I posted a little while ago about Dorian Katz’s panty chain-letter project. When I wrote it, I said that there had been no decision as to what would become of the panties. Now (at least some of) their fate has been revealed.
Thursday was the opening reception for the Stanford University MFA program first year student show. The show included The Panty Chain by Dorian Katz. Your panties may have been nailed to the wall. I know mine were.
In my earlier post (linked in the first paragraph), I talked about being uncertain of what was or was not comfortable or appropriate or too sexual or too personal about sending one’s panties to strangers. The same kinds of uncertainty persist in the work, with the addition of uncertainties between fine art and folk art, public and private, reputable and disreputable, and I’m sure plenty more.
Responses to the work varied. One viewer asked the artist if “the piece also functions on an olfactory level.” That’s as high-falutin’ a way as there is to say “Hi, can I sniff your panty collection?” Unfortunately (or fortunately), any scent tends to dissipate after a few days.
The installation featured a donation box and much fun was had by all as a few brave souls peeled off their panties in the middle of the gallery to drop them in the box.
Dr Carol Queen, author of Exhibitionism for the Shy, making a panty donation.
The text of the letter was rendered in the form of a giant pair of gold panties.
Individual pairs of panties had portraits made, often with other content related to the donor.
A group of postcard size drawings representational of the ones sent to folks who donated panties to the project were also on display.
Unfortunately, the lavender color Dorian painted onto the forty feet of gallery wall for her display makes color photography challenging. Please forgive the oddly gray pictures. (The first two photos are by D. R. Alfonso.)
While many things are going on in this work, on multiple levels, one thing always stands out to me about Dorian’s work: there is a fearless truth to it. She is expressing attitudes and ideas and experiences of her personal life and her community in a way that is completely unashamed. That might sound like a simple thing, but I think it is incredibly important.
All of us who are involved with the politics of bodies or gender or sexuality or most kinds of outsider status are fighting against shame. We are constantly facing fat-shaming, slut-shaming, outright attacks on the ways we define our very existences, hateful caricatures of any feature that might differentiate us from others, and a range of negative messages about ourselves that is so broad and pervasive that I have trouble naming them all. We are told we are dirty and ugly and unlovable. Sometimes, to see someone standing up against it all with a smile on her face is more powerful than all the analysis and theory and unpacking of cultural tropes that can ever be written. Apparently, sometimes all it takes is a bunch of dirty panties.
This is not the end of Dorian Katz’s panty adventures. If you have not yet gotten around to sending your panties and would like to, it is not too late.
PO Box 20461
The show is up until February 21 at the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery, open Tuesday through Friday, 10 AM–5 PM, and Saturday and Sunday, 1-5 PM. Admission is free. The Gallery is located in the Stanford campus, off Palm Drive at 419 Lasuen Mall. Parking is free after 4 PM and all day on weekends. Information: (650) 723-2842, http://art.stanford.edu.