You would never guess by her exterior that Maggie Dunlap is a huge Marilyn Manson fan. Her work evokes a similar depth in the way it investigates the subtle darkness that charges horror movie sets. Through embroidery and decorative arts, Maggie absolves all preconceived perceptions of craft, while simultaneously celebrating female empowerment.
Tell us about your recent works and your installation at the Untitled Space?
The exhibition was curated by Kelsey and Remy Bennett; I was so honored to be a part of it! I made an installation called “Life Force” with a centerpiece made of lists of women names that were murder victims or femme fatales in their own right. I started this project a while ago due to my obsession with true crime and horror. I’ve never brought it into my work until now - maybe I’m a little embarrassed that this is something that I’m obsessed with. I grouped them together by alliterations of the names, almost like making the names into a poem. I put Joan of Arc and JonBenét Ramsey together, Lizzie Siddal, Lizzie Borden, Elizabeth Short, Elizabeth Bathory, etc.
What else inspired the installation?
I chose a font that was reminiscent of Olde English, like what you would see inside of a gothic cathedral. I like the altars and the old grandeur. It’s so pagan and creepy. People flock to these places to worship a lock of hair. It also relates to Victorian mourning traditions and the installation was based around that. I brought in a southern gothic aesthetic that I grew up around. So I replicated things that I would see in my grandmother’s house in Mississippi. I also reached out to my dad to lend me a lot of these items as well.
How did you start working with embroidery?
I started about five years ago and I am self-taught. When I first started I wanted it to look like drawings but with needle and thread. I loved the tactile nature of it. As a person with anxiety I liked the repetitive, almost meditative nature of it. Last year I got to take a fiber art class and I learned actual techniques, knitting and crochet.
Do you find that craft as a medium has a negative connotation in the “fine art” world?
The intersection of craft and “fine art” is so gendered and classist. Look at the quilts at Gees Bend - these women were making amazing quilts at the same time that modernist men were making theory abstract geometric paintings. These quilts are dealing with the same imagery. One of those schools is fine art and the other is craft because of their gender, race and class. The history of craft is just amazing. I love seeing cross-stitch samples from Colonial America; I think they are gorgeous. It is such a contentious subject and I have gotten into so many fights in school about craft versus art with formalist male teachers.
Art school can definitely be a male dominant institution.
I am studying art theory and I’m reading Clement Greenberg and he has his opinions on craft and kitsch and it’s hard to sort out what from art theory I’m going to use and what I’m going to reject because it is sexist bullshit. I think the classification of craft versus fine art is ridiculous and I don’t think one is less than the other.
Craft art should really be redefined.
There were no guys in this fiber art class that I was taking. You think at this point classifying craft versus fine art would be obsolete because so many people are using multiple materials for art. “Craft” is a problematic word because people have their own ideas about what craft is.
Do you mostly work with other women?
It is not intentional, I do not factor someone gender into who I collaborate with. Some of my favorite artists are women and people who I have best conversations with are women. My major is Visual and Critical studies and for some reason women are a lot more attracted to it than men. Gender relations in art world academia are really strange.
There’s this great artist called Caroline Woolard who started this collective called BFAMFAPHD and their whole mission is to educate artists within the art world and art schools about the inequalities. Art schools are 85% women but working artists are 85% men.
What other bodies of works are you making?
I have a love for really representational drawing and illustration. That’s my base for my foundation. Embroidery is the natural progression of the drawing but in a different way. The installations are actualization of the drawings that I make. The aesthetics and concepts of the installation is very similar to the drawing or etchings that I make. Eventually I am hoping to incorporate embroidery into a larger installation. For the “Spring/Break” show I made a bed and for “Life Force” I made a corner of a bedroom. I would love to make a full bedroom! I would also love to do set design for a horror movie –I love haunted houses - or a play because those are the elements I notice
What’s your favorite movie bedroom?
Virgin Suicides, Carrie. In Silence of the Lambs when Hannibal Lector is in his caged prison in the middle of a room. Any vampire movie.
What kind of Goth music do you like?
Marilyn Manson! I have mentioned him in every single interview I have ever done in hopes that he will see it one day.
You should start tweeting at him!
I also love HIM. The Misfits. Rob Zombie. He is going on tour with Korn and I am definitely going to that show. Oh and Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor is a genius. I feel like I have weird degrees of separation from Marilyn Manson. My dream is to do album or art direct a music video for him. I feel like if I put it out into the universe it will happen.
You have gotten pretty successful at a young age. What work got you the attention?
The piece that got the attention through the internet was an underwear embroidery work. i-D Magazine used it as a header image for an interview I’ve done with them. I wish when I was 10 or 11 there were artists who were accessible online as they are now. I think that’s how I have gotten some of the attention is people sharing and relating to my work online.
Instagram especially has really changed the way young kids digest art.
I feel like in a way it helped develop a youth fetishism. I feel like magazines, publications and galleries are seeing the rise of young artists and consumers and capitalizing on that. It’s great that young people have a platform to speak about what’s important to them but it feels a little creepy that there is this capitalization about the young audience - they don’t really care about the art - they just know it will get a lot of clicks. It just feels like a double-edged sword. I wish my age was never a part that people talked about. I would like my art to stand on its own. It was only relevant when I was an adolescent and making art about adolescence.
On the other hand it’s great that the new generation of artists has these opportunities to display their work. We just had Deviant art.
Right! It’s so great that Instagram and Tumblr allow artists to bypass the system of art school, gallery and museum by the internet. It has democratized the art world in a sense.
What are you excited to work on next?
I just came off doing this big installation so I am kind of thinking about what I want to do next. I want to do more installations and more work about my obsessions. I did an alphabet of serial killers and recently I have been making drawings of locations where infamous crimes have occurred.
So what started off this obsession with crime?
I really don’t know! I think it’s less about the people and the event and more about the phenomenon of obsession itself. I listen to this podcast called “My Favorite Murder”. I think these obsessions is a way for us to access this violence that is separate from our bodies and we feel totally safe from it, because in reality we are never safe from violence in any form, whether it be a catcall or an actual attack. I am also am a very obsessive person. I grew up watching SVU and Dateline with my mom. I think as a nation we love to watch the pretty girls suffer.