Briefly describe your work
The desire to control women has been a subversive part of human culture for centuries. Be it a law passed, a vow forced, or “acceptable” women’s fashion, all undermine how a woman portrays her sexuality and purpose. The social/cultural dynamic and institution that implements these things allows women to be simultaneously ridiculed for being too modest and too sexual. Women are Forced to walk a very fine line, where any misstep could lead to being labeled the Madonna or the Whore.
Using video, sound, and installation I reflect these ideas into my work. The body of work I am currently showing and building is a series of futuristic dress designs for women known as Vessel. Vessel is currently comprised of The Chastity Dress and The Fertility Dress. Using satire and humor these dresses are intended to generate discussion about how women are viewed in the United States.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I moved around a lot growing up while both of my parents served in the military. Being forced in and out of different environments at a young age allowed me to have a fresh start almost every year of my life. When looking back on each place we lived, I had become a different person. I would immerse myself and conform to the style in the area, what was cool what wasn’t cool, constantly redefining myself. This certainly impacted my presentation techniques. Personas come naturally to my work and add an additional dimension to my presentation. I see a different version of myself with everything I create. With every piece I produce a new narrator emerges.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I prefer to be alone while I am creating and developing the physical portion of my work. It doesn’t require a large space so I’ve been able to work from a home studio. This is nice because working on my art isn’t out of the way. I can mentally process how to realize my vision, and have immediate access to my studio when I’m ready. I also try to do as much work as I can when I am commuting.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I had the opportunity to design and create costumes for a ballet that have wearable tech in them. I showed those dresses at the Engadget conference. Along with that I spoke at Internet Week New York about fashion technology. I believe that because my work is combining a new genre of technology, people in both the art and tech world are drawn to my pieces. I am also currently in the process of developing a wearable tech piece for an ad firm.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I am a freelance artist so If I need more time in the studio I have the flexibility to do that. Normally, I work when I have the free time, after work or on the weekends. If I have a show coming up I make sure I give myself the right amount of time to prepare for it.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
The theme my work focuses on has remained the same. The male gaze, play of female sexuality and purity, and internet personas all demonstrate the objectification of women. My approach, however, has evolved. The materials and technology I use to convey my ideas have grown. When I first started creating work I used mostly video and sound. Fiber technologies are now available that allow me to integrate more into designs. I still use video and sound but I combine them with installation and performance to expand the viewers experience.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
A lot of people that have had an impact on my work. From my parents to the artists I was exposed to starting at an early age, to the men I’ve known and those I’ve dated. I would probably have to say the biggest influence on my work is my Mother because of her perceptions and beliefs. I felt like she was worried about me being alone or ruining myself. Her philosophy was slowly pushed onto me. I questioned why it mattered so much that I was doing my own thing. I wanted to understand and learn more about the topic of what it meant to be a woman today and female sexuality. It influenced my artistic direction as I conducted research and gained a realization of how much diversity there is concerning the topic within the United States.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Being an artist is hard. I don’t say this to be funny. Growing up I never considered a path that did not allow me to work within the art community. That being said money is always an attention getter, and you have to pay the rent. There was a point in my life when I thought that I should pursue a different career because I wasn’t making enough money to support myself being an artist. I was forcing myself to learn a skill that I was not interested in. That wasn’t me, so I pulled myself up and said “you have all these skills from your art! Use them to make money” and that’s what I did. It wasn’t easy, but it is doable.
Elizabeth Tolson began showing work in 2010 after graduating from Alfred University with her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree (BFA). Her work has been exhibited in galleries that include the Target Gallery, Alexandria, VA; The Washington Project for the Arts Experimental Media Series at The Philips Collection in Washington D.C., and Chichifritos in New York City where she showed alongside an idol, Steina Vasulka; and Bushwick Open Studios. In addition to showing her work she has given several artist talks, one being at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia where she traveled with a curation committee. Her work has been featured on fashioningtech.com, Styleite, Make Magazine, and Beautiful/Decay. Elizabeth recently graduated from Parsons with an Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Design and Technology. She is currently living in New York City as she continues creating and stimulating others with her provocative work.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.