This week I’ve been chatting to artist Allison Honeycutt about her Flesh Suits – a series of adorned undergarments exploring themes of modesty, obscenity, exhibitionism and the appropriateness of nakedness.
When I posted her work on Instagram I had a huge response, with @quiet_kaye commenting ‘which pair are you?’ – Allison and I thought this was a great question so please tell us in the comments below which pair of panties/bra etc. is most ‘you’… I think I’m beige with a mossy green bush…
Allison, tell us about your Flesh Suits series
The flesh suits all began with one fleshy unitard that I purchased to wear beneath a neck pillow gown I was wearing for a little performance piece I was doing during my post baccalaureate. It made me feel like a naked Barbie doll; very naked but also sexless. I became intrigued with being naked and covered simultaneously. Then I bought my first merkin and formed my first nipples out of wax medium, paint and plastic sheeting. For me it’s been an exploration of the body (and feelings around my own body), specifically the female body, ageing and normalizing it in its beauty, functionality, and diversity. When I first started creating the Flesh Suits I was more shy about talking about them and displaying them, but as I’ve become more accustomed to them and thinking of them more aesthetically and texturally they have lost the little shock or feeling of private-ness that used to come with them. Ultimately the series is meant to be very female and body positivity.
What’s the most interesting response you’ve had to your Flesh Suits?
Most people, when they see them in person, find an odd humour in them, but I have had someone see a big installation of my hanging Flesh Suits and read it as some kind of sad and erie memorial.
A lot of people would view your work as feminist – is there a particular message you’re trying to put out there?
I think my work is definitely feminist as it’s currently addressing the female body. There are many layers to the message I’m trying to convey, it started out more focused on the “appropriateness” of nakedness and the duality the Flesh Suits created between exhibitionism and modesty and investigating when female nudity becomes obscene. Those points are still relevant but as I’ve gotten more interested in the materials and textures I can use to portray female nakedness, I think my point is more about the how the real beauty of female form is not in some cultural or commercial “ideal” but how different one body can be from the next, in the variety and uniqueness. And how bodies can be weird and that weirdness is beautiful.
It’s an interesting time to be investigating the appropriateness of nakedness and the duality between exhibitionism/modesty in the rise of the selfie generation – what do you think about nakedness in relation to social media and digital narcissism? Are you a fan of the selfie?
This is a very complex question. Of course I use social media, but its a real love/hate thing for me. I definitely think digital narcissism is real and coupled with nakedness I guess it just really depends why the individual is doing it, what their motivations are and what their payoff is, some is empowering and some is detrimental but how can anyone from the outside judge. I have my opinions of what is “acceptable” and empowering and what is attention seeking and degrading, but I feel like once you start putting your opinions on other people’s “expressions” of themselves you get into a slippery slope of judgement ( which I TRY to avoid). For example, some people could view my art as something explicit or made for shock value but that’s not how I see my art or the intention behind it.
As for the selfie in particular I’m kind of uncomfortable with it, but I also do it sometimes so… I just hate that it gives me less of a motivation to be grounded in the moment and encourages a self consciousness and a shallow appreciation of myself. But it all depends on context.
Do you often wear your Flesh Suits? What does it feel like?
I mostly wear my flesh suit to position nipples or pubic hair while I’m making them, or in a gallery exhibition situation. But I have worn then for Halloween and once threw one on at an impromptu dance party at a friends house.
I like wearing them, it feels very liberating and strangely any self consciousness that I would normally feel in social situations is for the most part stripped away. I’ve had other ladies wear them as well and they had similar experiences, they moved more freely and became more accepting of their bodies. It can also give you a realization of how un-accepting you normally are towards your body which can be sobering.
Where do you get the underwear? Is it second hand?
They started out being all second hand, but not all thrift stores re-sell underwear, so when I started making the Flesh Suits more consistently I started to buy the undergarments at the downtown stores where they have bins of them, 3 for a dollar. What’s interesting about that is it started making me more aware of how little non “white” skin tones are represented, it is much harder to find other tones and the variety of styles available were much sparser as well. To find a nice selection of non white flesh colored underwear you have to spend more money and still it’s a much smaller selection. Because in the US “flesh colored” still predominantly equals “white flesh” in textiles and art supplies, which is pretty fucked up.
What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
The most interesting jobs I guess were when I worked on an organic farm, I was a “professional” meditator for almost a year some years back, I also have my Masters in Teaching and was an art teacher for a time. Currently I work in movies/TV/Music Videos doing Art Directing/ Props/ Set Dressing, it’s a good way for me to have a more steady income while still getting to be creative and have a more flexible schedule to have bigger chunks of time to devote to my art.
What’s your most embarrassing moment?
I was doing a collaborative photo shoot with a photographer friend of mine and another friend. It was a naked photo shoot, which I normally don’t do but my friend Taylor does beautiful nature photography and I love working with artists I respect and I love collaboration. Anyway we did the nature shots then for the heck of it we decided to take some on our old university campus and of course got caught while we were being sassy by the art building. Taylor was giving us direction for the photos and then she said “and now you should run away because a man is coming”, we fled around the corner and she stayed and talked (and laughed) to the security guard who was basically like “this isn’t the first time I’ve run into naked kids doing weird stuff on campus, I’m going now, no worries”
What is your dream project?
This is a hard question! I have so many ideas swirling in my head at all times, but one thing I would love to do with the Flesh Suits is have a show that was more immersive, through installation but also with all the people viewing the show wearing the Flesh Suits so they can experience that end of it too. This is why I’m working on making some male Flesh Suits that I’m happy with so that people can pick their genders, their “tops” and “bottoms” and mix and match whatever way they want to experience.
Allison emailed me a bit later with ‘If I’m going to be completely honest with myself, my most embarrassing moment was….’ (She’s fine with me posting this just in case you’re wondering).
…a moment of solitude on a permaculture farm on the Big Island of Hawaii. I worked/lived on that farm for about 4 months and early on in that time I contracted “Beaver Fever” (as they say in Canada), or Giardia from brushing my teeth with water from a huge rain catch barrel that flowed into our open air kitchen sink. I knew we weren’t supposed to drink it but I spaced and used it to wet my brush and rinse my mouth….so it was the pits for about two weeks. One of those mornings I woke early with a desperate need to poo, I hurriedly unzipped the tent and pulled a sarong around me and speed walked (cheeks clenched) toward our compost toilet, but of course I didn’t make it…I pooped my pants in the early hours of the morning in a sparsely wooded forest, no one was awake to see it but I was so deeply ashamed I just froze and burst into tears. I was 20 then….I’m not sure if I would react the same way if it happened today.
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