Double Dare Ya

* This story was originally posted on DCist on December 21, 2011

Who among us hasn’t had the urge to cut an ex out of a photograph—or actually has? In “Double Dare Ya,” Lily deSaussure’s first solo exhibition now on display at the Transformer gallery, her main work (also called “Double Dare Ya”) takes that cathartic snipping to another level. The piece is a monolith of drywall standing eight feet tall, four feet wide, and two feet deep and embroidered with photographs of deSaussure and her ex-boyfriends…minus the exes.

In the gallery’s intimate, bright white space, deSaussure’s work is confrontational. The centerpiece of “Double Dare Ya” sits in the middle of the room. It contains 10 images of deSaussure, all embroidered using white thread, some overlapping, and each showing the artist in varying poses and moods. In one, she is raising a glass to a toast; in another she is joyfully clapping; in a third her arm is slung around an empty space.

“I think that my identity changes, and when I look at those photos, I see a different Lily from one boyfriend to the next,” she says about the piece. “I think the people we’re close to affect our identity. I wanted to use all these photos to kind of talk about that, but also at the same time, I wanted to say ‘Who the hell needs you’…There is always me—and I’m still powerful and I’m still perfectly self sufficient without these guys in the picture—literally.”

The exhibit features three examples of deSaussure’s intriguing embroidery technique. Using an opaque camera from the 1960’s, she projects photographs of old lovers, friends, and herself onto drywall and paper. Then, using a drill or needle, she punches holes around the edges of the images, and painstakingly weaves embroidery floss to bring them to life. “Taking the time to embroider these people was a way to really memorialize them and therefore memorialize my experience with them and of them,” she says.

The exhibition and main work get their name from a song by the riot grrl band Bikini Kill, which contains lyrics like: “Hey girlfriend/I got a proposition goes something like this/Dare ya to do what you want/Dare ya to be who you will/Dare ya to cry right outloud/You get so emotional baby.” DeSaussure’s show is one about self-identity and self-empowerment, about memory and memorializing.

In “I Ain’t Yo Mama”, deSaussure brings the ex back into the picture. Here, she’s embroidered six closely overlapping images of a bald and stubble-bearded man with piercing eyes. Using paper, thin lines of thread, and tiny needled holes, this work is more delicate and precise than the big “Double Dare Ya.” It also contains color. Although most of the piece is done in white thread, the bottom quarter is a concentration of pinks and reds. From afar, this color splotch could almost be mistaken for the image of a heart. But deSaussure sees it more as a stain. “A stain is an unwanted remnant of past activity,” she says. “[The subject of the piece] is definitely an unwanted remnant of past activity. He definitely broke my heart more than once…If I intended it to be a heart, it would be black.”

I Ain't Yo Mama

The final embroidered piece, “Half, Quarter, Front, Quarter, Half,” shows closely overlapping images of deSaussure in the angles described by the piece’s title. Her long hair is a mess of overlapping scribbles of thread in tones of deep pinks and reds. From afar, the work looks like it could be an ancient rubbing where the image is only understood through negative space. At the time she was working on this piece, deSaussure was reading an old college philosophy book about the perception of self, and was going through a rough time in her career and marriage. She had originally wanted to call it “180.”

“People say ‘he totally did a 180 on that’ when talking about completely changing your mind on something, reversing and completely going in another direction…at the time, I was personally feeling very unstable in my life,” deSaussure says. “I felt like I had this double self, double life.”

Double Dare Ya is Transformer’s 9th Annual DC Artist Solo Exhibition. Through Jan. 28, 2012 at Transformer, 1404 P Street NW. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 1 to 7 p.m.

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