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Trappings is an artwork that begins by asking women to respond to the question: what do you wear that makes you feel powerful? While the project begins with a question about clothing, the project is not about fashion and to a large extent is not even about clothing. Through its multiple parts, Trappings ignites conversations about the meaning and expression of power.
Trappings has evolved to include several parts:
Dismayed by a lack of dialogue about feminism and women's issues by diverse groups, we initiated Trappings in 2001 to explore individualized approaches to power through interview-based community dialogue. Instead of creating a project which articulates our own perspectives, our role as artists has been to develop infrastructure for individuals to openly explore the relationship of power and identity. Trappings takes risks by: being responsive and not illustrative; blurring the lines between visual art, performance art, public art, and oral history; and being committed to reaching out and involving new audiences and voices in artistic practice and dialogue.
The vehicle for the first phase of the project is the Trappings Interview Session. Because Trappings is about working in the public domain, the interview session was formulated to create alternative art spaces of our own design: women's living rooms, churches, board rooms, classrooms, and community spaces. The interview sessions are based on a very traditional model, the Tupperware or Mary Kay house party. We deliberately appropriate a format, which historically and still today, allows women the opportunity to gain work experience and financial independence. Having contemporary conversations about power structured around an old-fashioned model interested us conceptually. We encourage dialogue about power by tapping into the same women's networks that Mary Kay uses to sell lipstick. At the same time, this model benefits the project in another important way; the house-party format allows women to feel at ease amongst an audience of friends, colleagues, or new acquaintances.
Trappings has initiated a range of dialogues: simple descriptions of an outfit's comfort and practicality as a tool for power, complex analysis of an individual's movement through class and social strata, the use of sex as strategy in business and social settings, and the use of clothing as a way to connect with cultural or personal history as power sources.
We initiated a national, traveling exhibition and have completed several public art projects as a way to present our participantsí stories beyond the interview session environment. Our book is another method to reach new audiences. Through its multiple parts, Trappings allows participants and viewers to investigate their own relationship to power and assumptions based on appearance and image.