Dress Sculptures

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A series of dress sculptures made from paper maps and money, 1999 – ongoing

The dress sculptures began in 1999 and consist of female forms fashioned out of paper, maps and money. They arose out of a desire to claim my own space and an analysis of the female body‘s relationship to the idea of ‘territory‘. My aim was to subvert our expectations of clothing. However I feel the works have come to be defined by their sense of human presence that exudes a contemplative atmosphere. The strong poses of the dresses hint at untold stories from feminist history including the Suffragette and Me Too Movements. This series develops my interest in objects that tell stories of universal human emotions that unite us all.

Territory Dress, 2019
Territory Dress is concerned with colonial and social histories, mapping the female body and claiming female territory. Commissioned by the Tropenmuseum it specifically refers to Dutch colonial history; the frills and folds of paper maps and map printed cloth make reference to the coveted colonies spanning the globe. The train creates a kind of movement, as if passing through time, pulling the weight of a brutal past whilst the hollow of the stomach questions the origins of bodily and national proprietary.

Money dress, 2010
Money Dress is based on the style of dress worn in the 1890’s by British Female Explorers. The piece was made in honour of Catherine Routledge, who fell into a crevice in Panama and was saved by her crinoline when it caught on a tree branch. The dress is made with used paper currency from all over the world: the collars, belt and cuffs are crafted from money with female figureheads on and the rest of the dress is made from money with male figureheads on which are turned inwards so you can only see their backs. The original intention was that the whole dress would be made from currency featuring female figureheads but they are prohibitively rare. As well as being made in honour of Catherine Routledge the piece is based on the idea of female territory and power being enabled by economic independence.

Highland Dress, 2009
Highland Dress is an empty life-sized female dress composed of ordinance survey maps of the Scottish Highlands glued together.

‘Stockwell delivers a visual blow to English colonization and occupation of Scotland over 300 years. Using military maps to create a woman’s dress sends a double message of war and politics being dominated by men in Western history. The strongly posed representation of feminism battles against male denial of power and suggests that men can only settle disputes through wars.’ Quoted from- Review of “Mapping: memory and Motion in Contemporary Art” at Katonah Museum of Art - International Journal of Multicultural Education, Vol.12/no 2.Page 3. 2012.

Colonial Dress, 2008
Colonial Dress is crafted from world maps that show the British Empire in pink, with continents and countries claiming the space and shapes of body organs.

‘In the 1920’s one-quarter of the globe was pink, which struck me as obscene. I used the maps to make an extended world on the skirt, a sort of world map in itself. At this time, I was drawing comparisons between maps, country and continent shapes and human anatomy. I had a scan of my liver and was struck by its resemblance in shape to Brazil, hence Brazil is placed where the liver is, Africa in place of the stomach and Manchester (my hometown) is placed where the heart is.’

In 2019 Colonial Dress was sold to a museum collection, The House of European History in Brussels.

Empire Dress, 2005
Empire Dress, in Victorian style, is made from maps of the British Isles. Constructing the clothed body from territorial representations, Empire Dress makes reference to discourses about feminised nature and territory whilst also evoking narratives of the ‘mother-land’. It reminds us of the gendered power relations of both the map and the gaze. Worlds were to be ‘conquered’ and to be ‘penetrated’, activities largely undertaken by men whilst lands are often imagined and predominantly described as female.

Cartographic Dress, 2003
Cartographic Dress was constructed from 2 world atlases. It features the north coast of Africa as the neck line, Central America as the shoulder strap and South America as the back. Carefully selected maps from different countries and continents form the overall shape of the female body as well as the shapes of the female anatomy.

Coffee Dress, 1999
Coffee Dress from 1999 is the first dress sculpture that Susan ever made. In a recent interview with Daan van Dartel from the Tropenmusuem, Amsterdam, she discusses the impetus and origins for what has now become an important and ongoing series of work:

"I knew how to read dressmaking patterns from an early age and sewing was my first language. When I was sixteen I won a prize for the best-made dress in my school, I have been making dresses all my life. The first sculptural dress I made, ‘Coffee Dress’ 1999 was an extension of this, but it was an artwork, not to be worn, so a similar method but with a different outcome; I was subverting clothing. Coffee Dress had a train made from coffee filters and stained paper portion cups. At this time I also began working with maps."

Photos Colin Hampden-White & Susan Stockwell. Film stills Bevis Bowden.

Measurements: life-size

Material: paper money notes, maps, cotton thread, rubber, cloth, coffee filters, portion cups, armature

Provenance: London, UK

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