Trappings Press

The Herald-Sun

Exhibit shows clothing as power outfits

December 11, 2002 11:16 am

DURHAM -- Artists Renee Piechocki and Tiffani Ludwig have their own definitions of "power dressing," and those definitions include boxer’s trunks, leather trousers, smart pantsuits, purple underwear and a 20-year-old pair of jeans.

"Trappings," their multimedia exhibit now at the Durham Arts Council, shows 29 girls’ and women’s ideas of their personal power outfits.

Under the name Two Girls Working, Chapel Hill-based Piechocki and Ludwig of Jersey City, N.J., asked more than 100 women in Mississippi, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina the same question: "What do you wear that makes you feel powerful?"

Piechocki, 30, and Ludwig, 28, recorded the answers, and that raw material became "Trappings." Large prints of 11 women dot the walls of the Allenton Gallery; the other 18 are shown in smaller photos.

Personal CD players, available at the lobby desk, offer audioessays where the women speak for themselves about six themes: work; social status; sex and gender; transformation; personal power; and money.

If clothes make the man, as the old saying, goes, then they certainly can mold the woman and signal her cultural role. During the sexual revolution of ’60s and ’70s, budding feminists were accused of bra-burning or dressing like men. The miniskirt was a shocking development.

"Everyone’s judged by appearance," said Jennifer Collins, one of several local women in the exhibit and the arts council’s artist services associate. "But women are valued by appearance."

Ludwig said that though the interviewees range in age from 5 to early 70s, they all seemed to look at clothing as more than mere decoration.

"I was most taken aback by how prepared women came to speak to us. It was as though people have thought about this question before. [We’d get] not a prescribed answer, but something very thoughtful, very genuine. The process of image-making, presentation, how you’re seen … can become very revealing."

Piechocki, who generally paints landscapes, and Ludwig, a multimedia artist, met at a New York arts conference in 2000. The two hit it off and stayed in touch after Piechocki moved to Chapel Hill.

In hours of long-distance telephone talks, Piechocki said: "We started talking about how disturbed we were at how little art deals with contemporary women’s issues. ... We tried to come up with a question [that a women could answer] whether you are the head of the Daughters of the Confederacy or the head of the Carrboro Women’s Center. Everybody gets dressed."

Within that universal fact, the social necessity of concealing the body, each "Trappings" woman had her own message.

In the tapes, teen-ager Rachel opines that "something you can wear in front of your dad -- that’s what I say is appropriate." A mom calls halter tops "disrespectful." Purple undies are another woman’s "secret source of power," and Clara of Oxford, Miss., has three outfits that express her personality.

A part-Turkish woman speaks about how wearing her chador (head scarf) feels oppressive. But, according to Piechocki, a member of the Nation of Islam, Crystal, discussed about how such garments make her feel appreciated for her mind, not body.

Among these 29 women and girls, there was no one definition of power; it could be spiritual, maternal, professional, sexual, and intellectual.

Even Piechocki and Ludwig differ slightly about the political and social bent of their work.

When inviting women to "Trappings parties," where they would share their stories, Piechocki said that she wouldn’t use the "F-word" -- feminism. Ludwig, on the other hand, said: "I know the connotation with an artwork being called a feminist piece of art, but that’s definitely a label I’m willing to take on."

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