(b. 1958, Washington, D.C.; lives and works in New York)
Buried Treasure, 1994
Synthetic crushed velvet, photograph, dimensions variable
Courtesy Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica
The dress-sculptures by the American artist Beverly Semmes are unwearable. They are clothes taking up the maximum of space: their deployment not only goes beyond everyday use but also beyond ritual. Semmes is aware of the hallucinatory potential of fabric as it seeks to escape from the control of social conventions and everyday consciousness. According to the artist, Buried Treasure is “a map to nowhere, a map that serves no purpose.” There is a hint, though: a small photograph of a figure in a black dress (perhaps the actual dress that became the sculpture) with a red X on its back. This is a reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, which tells the story of a female outsider forced to wear an embroidered A (for “adulteress”) on her clothing. Questioning the history of society’s cruelty toward those who violate written and unwritten laws, Buried Treasure can instill gothic horror: after all, the owner of the dress is absent and/or has supernatural abilities (is this the buried treasure of the title?) to reach as far as she wants, to caress or strangle anyone she cares to.