NEW YORK — Let artist Vadis Turner into your kitchen and she’ll whip you up a masterpiece — but not the edible kind. The 28-year-old uses culinary staples such as wax paper, paper towels and even dental floss to create not savory eats, but life-size lingerie and dresses. The delicate confections are enough to make any girl drool, but sadly, they are too delicate to actually don.
Walking through her two installations in the group show “The Symbolic Defeat of Phi Slamma Jamma” at the Melody Weir Gallery in Chelsea (on exhibit until Sept. 1), Turner explains her unusual choice of materials. “I love painting, but you pick up a paintbrush and you have the weight of art history on your shoulders. I found it liberating to shop for my materials in a grocery store,” she says. “I wanted to use kitchen products to make something precious.”
The Tennessee native, who was first inspired to create wax-paper prom dresses when her high school friends were in a frenzy over what to wear, has since moved north to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Turner’s Southern traditions, however, inspire the philosophical basis for her work. “While growing up, I had the privilege of learning from the women before me,” she says. “It’s a balancing act of maintaining a wonderful house and the social world. Then, when I moved to New York, I was living with Southern roots in a new world.”
Yet her work is not a protest against the stereotypical Southern belle. “I’m a Southern woman, and I say that with pride,” the willowy brunette insists.
The lingerie installation, titled rather appropriately “Seven Days of Wax Paper Lingerie,” is all a young woman would need — a matching set for every day, plus a few extras. “What you are silently saying is, ‘I make a great domestic partner, but I am sexy,'” Turner explains. The installation took her four months to complete. She painstakingly created intricate lace patterns in fragile wax paper with pushpins and toothpicks. Looking at it, she says incredulously, “I can’t believe I did this. I don’t think of myself as an anal person.” To help her through the hours in her Long Island City, Queens, studio, she listens to various books on tape, such as “The Great Gatsby” or “The Life of Harriet Tubman,” as she works.
This story first appeared in the August 16, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Also in the gallery is a floor installation of Turner’s “Birthday Party,” another work exploring the dichotomy inherent in a youthful nightlife. The whimsical, albeit jumbled, work evokes the remnants of a raucous night out, including melted candles, messy tablecloths and burst balloons.
“It’s a glamorous mess and you wake up after every Saturday night and think, ‘Is this fun?'” Turner laughs. “It’s this phase of life.”