Lemieux Weaves Ideas Into Artful Dresses

Lyse Lemieux

Mignonnette: QUEEN of DWARFVILLE (Part 1)

At the Art + Soul Gallery until March 22

In a recent interview with the Straight, Lyse Lemieux quoted French artist Christian Boltanski, who observed that clothing and photography have in common a simultaneous quality of presence and absence. Lemieux eloquently invokes this duality in her interdisciplinary project, Mignonnette: QUEEN of DWARFVILLE (Part 1).

A series of 10 dresses constructed from panels of fabric and cast latex, and a complementary suite of life-size colour photographs of the dresses, Mignonnette braids body politics with ribbons of childhood fantasy and adult reflections on gender, identity, family, aging, and mortality. By juxtaposing two- and three-dimensional media, the artist also stimulates a dialogue between objects and images. Not incidentally, she creates works of considerable beauty and poignancy.

The title of the installation is drawn from a French-Canadian fairy tale that Lemieux remembers reading as a child in the attic of her grandparents' home in Hull, Quebec. The attic, with its treasure trove of old books to pore over and old clothes to dress up in, was a place of fantasy and reverie. The notion of the child as creative parent to the adult is inverted in the metaphor of the "dwarf" Mignonnette, an adult trapped in a child's body.

In subtle ways, the installation addresses not only the body but also the imagination and its role in the formation of both cultural and individual identity. The dresses, with their narrow and delicately off-kilter components and their shifting textures and colours--from golden, honeycomb-patterned latex to panels of white gauze and shimmering, salmon-coloured silk--suggest rites of passage. They evoke christening or confirmation dresses, but they also call up the gossamer garments of elves and fairies.

They are the clothes of death and remembrance, too--ghosts fluttering and shifting in the moving air. Despite their spectral aspect, however, they possess a paradoxical materiality and tactility.

Lemieux has employed tunic, dress, and apron forms before, executed in a range of media, including glass, beeswax, and black neoprene. As with a battery of artists, from Boltanski to Mary Kelly and Gathie Falk, she fully understands the potency of clothing as body symbol and surrogate. In her artist's statement, Lemieux discusses the similarities between latex and human skin.

Also on view are six large, long, latex dresses, part of a work in progress directed toward a future collaborative production with dancer Barbara Bourget and musician Marguerite Witvoet, and six small C-prints from a series of mini-dresses. All are beautifully installed in a challenging environment. The Art + Soul Gallery is an artist-curated exhibition space in the Pacific Palisades Hotel. The placement of Lemieux's dresses on a retail strip known for its chichi clothing stores is ironic. It is also subversive.