This past spring, Sarah Muehlbauer began sewing coaster-sized circles of wax paper together in her textile design course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was experimenting with the material’s transparency and sometime thereafter the project took over.
"It kept calling for more and more and more," says the 24-year-old art student. Eventually, the size of the crinkly quilt suggested to her that it become something wearable, and she fashioned it into a floor-length halter dress, with a scooping back and bell-shaped skirt. But the garment, tailored to fit her petite frame, wasn’t the end of the project. She took the dress past its object phase, as she calls it, to a performance phase, and created a video of her exploring her relationship to it—twirling in it, and bunching and scrunching the wax-paper fabric. The video (excerpt above), entitled Rustle, earned Muehlbauer the $20,000 grand prize in "Green Light," the juried exhibit of emerging artists with disabilities that opened last week at the Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center.
Muehlbauer says she was exploring the dress "as an identity, something that inhibits or something that I can use or take control of," much the way she has probably contemplated her diagnosis with severe Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. She has taken control of her disease through art, which has helped her stay positive and working toward creative goals.
The prize money, Muehlbauer says, will fund some video equipment of her own (she has borrowed others’ up to this point), materials and further education—she’s three weeks into an MFA program in fiber art at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. And she doesn’t downplay the fact that she can now put the Smithsonian on her resume. "It changes everything," she says.
"Green Light" is co-sponsored by VSA Arts, an international nonprofit created to promote and showcase artists with disabilities, and Volkswagen of America, Inc. On view through January 4, 2009, the exhibition includes the works of 15 artists between the ages of 16 and 25.
(Image Courtesy of S. Dillon Ripley Center/VSA)