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© 2016 by Katelena Hernandez Cowles. Proudly created with Wix.com

treatsuit

On a clean-out of my house, where my husband and I raise two children, I discovered I had nearly a thousand tiny toys that my children had collected at birthday parties, fairs, pizza parlors, the dentist, school--they were discarded and lost, ignored past the moment of receipt, but they had been so treasured at the moment they fell into the children's hands. I thought about that moment of relief, of joy, that comes with it. How could I share that with my audience?

 

Much of my work has explored the boundary of what one person is allowed to do for another, and what is not allowed. The act of getting a toy from the suit will require an invasion of a normal boundary - one learns fairly early that it's inappropriate to get something from someone else's pocket, and undoing a zipper would surely be a huge transgression - but that act will only be as actively invasive as the viewer decides to be. There will be "awkward" zippers and those that are less so. Which will they choose? How will they go about reaching for the prize at the bottom of the pocket? Will they be polite or will they grab greedily? Is it a sexualized interaction, or a chilldlike one?

 

The suit itself, which can weigh 30 to 40 pounds fully loaded up, took eight months of complicated structural engineering and masterful stitchery by myself and two helpers to construct. While it is a delivery method for the treats, it has deeper resonances for those who go to that level. I live in Texas at a time when women's health issues, and in many ways, their bodies, have become more and more a political battleground. The boundaries between private decisions and public discourse have been transgressed broadly, and there does seem to be a particularly prurient delight in those who wage these assaults. Reaching into a female form and removing something at will is an apt metaphor—even more giving others the right to do so for their own reasons—and it is no coincidence that when the open pockets indicate the suit is “used” fewer and fewer people are interested in interacting with it.

 

There is an unavoidable commentary there on consumerism in our culture: the cheap giveaway toys I give out are recycled from nearby families and my own home. Sometimes people will bring me whole shopping bags of new gewgaws, full to the brim, after only a couple months. One can imagine the vastness of the piles that sit in toyboxes and drawers nationwide.

 

On a purely formal level, I delight in the play of color; the broadness of the forms, the way they move and interact; and the eerie transformations the suit makes as the zippers are opened and the pockets emptied, leaving a pockmarked, gaping surface instead of the sweet, smooth, sparkling surface that it starts with.

 Treatsuit is currently available for performance at events, fairs, museums, or galleries.  

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The artist thanks the following people for their help with this project: 

Costume design consultant and seamstress: Chrissy Pazalek

Intern: Karen Hayes

Photographer: Leon Alesi

Performance assistants: Eddy Morales, Jr., April Garcia, Emily Cayton

Doo-Dad Donations: Rebecca Walston, Rebecca Wallace, Laura Cho, Stephanie Land, Lilo Pomereaux, Virginia Fleck, Denise Prince, Melanie Sarwal, Kathryn Anderson, Rissa Potter, Missy Ward, Jennifer Chenoweth, Virginia Jones, Debe Bentley