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In Women’s History Museum Biennale: Poupées Gonflabes, Mattie Barringer and Amanda McGowan propose a realm of possibility through an artificial boutique. A semi-abandoned storefront of mysterious origin features overlapping symbols of fashion retail, department stores, beautification, cinema palaces, peep shows, and womanish commoditization in all its forms. As these visual details co-mingle, a world of fantasy and aspiration emerges, but these seductive symbols of desire have attached to them the polluting intention of making money at any cost. The “Magazine Stand,” a collaboration with photographer Tyler Jones, features magazine layouts leading into endless menageries of display that are detached from temporal reality or clear intent. The layouts were inspired by fashion and sex publications throughout many eras, but the imagery presents a feverishly clothed body.
As we continue to hurtle into an ever- accelerating internet capitalism, featuring an endless reel of new brands, new seasons, and new items to buy on our screens, a physical space where something is for sale feels like an artifact. However, the WHM “storefront” leading to the group show also represents a dubious barrier to community — and makes visible the seductive obsession with materialism, vanity, advertising, delusion, and ego. This is a constant conflict that leads to the failure and inability to break free from the ties to capitalism and the obscured violence it yields. The hollow boutique looms as a dead-end reminder of the lure of these forces, and Fashion’s Failure under capitalism.
To avoid the alienation of commerce, and in keeping with the project’s collaborative origins, WHM’s retail center functions as a gateway to the Biennale, a group show bringing together artists that have all contributed their practice to WHM in one form or another. The Biennale features works from across genres, mediums, and methods, yet however divergent the works remain, they intersect in their expressionism, lack of apathy, and defiance of societal limits imposed upon bodies. This is significant within a capital driven art scene that usually rewards abstraction, minimalism, and obfuscation. Much of the work concerns fashion, or perhaps other forms of corporeal compromise. Women’s History Museum Biennale: Poupées Gonflabes hopes to elaborate on the glittering contradictions behind every institution.
Women’s History Museum, founded in New York City in 2015, is the moniker under which Mattie Barringer and Amanda McGowan make work. WHM began in its initial iteration as a series of experiential fashion shows that existed as ephemeral artworks in and of themselves. These fashion shows were created in close collaboration with other artists who often doubled as models, including contributions such as music, makeup, sculpture, hair, nails, shoes, and video. Women’s History Museum engages with Fashion as a medium that has the potential to exist beyond regurgitative spectacle but has the ability to change the fabric of reality. WHM was founded to foster community through making clothing and art, to react against feelings of isolation, powerlessness, and emotional instability, as well out of the desire to create novel and previously unseen images of beauty.