If you had a twelve-inch wide crotch, you’d probably wear fantastic undies. Huge undies. Undies with a foot-wide elastic band and a six-foot backside. If you happen to be male, these undies might even have a three-foot long opening … for your convenience.
Alas, I’ve seen these undies (and no, I haven’t slept with any unimaginably overweight men recently).
They exist as an art installation titled “Standard Issue” by Margot Curran at the Artspace New Haven gallery on Crown and Orange streets.
The undies hang within Artspace’s walls. However, you will not find them hanging on the walls of the gallery’s “Project Room” or “untitled(space) gallery” (which, at press time, holds a 99-cent store collaged wasteland that made me vomit a little in my mouth), or anywhere else art may be expected.
In order to find these precious undergarments, you must ask to use the gallery’s loo.
Simply walk past the aforementioned junkyard of a space — which actually prompted me to ask an Artspace employee if I could enter, to which she annoyingly replied “Of course, that’s what it’s for,” thinking she had unleashed the magic of post-modern art onto a poor soul — and keep on going to the two seemingly plain-clothed bathrooms. Both are clearly marked as unisex lavatories, with the typical “male/female” icons and some Braille below the images to label it likewise.
Entry into the first bathroom reveals walls of blue and white stripes, and hanging in the middle by threads of fishing wire is a pair of 5-foot-wide little boys’ briefs. White with red trim, printed red fire trucks, fire hydrants and silver firemen’s hats cover them. What I like to call the “convenience” hole is about a yard long, and the terrycloth fabric is bordered by a thick red elastic waistband, seeming to make for a supportive undergarment.
In the second (still unisex-labeled) restroom, another, rather predictable, scene exists: a 5-foot-wide white pair of underwear with white stitched moons and flowers hangs in a room of white walls with light pink polka-dots. Furthermore, the room glows a pinkish color from a soft pink lightbulb.
And there you have it, folks. It’s not very hard to grasp, and you’ve probably seen the same exact themes presented over and over — Exhibit A is the stereotypical male and Exhibit B is the quintessential female. If I were cruel, I’d probably dismiss the whole thing because of how nauseatingly typical it is: “Look at the oversized stereotypical undergarments.”
However, there also seem to be riffs on the theme — whether conscious or not — that caught my attention and slight favor.
First, the signs labeling the bathrooms as unisex (which I presume existed before Curran’s installation) caught my eye as a clever discrepancy. Given that these signs could either be part of the artist’s creation, or (as is most likely) a convenient coincidence, the gallery’s caption acknowledges the power of the juxtaposition: “In the privacy of our unisex restrooms, lowly underpants loom large in this consideration of gender stereotyping.”
Furthermore, and most intriguing to me, while the male-unisex bathroom holds only the underwear, a sink, a toilet and an “emergency pull” line (in case you get stuck in the toilet?), the female-unisex bathroom additionally holds some routine maintenance items: extra toilet paper, tampons, sanitary napkins and Clorox disinfecting wipes — all in a glass case.
I do not care to make the feminist argument on this one (um … it’s in the girls’ bathroom), but it did occur to me as I glanced towards the slender-regular Tampax that it needed a frame, while the big undies did not: They were frameless and dangling above a public restroom, making a statement. And even if that statement was somewhat unoriginal, it was pretty to look at and the most interesting bathroom I’ve ever been in. Except maybe the one up the stairs at SAE (“Interesting”).
Perhaps it is not worth a trip all the way to Crown and Orange, but if you are ever in the area, and need to use the bathroom … stop by Artspace anytime.