Monday 22 February 2016

Belinda Durrant

 Belinda Durrant, at the Stour Gallery, Shipston-on-Stour.
Sculptor and conceptual artist Durrant explores the trappings of femininity. Each piece is accompanied with text that complements the work and I have faithfully copied all the statements as they shed light on the thinking behind the work. 
Artist's statement: 'As a child I lived a lot in my imagination. It was a world of make-believe and fairy tale, populated by animals and decorated with flowers. But fairy tale often confronts dark and unpleasant subjects and this often led to nightmare-interrupted sleep. I still have a yearning for the romantic beauty of fairy tale but I let the darker side escape on a regular basis. However, such imaginings are now strengthened by experience and knowledge. Science, history, social history, literature and folklore all become entangled with and inform the imaginary.
I often make or use personal possessions or clothing as a vehicle for the resulting imagery, decorating them using paint, drawing or stitch. Certain things, corsetry, shoes, baby clothes in particular seem to have a mysterious fetish quality, just by their very existence. Others acquire this quality through their association with their maker, owner, or wearer. My work investigates the strange powers with which such things so often become imbued and the idea of such paraphernalia becomes metaphor for the absent.
The work is conceptual but it draws heavily on traditional skills, drawing, dressmaking and needlework in particular. Although construction methods are traditional, the materials used are very often not. They usually provide a considerable challenge to the process of manufacture. However a work is only truly successful if this struggle is not apparent in the finished piece.
Nothing is wearable. Nothing is usable. Removing the physical function from the article leaves only the aesthetic one. It is purely decorative, yet so often that quality of fetish remains'.

Virginity (lead bag) (lead, steel wire, fabric)

Inspired by The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: 'my virginity weighed like a millstone around my neck'.

The Good Wife (Shoes) (papercut, embroidered ribbon, shoe sole)

Ribbons embroidered with words from the woman's vows in the solemnization of matrimony in the Church of England.
'to love thee'
'to cherish thee'
'to obey thee'
'thereto I give thee my troth'

The service no longer has the bit about 'obeying'!!

Black Widow (Boot) (papercut, shoe sole)

Lead Slippers, (lead, steel wire, satin)

This work originates from a questioning of the conceived relationship between body shape and desirability. Throughout history the desirable body shape has changed continuously and woman has endured the discomfort associated with attaining this 'ideal'.

She still does.

These Lead Slippers are decorated with images of the twisted toes within them and this is what led to my interest in the foot binding custom of China.

Some years ago I had seen some exquisite lotus shoes on display in a museum, but had only a vague (incorrect) notion of how such tiny feet were achieved. My research for this project was a horrifying experience. How could such crushed and malformed feet be considered beautiful, even erotic? By all accounts they remained troublesome (and very smelly!) for life. Women kept them hidden away in their bindings, even in bed. Only rarely was a husband permitted to see them naked.

So who was it that arranged for a young girl of 4 or 5 years old to have her feet mutilated in this way? Her own mother. And she did it to secure her daughter's future. The only suitable fate for a woman was marriage and to marry, she must be desirable. In China, for over 1000 years, well into the 20th century, to be desirable was to have tiny lotus feet just three inches long. Yet when we look at the shoes themselves, all we see is their beauty. I have nothing but respect for the skill and the creativity of these women, who made their shoes themselves and suffered terribly for their beauty'.


Little Lead Tootsies - aged 3 (lead, steel wire)

Little Lead Tootsies - aged 23 (lead, steel wire)

The Spider's Web Corset (polyester, busk, crochet and drawing)

'In the pursuit of perfection, woman has always bowed to the dictates of fashion. She disguises and alters her shape and as she does so, the clothing instrumental in her disguise becomes a metaphor for woman herself. Despite its often constricting discomfort and control, its detailed flawlessness reflects somehow, the secret beauty of its wearer. It tempts, entices and promises the heart's desires. Through these strange powers the garment becomes itself entangled with, even the object of desire.

But does woman wear such clothing merely to become the object of desire, or does she do so because in becoming the object of desire she is empowered?

I make representations both of the trapped and of entrapment. Which is true?

The work refers to and reflects but also questions the beauty of the trappings used by woman in her desire to be desirable'.

Gold Crest Corset (paper cut, eyelets, ribbon and pastel drawing)

Your Belly is a Combat of Roots (Japanese Tissue, T-shirt transfer, Lace)

Your Belly is a Combat of Roots
(inspired by a poem by Frederico Garcia Lorca)

To see you naked is to recall the earth.
The smooth earth, cleared of horses,
the earth needless, a pure form,
closed to the future: a silver boundary.

To see you naked is to understand the concern of rain
in search of a frail waist,
or the fever of the vast-faced sea
without finding the light of its cheek.

Blood will ring in the alcoves
and appear with lightning swords,
but you'll not know where lie concealed
the heart of toad or the violet.
Your belly is a combat of roots,
your lips a dawn without contour.
Beneath the bed's tepid roses
the dead groan, waiting their turn.

Novel Knickers II: the Bridges of Madison County (Japanese tissue, T-shirt transfer, lace)

The words are from the novel, The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. The words on the frills are extracts from a passionate love scene.
In the quote on the front of the knickers, the line 'when white moths are on the wing' refers to a poem by WB Yeats 'The Song of the Wandering Aengus'.

Fisherman's Lure II (blue) (mixed media)


  1. Replies
    1. I know... It was a real pleasure and an unexpected one. She was artist in residence at Sudeley Castle in 2015 and I hope that her work in the sewing room will still be there when they re-open in March. I would love to see more.