Q&A with Kara Mia Fenoglietto

A conversation between Kara Mia Fenoglietto and Peggy Murphy on the topic of Fenoglietto’s exhibit Ballad of the Dolls

Floral Pill, detail

 PM:  Using ornament and embellishment is such an enduring human practice and this work is such a flourish of ruffles, lace, and surface decoration.  In your show Ballad of the Dolls you contextualize ornament as being somewhat oppressive.  Any comment about contemporary fashion’s  use/lack of ornament and embellishment?

 KMF: The embellishments and ornaments I have been collecting for quite some time.  I am interested in the ways my use of embellishments conceal or alter an identity. Beading, crocheting, embroidery, and other hand crafts have always been so fascinating to me.  When curating these fabrics together, I was impressed by the original makers patience, manipulating these fabric scraps or yarns endlessly for hours. The lace and bead-work is reconstructed to pay homage to the female body.  One of the skirts, inspired by the shape of a traditional apron, have lace and bead-work from an antique wedding dress. 

 PM: Your wall labels are extremely  informative as far as the history of the individual fabrics you used to piece these pieces together.  How does working with vintage vs “off the shelf” fabrics effect your process?.  Do you see a subtext in all fabrics?

KMF: Great question.  I do not see a subtext in all fabric.  However, in most cases, not all, I do see a deeper story and emotion in vintage fabrics. I am drawn to the history behind them, what was going on during that time period, etc. Also, the quality and hand-feel tends to be better than newer yardage. There are more pure weaves, less synthetics, and better screen printing processes. 

I also wanted to repurpose objects that may have been discarded and bring them a new life. For example, one piece was made using vintage nightgowns from my grandmother and found Japanese silk. The silk has been ripped in multiple places, its original owner painstakingly hand stitched the tears shut to repair the fabric. The chest embellishment on this top my grandfather acquired while in Malta serving in the Navy. My intention was to bring new life to these sentimental objects that were otherwise discarded. The shape of the skirt I wanted to convey a twisted narrative of emotional draping that conveys sensitivity and a commentary to the suppressed.

PM: You balance work in the fashion industry with your studio art practice. How do these two practices influence each other?  Are their contradiction and conflicts between the two.

,KMF: I think about this question very frequently.  There are many conflicting views as to whether fashion “is art” or if it sits better in the design realm.  I play on this idea, it’s tension, and explore what these questions present.  I’ve received negative feedback on my work on the basis that one may reject fashion as art.  Regardless, we can convey a strong message and story-tell with fabric. I look forward to continuing to explore these two practices in hybrid. 

PM: Could you speak about your evolution as an artist?  I know your degree is from the Chicago Art institute.  Was your intention to be  a designer or a fine artist

KMF: My intention was to have an art practice and use fashion as a medium.  I was not interested in creating a commercial fashion identity, but creating  work that was concept-driven.  

PM: Could you talk about the titles for your work.

KMF: A little cliche, but the themes in my work I also related to the book and movie “Valley of the Dolls”.  In the movie, the characters took a different colored pill depending on what effect they strived for.  I took this approach to “kitschily” name my pieces.  I was thinking about the role women have played in the past, not given much responsibility except spending hours crocheting these pieces at home while their husbands are at work.  I daydreamed about women creating pieces whose function are strictly decorative and to protect meaningless surfaces in the home. I wanted to re-purpose these objects into garment form and as a commentary to the ways we may overcompensate as result for an identity being diminished