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Susan Wood: Dress No. 16
Dress No. 16 1991
Susan Wood explores women’s bodily experiences in this series of drawings of an antique Jordanian wedding dress. As a wife and mother of three, Wood does not shy away from portraying women and reproduction in disturbing ways. She asks, Given our own voices how do we talk about fecundity, changeability, expanding and shrinking, blood and milk? In this series, she works through her struggle with the notion that our biological selves are not a trap but rather a valuable, personal resource and these sometimes bloodied earth-skins give form to my attempt to understand what those corporeal connections might be.
In Dress No. 16 watercolour wash and charcoal rendering follow the shape of the shifting body and the enlarging blood vessels, partly veiled by torn paper collage. All of these elements provide a skin-like, tactile surface while still revealing the inner organs of the represented female body. In her catalogue essay for the Tenth Dalhousie Drawing Exhibition, Susan Gibson Garvey describes the work as layered out of skin-thin leaves of paper on which the drawn, rubbed or spattered marks record various histories. Some are pale and gauzy as if laced in cobwebs; others appear to be covered in dark wiry hair or caked mud. Many show evidence of violation. Some have a kind of carapace delineated over the abdomen, like a protective shell (which, in others, resembles a ruptured womb. In presenting the body in all of its messy biology, Wood’s work proposes that what is experienced on the inside eventually shows on the outside, in one way or another. These outsides — these celebrated female skins — become garments that have been lived in, marked by intimate life processes.
Wood received her BFA from Mount Allison, and her MFA from the University of Calgary. She currently teaches at NSCAD University in Halifax.