Wilber and Julie Laffin have had a working dialog since 1992. The collaboration Red Gown Perpendicular (1996) took place at the first anniversary of the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago. Laffin is known for her work on female clothing and dresses and much of Wilber’s work involves “ties that bind,” literally and figuratively. The artists have done a number of pieces that investigate being literally tied together. In this piece, wearing a two-person red gown with a 75 ft. conjoined train, the pair served as a red carpet for the patrons who readily played their part. Wilber and Laffin sought to claim the public space in a way that raised questions about the museum’s relationship to artists and about the ownership of public space. They aimed to present an arresting red slice of women and dress that would be powerful and disturbing, providing pleasure and contemplation for the public. Their dress collaborations also appeared in various forms at the Lunar Cabaret (1995) and N.A.M.E. Gallery (1996). They sought to claim the public space in a way that raised questions about the museums’ relationship to artists, about the use of public space in general and about women’s relationship to their own bodies and to each other. They presented an arresting red slice of women and dress that would be powerful and disturbing, encouraging the passersby to experience a disruption in this space which they were accustomed to not thinking about it as theirs for the making. They also sought to provide pleasure-and a few moments of contemplation-something beautiful and disturbing and uncanny.
Photos © Christine DiThomas