Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Jil Weinstock: Revealed in Rubber


Jil Weinstock

“My work is about nostalgia and the metamorphosis of the regular,” explains New York–based artist Jil Weinstock. Originally from the West coast, Weinstock graduated in 1995 with a joint MFA from the University of California Berkeley and the San Francisco Art Institute and has worked as a practicing artist ever since. Garments, zippers, and, in earlier works, the detritus of the beauty industry—lipstick, faux pearls, feather boas—make up the material content of her cast-rubber sculptures. But it is as sculptures, rather than textiles, that these objects are first and foremost recognized and Weinstock has carved a certain niche for herself amongst Fine Art galleries on both coasts.

Conceptually, a feminist commentary is certainly in evidence, but it is one that is layered with many other concerns. For instance, the bands of color created by rows of store-bought zippers and striped shirts cast in rubber, which comprise two recent series, seem more aligned with the formal interests of minimalism than in feminism. But it is impossible to confine the work to a single concept. Stretched tightly across a rectangular frame and backlit, the shirts also remind one of X-rays—as though suggesting that thorough enough scrutiny our dress may bring to light deeper truths that may in fact betray the vacuous nature of the wearer.

Although all of Weinstock’s work is cast in rubber, her ongoing investigation of nightgowns evokes an intimacy that is palpably absent in the shirt and zipper series. Inherited from her grandmother, the nightgowns remind one of the layering of skin, both the natural creases of aging and sleep as well as the artificial skins of women’s slips, stockings and lingerie. Volume is replaced with an irreversible compression that strips the garment of its function but enhances its symbolic presence. And the amber color of the rubber is similar to that of sepia-toned photographs—precious mementos of lives no longer with us. But in the telltale stains of the body’s secretions recorded by the cloth, life, even the most private aspects, is very much ongoing.

In more recent works, Weinstock has allowed pieces of garments to escape the confines of the mold, creating a tension between the rubber surface and the fabric that manages to peek through it. These are textiles suspended, removed from curious touch, which somewhat perversely only increases our desire to touch. Weinstock’s choice of garments is also changing and now includes purchased secondhand dresses worn to mark significant occasions in life, often the full and frilly dresses worn by bridesmaids or teens at the prom. Intellectually, we are aware that the material is synthetic: polyester gowns that snag on rough cuticles, fabrics that refuse to absorb the body’s perspiration and are prone to fraying. But compressed in rubber, they also become as translucent as her grandmother’s dressing gowns, recalling instead the sheerness of a petticoat or slip.

Of the vintage dresses now at the heart of Weinstock’s sculptures, she explains, “Fashion promises to reveal, but its purpose is to conceal; this is the fundamental flaw in the logic of fashion.” Like fashion, there is a sense of voyeurism in this artist’s work: cloth that reminds one almost too much of skin. But the association feels accidental rather than intended. Rather than a plunging neckline, these works could be likened to a sheer shirt worn unwittingly by its owner on a bright sunny day—all the more intriguing, and unsettling, for their innocence.

FiberArts magazine (Jan./Feb. 2006: 20-21)