Binary infractions & transcendent resistance

Resisting oppressive gendered conditioning through the disruption of gendered clothing semiotics.

Binary bound …

Binary infractions …

Binary transcendence …

Installation …

Research artefacts …

The body of work born from this research is a narrative, predominantly photographic, created in three distinct chapters. The first chapter expressing traditional, western, Christian, hegemonic ideals of ‘gender’ and their inherent oppression. The key emotions intended to be communicated in the first chapter are; trapped, restricted, and controlled. The second chapter is about the infraction, disruption, and resistance of binary ‘gender expression’. The key emotions intended to be communicated in the second chapter are; struggle, resistance, and empowerment. The third and final chapter creates a colourful social portrait, constructed of contrast and tension, with the centrepiece of each portrait being a garment designed to disrupt the traditional semiotics of gendered fashion and dress. The key emotions intended to be communicated within the final chapter are; hopeful, a tension between past and future, and honoured pain.

Christian themes and symbols are intuitively laced throughout the work, drawing on lived experience and an early world view knowledge framework. Within the work, religious symbolism, language and traditional aesthetics are used as a thematic device.

Chapter one: Binary bound

The narrative starts with black and white, a binary code, ones and zeroes, a single story for ‘He’ and a single story for ‘She’. One or the other. The use of black and white through the set and the costumes is used as a visual device to illustrate the binary nature of traditional ‘gender’ roles. The first chapter is comprised of three photographic ‘social portraits’ of four characters.

The identity of each of the four characters is either completely suppressed or shown in the process of suppression, identity is stripped as an illustration of inhibiting independent agency and authentic self expression. Each image contains elements of Christianity; illustrating a subtle but omnipresent, oppressive ideology.

The dress for ‘He’ are overtly ‘masculine’; striped of any details, rigid, black and controlled. In the key image, his dress showcases his manhood, expressing how culturally important it is for him to be a big strong man, guided by his manhood, however it too, is restricted by social conditioning around ‘gender’ and ‘gender expectations’.

The dress for ‘She’ is overtly ‘feminine’; white, pretty and pure, folds of lace and frills and soft flowing fabric, all traditional signifiers of ‘She’ embedded in items of dress.

Some find freedom in traditional gendered expression, but we are controlled and restricted when we are not given a choice, when we are provided with only a single story, with only a pretty and pure skirt for ‘She’ and a strong, rigid pair of pants for ‘He’.

Chapter two: Binary infractions

The space in-between the beginning and the end of the narrative represents struggle and resistance. It represents the fight for space to expand and be seen, a space for binary infractions.

The second chapter is comprised of three separate works. The first, is a stop motion video work of decaying flowers played in reverse. They begin, starved of their colour and slowly bloom back to life. Flowers were collected on a drive through the Adelaide hills, floral beings now growing as they choose, the constructed floral arrangement was placed within a photographic set. Several still images were taken of the arrangement each day for a period of two months, these still images were then edited together, in reverse, to create a stop motion clip. The clip aims to communicate a sense of claiming back their colour and is intended to communicate a sense of resistance.

The second part is comprised of four photographic images of specimen flat lays, they make reference to biological and archival records. The study of us. They are ancient tools hidden in plain sight; tools employed to see, to dissolve, to cut free and to unlock. Tools to resist.

The final work within the central chapter is a video installation work. This work is intended to feel beautiful and violent. To express a sense of struggle and of resistance, of tension and of release. Two of the four characters move through a period of tension and oppression, resisting, and shedding their outer garments and social conditioning, using some of the previously shown tools. They emerge, violently transcendent.

Chapter three: Binary transcendence

In the final chapter, a place of utopic otherness is created, a new ‘social portrait’ for each of the four characters. While the final four images are created as a hopeful utopia, they are also a utopic vision that honours the past; the pain and beauty of the struggle to arrive at their destination, a destination that honours decay and death as much as it honours growth, life and a place of personally defined ‘self’.

The portraits work towards dissolving borders; neither black or white but both and neither, creating something other. They dissolve the borders between ‘He’ and ‘She’, between the real and surreal, between decay and growth, and between liberation and oppression. They work to carve out a space for ‘self’, for the ‘self’ to grow and explore, to explore the past and the future and all that is has meant, and could mean to construction a ‘Self’.

It is hoped that each of the final four ‘social portraits’ expresses a colourful, beautiful tension; a tension between what is real and what is constructed, between what is dead and what is alive, between the past and the future, between ‘He’, ‘She’ and ‘They’.

Each set was designed and handmade by myself using construction materials, curated objects, upcycled furniture and living plants, all layered with photographic images taken of real environments around Adelaide.

Each garment was designed and handmade by myself with a specific focus to disrupt traditional, gendered semiotics embedded within items of dress. The goal was to dissolve the underpinning codes, creating dress that is not coded as ‘He’ or as ‘She’, but something other, expanding the language of gender expression. In the blue image example shown above, the dress design makes reference to military dress, traditionally coded as masculine strength and dominance. These military elements are combined with sleeves that reference traditional feminine skirts with flowing fabric, in this context they are no longer a skirt but serve as sleeves, completely dissolving their traditional codes.

The portraits are about language expansion. They are about creating a space for each of us to construct a self that honours and draws on the past, while working towards a utopic and hopeful future.

artwork concept: Aj
costume styling, design & construction, set design & construction: Aj
models: emily, anthony, mitch and jo
photography and all post production/editing: Aj
video artwork concept and editing/production: Aj
soundscape concept and production-Aj
words and images: Aj