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Currently on view through November 24 at Art Cake in Brooklyn, New York is Suzanne Bocanegra’s “Wardrobe Test.” On view are three large-scale works, Valley (2018); Lemonade, Roses, Satchel (2017); and Dialogues of the Carmelites (2018).
Whitewall asked the artist, who works in painting, video, performance, costume, and set design, about the inspiration—both personal and pop—behind the installation.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us how the unique space of Art Cake influenced the installation of “Wardrobe Test”?
SUZANNE BOCANEGRA: It’s such a beautiful space. It allowed me to make a completely different configuration that allowed the videos to react with each other in a really provocative way.
WW: What personally struck you about the footage of Judy Garland’s wardrobe test for Valley of the Dolls?
SB: She’s not acting, she’s not delivering lines—and her vulnerability really comes through.
I found out later that it was a time in her life when no one would hire her—she was in such bad shape—but the filmmakers for Valley of the Dolls decided to take a chance with her. The casting was just too good to pass up, since the main character in Valley of the Dolls was loosely based on her life story. She really wanted the job. She was fired after three days. It’s really heart breaking.
WW: How did you choose the women you cast in Valley (2018)?
SB: I was thinking about the casting in Valley of the dolls, how Judy was cast because who she was, because of her life story, her career. I decided to cast women I admired because of their lives and how they work as artists. I wanted really strong artists and people, to redeem in a way what Judy Garland went through.
WW: Can you tell us about your choice to embroider the Guide to the Catholic Sisterhoods in the United States in Dialogue of the Carmelites (2018)?
SB: I had been thinking for a long time about how to re-stage the Dialogue of the Carmelites. When I found that book with all those amazing photos—published the same year Poulenc wrote his opera—I decided to use the women in the photos as my cast. And then I costumed them with embroidery.
WW: Can you tell us about your relationship with your grandmother, the inspiration for Lemonade, Roses, Satchel (2017)?
SB: I spent a lot of time on the farm growing up and she was really important to me. When I was a kid, the way her mind worked because of the dementia was something I was always kind of fascinated by.