.

Opening reception Reflections on Venus is tonight Friday October 21st
SLC Photo Collective
200 S 561 W, SLC
For a list of exhibits open tonight visit page 8 of this month’s edition of 15 Bytes, as well as our Exhibition Listings.

2 replies »

  1. This is wonderful! Thank you SO much Shawn for writing such an insightful review! How is it that we have not met yet in person?! Any-chance you have a digital copy of Wilde’s article from Woman’s World? I’d love to read it!

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