Who’s Afraid is meant to capture the tension between men’s anxiety of being unreasonably accused of inappropriate behavior and women’s fear of sexual harassment and assault. It is referencing the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the inherent tension between actors and audience that is part of a theater performance and in this play the volatile relationship with men and women. Furthermore, it also relates to my previous series For There She Was that explored women speaking out and Virginia Woolf’s literature.
Who’s afraid addresses men’s current fear of women and the unconscious biases that they are carrying towards the #metoo movement. To capture this, I started with the gaze. Specifically the ‘male gaze’ as defined by the feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey.
I used a photograph of a woman from a clothing catalogue. This woman is nameless and the clothing company created this photograph to be looked at and admired. The photograph fits interestingly within the three phases of the ‘male gaze’: How men look at women, how women look at themselves and finally, how women look at other women. I enlarged the image, divided it into small rectangles, and then printed the image on antique linen bed sheets. I pieced the photograph back together and machine embroidered the rectangles onto another bed sheet – covering the woman’s skin, hair and clothes with thread. Here I am referencing quilts and traditional women’s crafts and deliberately smothering the figure with thread. I cut out the woman’s eyes to make the viewer uncomfortable and scared. I am evoking ghost costumes made by cutting out eyeholes from old bed sheets and playing with the idea of spectator and specter both of which have the Latin root word ‘spect’ meaning to ‘see.’ From a distance the embroidered figure on the sheet appears three-dimensional. She appears to ‘see’ the viewer when in fact her gaze is empty. She is simply an embroidered bed sheet and yet her vacant gaze causes anxiety and feels powerful.
Depending on where the sheet is draped, the gaze and context changes. In these photographs I draped the sheet over a fauteuil Emmanuelle to directly connect it to Laura Mulvey’s 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” and avant-garde erotic cinema. I threw the sheet over a large mysterious piece of furniture as if the house is empty and as a reference to Freud’s uncanny. The sheet glides down the stairs as if it an empty ghost and cinematic specter that is both fictional and frightening.