Playing Dress-Up 

FOFA Gallery show explores variations on creative themes

By Karen Herland

Artist Nicole Bauberger at work. Magnifying glass

Artist Nicole Bauberger at work.

Dipping a brush into tinted molten wax bubbling away in an electric fry pan can be a bit intimidating. Artist Nicole Bauberger has been inviting people to join her in producing 5”x7” encaustic dresses wherever she’s brought her 100 Dresses show.

Bauberger has plugged in the pan at 10 locations over the last two years, and painted her thousandth dress during her exhibit in the back of the FOFA Gallery in time for her vernissage on Feb. 19.

One of one hundred dresses. Magnifying glass

One of one hundred dresses.

The individual pieces in 100 Dresses for a February in Montreal range from crayola-coloured images with thickly-layered wax (like #29 the Habs Jersey Dress) to almost gauzy swirls of intermingled shades (#35 Dress of Strange Seepages in the Metro Walls), a piece with rusty oranges, greys and black outlines that disturbingly mimic the mysterious stains that pool in metro stations.

The titles for the dresses actually contribute to the show, says Bauberger, who is a creative writer and a visual artist.

“Without the titles, they aren’t the same.” And some of the images tell their own story. The glowing phone booth dress is followed by a broken phone booth glass dress, with shards of glass embedded in the thick wax.

The black box behind the FOFA was an encaustic atelier. Magnifying glass

The black box behind the FOFA was an encaustic atelier.

Next month, she brings a new show to Peterborough. She intends to perform by reading a series of the dresses’ titles to see if a narrative emerges in the recitation. She says the encaustic method itself is performative, offering a materiality to the process and an opportunity for those who visit to watch her chase the hardening wax with a heat gun, mixing colours and forming patterns.

Bauberger first developed the idea for the show in 2007. She set out to make 100 dresses inspired by what was around her.

“After dress 40, I was out of ideas,” she says. “You can think about a concept all you want, but actually doing it makes you clarify it.”

It was a friend’s delivery of a cookie in a Subway bag that pushed her forward. That bag was stuck into the encaustic image of dress #41.

Over time, Bauberger has realised the 100 dresses represent the place and time they were created in. Things passed on the way to the studio work their way into dress form in the show.

Currently based in the Yukon, most of her shows have been in Northern Canada and Alaska. Montreal is the furthest south the project has traveled to date. Since Bauberger graduated from Concordia in 1990, she had some idea about dresses she might make here.

<em>Listening to the Mountain</em> at the FOFA Gallery until March 13. Magnifying glass

Listening to the Mountain at the FOFA Gallery until March 13.

“I really wanted to do one based on those layered pastries — millefeuilles. But I haven’t seen one anywhere since I’ve been here.” Instead, Montreal’s dresses emerge from latté foam, sit on the mountain beside the cross or whisp out of chimneys against a cold blue sky. The penultimate 100th dress marks the return of snow after the February thaw.

Bauberger says people visiting during the show suggest ideas for images they find iconic. She now offers workshops and opportunities for visitors to produce ‘guest dresses’ which add another dimension to the shows.

The 100 Dresses exhibit is paired with a more monumental work, Listening to the Mountain, which fills the main FOFA gallery space. That show is also built on repetition and evocative titles. Both exhibits continue until March 13.


Concordia University