Debenhams Dress

Residency at Debenhams, Taunton - Somerset Arts Week 2002

I like to work with materials that are discarded and in this residency chose to use a range of Debenhams advertising posters that I was able to spirit away from the Priorswood end of the store. I tore up the flesh tones from the posters into plastic tubs of separate colours, including the lips and the blond hair. I started to collage the papers onto the form quite happily, until I came to a piece of skin colour that was too dark in tone and looked out of place. I went cold as I realised I had selected white skins only to work with. I thought it through for a while and realised that the only advertising images I had seen for underwear and make-up were white skins.

Does the promotional material of their products reflect their policies?

This raised a whole series of questions and issues for me. I wanted to reflect this discomfort in the piece I was making. Do we today need political debate about the exploitation of women? We surely do need to reflect the multicultural nature of our society in the images chosen to advertise beauty products. I did gently question the store manager who was a bit uncomfortable and evasive with the question.
During the residency I had the opportunity to discuss with the public about the issues I was working with, and the incongruity of seeing the work amongst the images of bland consumerism when I hoped I was reflecting some sort of irony around the issues of the ideal image of women. However I do have to admit that the majority of people wanted to know how long each piece took and how they were made, where the ideas came from and who bought them.