Hidden in Plain Sight
[Post] Feminist Intervention in Decorative Art
MFA research project via Dunedin School of Art
*Trigger warning, some individuals may be affected by imagery and or content. If you are experiencing mental health distress please refer to the contact details at the bottom of this page [New Zealand services].
The project's primary focus centres on mental health and body autonomy issues connected to; individuals who identify as female within New Zealand society, and the social histories relating to this. The main objective is to examine the relationships between the individual, the private space [domestic sphere], and the public space [relating to the patriarchy] through a series of public installation works. Currently, the project is based in Dunedin, New Zealand and will look at deploying creative interventions into targeted social spaces. The project anticipates that by engaging with the public in social spaces, alternative exchanges will occur + work will incite discussion around mental health issues and the individual's experience navigating this complex territory.
Charlotte Perkins Gilmore's Victorian short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper"  will be revisited through a feminist lens wherein, motifs from the narrative will be reinterpreted on the basis of creating a body of work that operates as a contemporary commentary. The short story will also serve as the conceptual framework for the project where wallpaper functions as a signifier for patriarchal oppression, and women as decorative objects [of servitude] or, things to control within the space.
Maggie Covell. Botanical Totem [Blue], 2021.
In the Studio
The project will operate as a hybrid of Social practice offering lines of inquiry from both the studio, and social interactions [participation activities]. The social spaces will function as sites of performance and ‘placemaking’ while the studio will operate as the site of production [potential commercialization]. Relational aesthetics, and post-production [a branch of Relational aesthetics] will be critiqued through a post-feminist lens. [Social practice] Hybrid projects can be categorized as ‘works’ rather than as ‘events.’
Relational aesthetics for the purpose of this project is defined as;
a mode or tendency within fine art practice where the “artwork” is inspired by human relations and their social context rather than the independent private space. The artist will be more accurately viewed as the “catalyst” [to facilitate], rather than being at the centre.
Post-production for the purpose of this project is defined as;
the artist seeks to insert their own work into a preexisting cultural product as a means to eradicate the traditional distinction between production and consumption, creation and copy, readymade and original work.
*for more information on Relational aesthetics and Post-production Art historian and critic Claire Bishop's critique of Relational aesthetics can be read here;
studio view, lead researcher's studio at Dunedin School of Art, 2021.
May - June 2021
Public art planning in association with Otago University, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin School of Art, and Dunedin City Council [DCC].
This component of the overall project “phase one,” will look at staging several wallpapered billboards as well as, a grouping of smaller text based signs in key geographical locations around Dunedin’s city limits. Within the grouping of smaller signs a QR code will direct individuals to an information page about the project including; mental health services contact details. Individuals can also follow the progression of the project as it evolves via online platforms if they choose to.
Drop one - install 8th August - on display until 22nd August
Union Lawn [Otago University]
Museum Reserve [Otago Museum]
Drop two - install 22nd August - on display until 12th September
The Oval - Princes Street access
Mornington Park - Eglinton Road access
Maps - DCC managed recreational parks
*Yellow square/box indicates the position of the billboard installation
The design specs [plans] had to be changed several times to meet DCC [Parks team] + Otago University [Properties team] regs. Initially the project had planned to 'break ground' by staking in with a series of metal Waratahs + pre-screwed structure that pieced back together for installation purposes. The issue these specs had was the Civil engineering limitations [underground infrastructure]. The surveying highlighted the numerous external contractors, this meant the project had to liaise with the likes of; Genesis Energy, Aurora, DCC, Chorus, Vodafone, LINZ [Land Info NZ] plus a few more. Issues began to emerge around where to survey - digging in below a certain level meant navigating a labyrinth of cables. The other issue was these were some of the current contractors there could be more structures underground. Avoiding a costly process involving a LIM report + Building consent the project made the decision to re-design the structure to sit above ground.
Below is an example of a spec which includes underground infrastructure - Museum Reserve at Otago Museum [Dunedin, NZ] has several underground networks.
Satellite map of Museum reserve [Otago Museum], Dunedin, New Zealand.
The majority of the month has been spent knuckled down In the studio finalising wallpaper designs + protest signs. The final design images are then sent to a commercial printers [local Dunedin business, Speedprint] to place a custom order for corflute. This product is a lightweight weatherproofed corrugated polypropylene and generally utilised for outdoor signage. The printing process takes upward of 7 days because of how the material is printed thus, factoring in extra time with the construction of the installation structure is key - management around deployment.
Design development for Autonomy Thief - digital wallpaper treatment 
Autonomy Thief  is a complex design which draws inspiration from one of William Morris's most popular designs, The Strawberry Thief [registered in 1883]. Morris's design depicts a grouping of thrushes, botanicals, and strawberries which were a visual representation of a quirky antidote about birds stealing fruit from Morris's garden. Morris often paired botanicals with fruit tied into historical, religious, and art history symbolism like the strawberry - a symbol connected to female sexuality and fertility [because of the fruit's abundant external seeds].
*for more information about Morris & Co's design symbolism click here;
William Morris, Strawberry Thief [reg. 1883]
In Autonomy Thief , botanicals are selected from observational drawings and paired with the female uterus [biological sex organ, part of the reproductive system], and fruit like the pomegranate [symbol of fertility], and the grapefruit [symbol of mental health]. The selection of specific fruit is based on connections to religious, and historical works [art history canon of art]. Medically grapefruit can also interfere with contraceptive medications. The botanicals are all abortifacients that have a long connected history to women, and communities of women helping each other to control their own fertility [this is a basic human right]. Botanical abortifacients were often stewed into teas like; Tansy, Pennyroyal, Safflower, Yarrow, Thuja, Rue, Angelica and Wormwood.
Image experimentation hand drawn [left] and inverted digital process [right]
The design is then scanned into the Adobe design suite [digital programme] where; Ai - Adobe Illustrator + Ps - Adobe Photoshop are used to alter the image, create multiples [pattern making], and experiment with various colour treatments like inverting the image. In an ode to the project's conceptual framework "The Yellow Wallpaper," a yellow palette with a light blue accent is selected before laying over the image. Parts of the design are also faded to highlight the passage of time.
The Speculum layer
The medical device the 'speculum' is a mass produced object used in gynaecology to perform internal examinations. The speculum was generally constructed from stainless steal but in recent years more practitioners have opted to use disposable plastic models. The issue with this object is that it often clashes with many multicultural and indigenous communities specifically, cultural values around the body as a sacred site. The speculum as an invasive device is also in conflict with trauma survivors who are often 're-traumatised.' Thus, these segments of the general population frequently fall through the cracks relating to cervical screening and other diagnostic procedures. The speculum also has a long dark history connected to women, with minority groups of women used to experiment on. Thus, the speculum can be viewed as a torture device and an object of power [power dynamic].
*to learn more about this history you can read the article here;
This digital effect is achieved through various layers, manipulating the channels, and digital erasure technique [erasing parts through glitch]. The green hue [colour scheme] was selected based on its connection to Victorian wallpaper, and Morris & Co - green was achieved by means of arsenic [a highly toxic poison]. When damp soaked through wallpapered walls the arsenic omitted vapours. Arsenic was used during the height of wallpaper popularity during the Victorian period. William Morris incorporated arsenic in many of his designs and even coined a term 'Bitten by Witch Fever' which described the symptoms associated to individuals reactions to the poisons.
*for more information about arsenic and wallpaper, Lucinda Hawskley [the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens] has written a book, click below;
Final rendering of Autonomy Thief
Maggie Covell. Autonomy Thief, 2021. Digital wallpaper treatment.
Design development for Pill Tartan - digital wallpaper treatment.
The content of this design features medication [Nortriptyline] Tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) used to treat PTSD and other anxiety disorders. The familiar Tartan weaves together a colonial past connected regionally to Otago, where women who migrated to New Zealand in this period [1840 - 1914] had no significant rights - no rights around finance, marriage, or children. Although women gained the right to vote in 1893 it took 26 years before any woman could enter parliament - not all communities of women would have been included in the census.
*if you want to read more about this click the link below;
Image experimentation as a traditional billboard mock-up [language of advertising]
Nationally women, those individuals who identify as female are more likely to be victimised by sexual trauma and physical trauma. Within New Zealand society one-quarter of the total female population have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, and only 6% report this to the police, and the numbers [statistics] have the potential to be higher. Studies show since the 1980's it has been known [by those in positions of power + authority] that these statistics haven't decreased but, in fact have grown exponentially. Community organisations which advocate on behalf of women and those individuals who identify as female, are funding dependent. This means that crucial resources function as a band-aid rather than as the solution.
*to read more about a recent study "Methods for the 2019 New Zealand family violence study: a study on the association between violence exposure, health and well-being" [lead researcher, Janet Fanslow] click the link below;
Design development of the Pill Tartan - experimenting with digital erasure technique in Adobe Photoshop - Ps
The digital erasure technique has several steps within the design process and involves as many layers within the digital space. By manipulating channels of either RGB, or CMYK process it allows the image to have movement/glitched effect thus, visually the work emotes a jarring image that is at times hard to look at. The secondary digital erasure technique [on the right] is made by deleting parts of seperate image layers. Again, by manipulating the channels and creating duplicate layers the image can be physically moved, and sections erased leaving an imprint of the opposite colour underneath [corresponding channel]. In effect this technique alters the images history, and coding.
Maggie, Covell. Pill Tartan [iteration 1], 2021. Digital wallpaper treatment
Final rendering of Pill Tartan
The final process of the wallpaper design, Pill Tartan is an overwhelming patchwork of colour, pattern, and digital technique. The images of pills can also be considered 'poor image,' which is an image that often uploads or downloads as pixelated, glitched, and distorted. The 'poor image' is an image in circulation, a mass-produced entity which is accessible particularly when thinking about hierarchies and power dynamics.
The digital erasure creates the defining strips of a familiar 'tartan' repeated out of synch as a visible focal point, and a pattern aligning with the symptoms of PTSD. This technique also highlights how an images history can be altered, corrupted, obliterated. This presentation in effect, mimics how 'women' have been erased throughout history.
Maggie Covell. Pill Tartan, 2021. Digital wallpaper treatment
Design development for Trauma Chevron, digital wallpaper treatment
Of all the wallpaper treatments within 'phase one' of the project Trauma Chevron has gone through the most image transformation, and design evolution. Initially two seperate wallpaper treatments were assembled; one comprised from keys and a comb, and the other consisting of lipstick and a medical scalpel. The image concept was tied into mass produced objects which appear in both the private, and public space - objects which also engage other 'roles' like the comb which surfaces in the medical sphere to collect evidence [forensics], or keys which are often used in self defence as an improvised weapon [within public spaces].
Photographic images are appropriated from an online search engine, fragments are then collaged together before putting through the Adobe digital design programme Ps [photoshop]. Like the other designs in 'phase one' a glitched effect is produced through the manipulation of multiple layers, inversion, and channel mixing in both RGB, CMYK. The image at this point is put into Ai [Adobe illustrator] to create a pattern while searching for image flaws in the pattern iterations i.e what forms emerge through connectivity and what aspects are limited.
Lipstick and scalpel design iteration
Key and comb design iteration - highlighting Otago colours
Merging stories - merging objects
After numerous experiments with colour, object placement, and digital technique the two treatments were merged into one composition. By integrating pattern forms, segments of exisiting stories became one narrative, a presentation about trauma. Moreover, by retaining parts of the preliminary design sketch [the prosaic objects], and employing digital erasure which is the dominant characteristic in both, Autonomy Thief, and Pill Tartan this iteration becomes architectural in its orientation. This presentation is an example of a 'Titration' construct in which, the visual elements [content] are abstracted, filtering how information is transmitted, collated in segments, and re-contextualised in order to build a foundation of tolerance [window of tolerance].
*to learn more about titrating in relation to psychology and trauma click the link below;
Final rendered design - Trauma Chevron
More details soon. You can also follow the project on Facebook and Instagram by clicking on the icons at the bottom of the page.
Support for individuals and families;
Tautoko mā te takitahi me ngā whānau
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 [0800 LIFELINE] or free txt 4357 [HELP]
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 [0508 TAUTOKO]
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free txt 234
Women’s Refuge [crisis line]: 0800 733 843
Samaritans: 0800 726 666
In an emergency always dial: 111
There is no health without mental health
Whāia te hauora hinengaro kia puāwai ai te hauora tangata