In the series The Distress of Uncertainty, Alicia Ross has created large-scale embroideries depicting fragmented female bodies held together by thin threads. The unfinished and distorted figures embody society’s and media’s construction of the female role and how women’s bodies are often represented. The fragmented bodies also function as a comment on the public dissection of female forms and identity. Using a technique that is traditionally associated with women, and therefore classed as craft rather than art, also gives a nod to feminism and how female artists have been undervalued historically.
How did you get started with using embroidery in your work and what importance does that play for your pieces?
Coming from the medium of photography, the connotations that needlework has to “woman’s work” was precisely the reason I started experimenting with embroidery in 2005. While the interpretation of modern femininity varies greatly from artist to artist, I do think that because of its historic connotations, embroidery and needlecraft still resonates as a near-universal female gesture. Therefore, the juxtaposition between a female nude, fabricated through needlework communicates these uniquely feminine tensions I’m most interested in.
What is “The Distress of Uncertainty?” What do you want to convey with the title of the project?
“The Distress of Uncertainty” explores themes of neurosis and its connection to the physical body, female identity and sexuality. As women, so much of our identity, sexual and otherwise, is wrapped up in how society views our exterior. In this series, I’m interested in visually examining how those exterior gazes can alter or breakdown our physical selves, as well as the effects those strains have on our mental health and sexuality.
You base your pieces on images of women you find online. How do you approach the original context in your work?
Within my work, the line has been distorted between the context of the original content. Though some of the figures were remediated from pornography sites, others were appropriated from sites that display famous works of art and fashion websites. The figures are digitally manipulated and are oftentimes a result of compositing several figures into one design. By blurring the line between these female figures the viewer is invited to distinguish between them without context.
The imagery is “unfinished” and fragmented. Is this a way of representing society’s dehumanization and objectification of women’s bodies?
My work in previous embroidery series’ were far more blatantly sexual in the figures’ poses, and often more complete in their overall appearance. In this series, the bodies are more deconstructed, fragmented, and therefore more minimalistic.
Creating physical objects from digital nude images is a nod to the objectification of women. My intent is not to enable the viewer to objectify the figures more so, but through re-contextualization and remediation elevate the figure into a fine art discourse. In doing so, I aim to regain ownership over the gaze.