There’s something both subtle and overt about the newest work from perfomative sculptor Cat Chow, on display now until March 30th at “I Love You Bedford” in Williamsburg. For instance, “Passive/Aggressive,” the elegant arm’s length “gloves” linked together from strands of wire and chain over porcelain found-object hands into a webbing that barely conceals the arm yet calls conspicuous attention to only one very impolite finger.
This is the kind of provocation in which Chow specializes, mixing noirish sexuality and refinement with a vulgar gesture of defiance. Chow, whose residency — “9 Lives” — will be on display next year at Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum, offers us a pinch of seduction with a wallop of satire. That’s the central tension in her work, and it’s very much in keeping with the Dada spirit that inspires Chow, whose work is also on display in the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Found objects spring to life in a kind of militarized feminine form with her dress, which is also currently on display at “I Love You Bedford.”
The dadaists, whose hundredth anniversary is being celebrated around the world this year, strove to attain a state of creative detachment that re-conceived the very idea of art and even pursued modes of anti-art in their revolt against bourgeois society. With its chain-mail vest made of brass and skirt of venetian blinds, Chow’s “Dada” reassembles found objects and offers testimony to Dada as the biggest influence on the development of modern art in the 20th century.
Chow’s reckoning with Dada also comes out in her “Exquisite Corpse,” which looks like a kind of transparent glass hope chest containing a pile of crushed bird feathers, the hands of discarded mannequins and a heart-shaped pillow with enough heavy embroidery to remind one of what a burden love is.
Chow’s mathematical, minimalist aesthetic has made her a favorite of collectors for more than twenty years, often because her subtly subversive humor appeals to the thinking side of one’s fashion sense.
One added benefit of the current exhibition — entitled “shoe me the dove right meow” — is that it also functions as a kind of career retrospective and features many significant works by Chow, such as the iconic “Not for Sale,” a slinky, form-fitting evening gown woven from a thousand shredded dollar bills. (Behind the dress, you’ll find an honor roll of the thousand benefactors who each gave Chow a dollar bill to create the dress.)
The chain-mail formation is one that Chow mastered early in her career and put to good use in many other instances, including a chain-mail dress that was made of Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger trading cards. The Power Ranger dress and others, including a hausfrau gown made entirely of 1950s era tape measure, let Chow show off her prowess for subverting and toying with conventional notions of femininity, often with unsettling effects.
Perhaps the most famous of her works, the zipper dress looks sleek, sharp and light, but it is also made entirely of zippers. One cannot help being in awe of its aesthetic achievement, just as one cannot avoid the impression that only a harshly Victorian tolerance for pain would ever allow a living woman to wear it.
For a little relief from all those harsh lines — you can turn to the high-concept and lush collection of sustainable fashion designer Alisha Trimble, whose “Blanche DuMois” line of lingerie provides a complementary foundation for all those shackles of chain-mail brass and plastic.