Inspired by the writings of Rimbaud and Victorian mourning attire, Gail Chovan gives exaggerated form to the long deceased by adorning apparitions in hyper-stylized garments and accessories from the past. Chovan uses fragments and fabrication to enshroud memories, gives form to absence and celebrates remnants as potent vehicles for resuscitation.
Objects battle for survival against time and inevitably lose. New objects fade, become stained, develop cracks, and soon look dated. Apparel is especially ephemeral as seams rip and silhouettes quickly go out of style. With this show, Gail Chovan rescues time from the tyranny of change. By restoring honor to discarded materials, Chovan shows how beauty can mutate without disappearing.
Unusual materials including limbs, hair, leather and teeth, connect the themes of this work. The earliest apparel fashioned by our Neolithic ancestors was sewn from leather with needles made from bone. Beaded decorations soon followed. Limbs and hair remind us that figure studies are central to western art, but when presented in a new context we pause to consider these unique and underappreciated materials for their sculptural possibilities extending beyond mere function. Contrary to common associations with mortality and the macabre, Chovan looks at bones and finds satisfying shapes, textures and hues. Age does not destroy aesthetics – learning to look beyond the ravages of time we behold a new form beauty. Shattered, imperfect, and ruined … but still lovely.
The French poet Rimbaud wrote, “No trace of the now will remain,” but Gail Chovan provides an optimistic counterview by demonstrating that we can appreciate rather than disparage the effects of time. An alternative motto for our era is, “Le noir n’est pas si noir (The dark is not so dark),” Black is not the color of death; it is the rich color of late night vitality. This is exemplified on a personal level by Gail Chovan’s vivacious daughter, Zelda, born blind, and yet nothing in her world is dark.
Gail Chovan works as a designer in Austin, Paris, and beyond. She is an educator at the University of Texas at Austin in the Division of Textiles and Apparel. The pieces in this show were created while watching Scandinavian crime dramas. “I love the bleakness,” she says enthusiastically.