In her series, To the Surface, Australian artist Meg Cowell submerges vintage dresses in water and photographs them against black velvet. The large-scale photographic artworks are composed of couture gowns, lingerie, and theatrical period garments. The effect is sensual, tentative, and evocative of the sirens of the sea; alluring, mysterious, with a sense of dark fascination.
I installed a 1000 litre pool in my inner-city backyard, in which I suspended and arranged my selected garments, using water as a medium of buoyancy and illusionistic display. I select my subjects for their associations with the icons of rites-of-passage in Western myth, specifically the ‘princess’ archetype and its contemporary manifestation in the ritual of the white wedding dress.
Inspiration for ‘To the Surface’:
Fairy tales and children’s book illustrations have inspired my interest in the transformative symbolism of clothing, particularly where feminine garments operate as vehicles of transformation, as in Disney adaptations in which the downtrodden character becomes a princess through the wearing of the dress. In its contemporary manifestation this transformative garment represents a vehicle of social and public transformation ⎯ for example with Princess Dianna’s enormous bell-shaped confection that figured in her transition from civilian woman to a real-life princess.
The Literal References:
Literary references have also been informing my subjects’ symbolic and poetic function. Specifically, Shakespeare’s Ophelia with her pluming dress and constellation of flowers, having thrown herself into the river with a gesture symbolic of what had already happened to her soul⎯she is spiritually dismembered, floating unanchored. Similarly, Dickens’s tortured character Miss Havisham from Great Expectations with her moth-eaten wedding dress and the tragedy of her plight.
Field of Study:
I completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honours in Photography at the University of Tasmania in 2007. During my undergrad I was very much interested in the concept of the Tasmanian Gothic.
What is Tasmanian Gothic:
The Tasmanian Gothic is a sub-genera within Australian contemporary art that is premised on the concept that something about Tasmania’s convict history, geographic isolation and gloomy weather, produces artists with an inclination towards the sinister.
BTS – Meg Cowell and ‘To the Surface’
Photo: Alex Chomicz
To the Surface will be on exhibit at the Dickerson Gallery in Melbourne, Australia from July 24 to August 15.
To view more of Cowell’s work, please visit her website.
Until Next Time . . .
Stay Inspired ~ Jules
CREDITS: Photographs by Meg Cowell have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.