Artist Dawn Woolley finds inspiration in the work of Audrey Amiss, held by Wellcome Library.
This artwork is part of a two-week takeover (1-14 June) of The Polyphony by Thinking Through Things, an ECR-led collaborative project designed to stimulate interdisciplinary dialogue around the holdings of Wellcome Collection. Thinking Through Things is supported by the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research and is funded by a Wellcome Trust Discretionary Award. Following a training day co-hosted by Thinking Through Things and Wellcome Collection in February 2020, delegates were invited to submit a short text or creative piece exploring one or more objects held by Wellcome Collection.
My research examines the meaning and values that commodities express, particularly in relation to identity and gender politics. This work explores some of the gender ideals that are supported and reinforced by food commodity branding. Judith Williamson writes that adverts inform the consumer of who they are: ‘we consume, buy the product, yet we are the product. Thus our lives become our own creations, through buying; an identikit of different images of ourselves, created by different products’ (2010, p. 70). For example, female cosmetic products often reference food, for example apple flavoured body butter and hair mayonnaise, but they also carry the warnings ‘for external use only’, ‘do not consume’. They command the female consumer to consume in order to become an object for consumption. In contrast, the stereotypical male consumer is allowed to eat – he needs ‘fuel’ so he can be ‘dominating’ and ‘fierce’. Taking inspiration from the scrapbooks by Audrey Amiss, held in Wellcome Collection, the mundane objects and commodity packaging in Set Menu (His and Hers) offer insights into the ideologies that guide the minutiae of everyday life. By grouping together products that have similar ideological messages I demonstrate how commodity culture reinforces gender ideologies.
Dawn Woolley is a visual artist and research fellow at Leeds Arts University. She completed an MA in Photography (2008) and PhD by project in Fine Art (2017) at the Royal College of Art.
Williamson, Judith, Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising, 15th ed., London: Marion Boyars, 2010.