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Ten-foot dress dominates Lowe ’15 exhibit

Smith Gallery - Leina''ala Voss
The dress in Smith Gallery is ten feet tall and weighs 50 pounds. Photo by Leina’ala Voss.

Keli Vitaioli

Abigail Lowe ’15, a ninth-semester post-baccalaureate fellow, has just opened her third Smith Gallery show, “Sewing Lessons.” The show consists of just one piece — a cast of Lowe’s body suspended from the ceiling in a flowing patchwork gown the artist constructed using pieces of fabric collected by her seamstress mother. As part of the exhibit, viewers can sit inside the skirt and experience the piece from the inside-out.

For her post-baccalaureate semester, Lowe chose to challenge herself and work outside her usual medium of paper and two dimensions, delving into the realm of mixed media sculpture. Instead of using the semester to amass a large collection, as many fellows do, she focused on this particular experimentation and on honing her craft in a different material.

“I went a different way,” Lowe said. “I made a giant dress, so I have a body of work that is also a body.”

The piece is a combination of Lowe’s initial proposal for the semester to explore headspaces and spaces for viewers to exist within art, along with a work she created last semester of two dresses. While she began with these two ideas, the piece evolved into a conversation between Lowe and her mother. She dissects the idea of what women inherit from their mothers both physically, in the fabric that constructs the dress, and symbolically in the roles passed down from mother to daughter.

“I do think a lot about the idea of ‘women’s work’ and especially how it applies to my mom — the sort of labor she has been taught to do and the labor that has been expected of her and how that has transformed her life for better or worse,” Lowe said.

More personally, the piece examines Lowe’s relationship with her mother’s depression and the battle between wanting to be close while respecting the inherent boundaries that exist between a mother and daughter.

“As I’m becoming an adult I’ve begun to see the toll it is taking on [my mother] to be the quintessential feminine fixture in my house always taking care of my family first and less herself,” Lowe said. “When you enter the dress you’re in a very private space — you’re in a woman’s skirt, and there’s a violation there and a discomfort with the transgression of boundaries. So I’ve been thinking about my relationship with my mom’s depression along those lines: the dress is beautiful and soft and there is something inviting, but there’s also the feeling I shouldn’t be there.”

The dress is about ten feet tall and the skirt is 300 inches around. All together it weighs 50 pounds and is suspended from the ceiling of Smith Gallery.

By designing the independent major Visual and Narrative Identity, Lowe studied a cross-section of history, creative writing, art, art history and gender and women’s sexuality studies. She believes this broad range of studies has positively impacted the way she approaches art.

“I feel unbelievably lucky. I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to think critically about gender in the ways that I’ve been able to if I wasn’t at Grinnell,” Lowe said. “I really see how I am as an artist now as coming from a very interdisciplinary place, and even though I express it in one medium, my education has come from a lot of different places.”

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