E.V. Day explodes traditional notions of femininity with her airborne art
"EVERYONE WAS WEARING thongs over the edge of their low-rise jeans like they were gonna come flying out of their pants," says 39-year-old artist E.V. Day, recalling the summer of 2001. "They were announcing sexuality like a V pointing to the coochie. So it seemed natural to me to make thongs fly." And fly they did. Thanks to a donation of 1,000 thongs Day procured from Frederick's of Hollywood, her "G-Force" exhibit premiered that year at the Whitney Museum, the skimpy panties displayed fluttering overhead like V-shaped bird formations. She gave away some of the surplus as favors to gallery-goers, but in her Brooklyn studio's kitchen she shows a natural resourcefulness with the rest, using thongs to tie off bags around loaves of bread. Such reappropriation seems fitting for a woman whose work often playfully lampoons symbols of femininity, from Barbie to wedding dresses to the ubiquitous thong.
Panties aren't the only objects Day sends aloft; she is nerdishly passionate about making things fly, her eyes lighting up as she discusses aeronautics and her 2005 NASA commission to create a sculpture from the spare tire of a Mars rover. The ponytailed brunette's studio is filled with works-in-progress in various stages of takeoff: a bridal thong levitates in a glass case; a skirt of lacy tulle is suspended from the ceiling. "It's about wanting to see the moment at which something at high velocity is stopped and the moment at which there is an explosion or a transformation," Day says, explaining the medium she refers to as suspended stop-motion explosions. She studied sculpture at Hampshire College and Yale, and her work is as architectural as it is artistic—Day's pieces arrive at new exhibits with bulky installation guides full of calculations to help museum staff correctly attach the wires to ceilings of various heights. Her unique approach is exemplified in her massive installation "Bride Fight," in which two exploding wedding dresses appear suspended in a Matrix-style standoff, which showed last year at Lever House in New York.
Day got the idea for "Bride Fight" when she encountered a hefty wedding-gown rack at a Junior League thrift store. "I got two bridal gowns, and the woman at the cash register was like, 'You don't know which one you're gonna wear?' I couldn't tell her what I was going to do to them," she says. Despite the picture of her cute, bespectacled fiancé on her desk, Day clearly experiences a devilish glee in sending up musty bridal traditions, and that jokiness allows her to deliver earnest messages about gender equality to a broad audience. "I'm not interested in upsetting anyone," she says. "I'm more interested in taking things that are female and seeing those things as powerful."
But Day's work isn't all frills and lace. Some of her more visceral interests are represented in her studio by the long, labia-pink silicone rubber tongues clustered in orchid shapes on the counter; the hanging "spearls" (the Day-coined name for her clear structures that look like a combination of sperm and pearls); and her storage boxes neatly labeled "shells," "jaw," and "bone." On the more macabre side are Day's mummified Barbie sculptures. In her studio, dolls are attached to wooden panels, each illustrating a different stage of Day's artistic process with Sharpied notes like "Cut hair," "Straighten knees," and "Bind feet." Once encased in beeswax or resin, the Barbies are packaged for eternity in little satin coffins. Day saves the leftover tufts of blond hair in boxes; someday, they might come in handy.
Day is careful to point out that she isn't trying to attack Barbie, marriage, or lingerie. She sees her explosions as less about destruction than transformation, likening them to orgasm. "It's about outgrowing stereotypes through the energy of sexuality and personal pleasure," she says. She's just as direct about her own feminism, balking when describing women who ask her if she feels marginalized as a feminist artist. "That is shocking, be-cause to me feminism was always about forward motion. I want it always to be positive and moving forward," she says. Refer-ring to the visible streaks of water vapor that sometimes appear behind moving aircraft, she says, "I want to see contrails behind every woman."