Lynn Dennison: Self-Portrait, 2008, wire, paper and photographic images, image via Gallery K
Clothes are memories. When I think back on my childhood — and adolescence, and young-adult life — I remember, vividly, what I wore. The summer of 1990 is largely defined by a strawberry-printed jumper, the freedom I felt when wearing it and running outside, and the security it gave me, knowing that my mother’s loving hands made it especially for me. I remember nothing about the “Snow Ball” dance I went to in 10th grade, except for my black velvet flapper dress, which I bought during the beginnings of a Jazz Age obsession. (That dress, I think, led me to write my high-school research paper on Fitzgerald and jazz music.) And I will never, ever throw out my tight, striped, technicolor Mick Jagger pants I bought during a road trip to Madison, Wis., even though they are too big for me now, because they are what I was wearing the first time my now-husband laid eyes on me.
Perhaps for this reason I am drawn to artworks that use textiles and garments and dress forms to communicate identity and loss and memory (both personal and collective). The artist Louise Bourgeois has created many amazing sculptures and other pieces, but her giant, industrial armatures that hold the most beautiful, delicate silk and lace slips and handkerchiefs and robes are the ones that give me a lump in my throat. These diaphanous, seemingly insignificant things somehow seem to carry the weight of the world, or maybe just the weight of someone’s life, of her triumphs and disappointments and hardships. Because almost everything we do — except for sleeping and having sex and bathing and maybe swimming or dancing and a few other things — we do, and we experience, in clothes.