Tight/Laced, a new exhibition by Stamps Lecturer and Detroit-based artist Annica Cuppetelli at the Muskegon Museum of Art, uses traditional clothing materials and techniques to examine the constraints and restrictions society has placed on women’s bodies throughout history. This large-scale installation directly references the corset, a fashion device made to squeeze and reshape the female body to force it to conform to the tastes and ideals of the day. In the words of the artist:
For hundreds of years, a woman’s body has been a battlefield where cultural, scientific, and political forces have competed for dominance over the interests of the owners of said bodies. A woman’s body is consistently a site of constriction and restriction, to wit, a corset squeezes the body to permanently change its shape, while laws limit what women can do with their own bodies. A woman’s body is thus transformed into a matter of State but also of cultural taste, and both imply coercive measures and the threat of violence. There is an inherent tension in being the owner of a woman’s body and that is the tension that I try to communicate with my work.
Two large, funnel-like forms made from wood framing, fabric, lacing, and grommets extend from the walls into the gallery space, almost, but not quite, meeting. The tapering shape, grommets, and lacing all make direct reference to the iconic characteristics of the corset, an object that remains fully imbedded in popular culture today, from period dramas and pop singers to drag queens and runway models. Cuppetelli, drawing from her background as a fashion designer, deliberately incorporates the same human-scale materials and techniques used for making corsets to create her sculptures. The lacing and grommets are those commercially available for garment making and they, and the fabric they connect, are assembled with traditional sewing and patterning techniques. While these sculptural forms are not wearable objects, everything in their making suggests they should be.
The architectural scale of the objects allows them to double as inhabitable spaces, inviting the viewer to imagine occupying them. As women’s clothing binds and restricts their wearer, so too would these sculptures reshape their occupants. Situated as they are in the gallery, the sculptures physically limit the viewer, controlling how the space is navigated. The hollow interiors also establish an empty vessel, an allusion to the harmful ways in which women have been treated as malleable objects for the projected desires of others or as an empty womb to be filled.
In exploring the ways in which societal powers have used fashion to forcefully control and reshape women’s bodies, Cuppetelli reveals the ongoing struggle women face for bodily autonomy.
Annica Cuppetelli: Tight/Laced is on view at the Muskegon Museum of Art from May 19 – September 11, 2022.