John Freyer:
The Dress Up Portrait Project

April 1 – May 31, 2011
Thurs – Sat, dusk to 11pm
UVP Everson
Everson Museum Plaza
401 Harrison Street
Syracuse, NY

About the Work

The Dress Up Portrait Project
2011 | Total Run Time: 10:00

I am an interdisciplinary artist working at the crossroads of photography, video, audio and performance – both on the internet and in real-world exhibits and installations. Broadly speaking, my work explores the role of everyday, personal objects in our lives – as commodities, fetishes, totems and touchstones. I am also interested in systems of exchange – how the circulation of objects and stories enriches social ties between individuals and groups. Past projects include All My Life For Sale, in which I sold everything I owned on eBay and then travelled the country visiting its new owners, and Second Hand Stories, a documentary video in which I toured the U.S. investigating second-hand practices and economies. My work has evolved recently from a focus on objects-as-commodities and how and for whom they acquire value – monetary or otherwise – towards the human flow of memories and stories, especially across generations. Becoming a parent and being faced with the reality of my own parents’ aging has led to an interest in how domestic spaces and objects shape identity within a family. Currently, I am at work on “Almost Home”, an interactive, digital documentary on my parents’ retirement community in central Florida. How do objects from the past function as repositories of memory and signs of authenticity in a brand new, but final ‘home’? How do people use simple, tangible things – a weathered table, a Depression-era wooden box, a tennis ball – to make sense of such intangibles as ideals of family and community? With these questions I hope to cast everyday products in a new light – not as mere goods of trade, but as unique markers of personhood.

My desire to re-invest the mundane with the promise of a narrative that connects speaker to listener, performer to viewer, shapes my new work, Dress Up. In this series of videos, my 5-year-old daughter and her friends take turns posing for the camera – for periods of several minutes without moving. At first, the static video images of little girls in Cinderella skirts or mom’s high heels appear as cute clichés familiar from advertising and family photo albums. However the children’s mild discomfort at standing still and silent becomes increasingly unsettling over time. The girls struggle not to fidget or speak, opening a space for a more complicated reading of their self-presentation. Their chosen objects of ‘dress up’ – the clutter of pink hair curlers and ballerina frills – become a costume that liberates, rather than obscures, the personality beneath. Dress Up deploys an everyday visual vernacular to explore this deeply human ritual that is fundamentally about the expression of the self in the world of Others and objects.

About the Artist

John D. Freyer is an interdisciplinary artist whose projects include his internationally renowned Internet project “All My Life for Sale”, his national PBS pilot “Second Hand Stories” and his readymade projects and Big Boy. His work has been reviewed in The New Yorker, The Sunday London Times, Art Forum, Print Magazine and NBC’ s The Today Show. His first book All My Life for Sale was optioned by Scott Free Productions and the Oscar nominated writer/director team Shari Berman and Robert Pulcini are attached to write the screenplay and direct the feature film adaptation. Freyer is an Assistant Professor of Studio Art in the School for Art and Art History at the University of Iowa where he teaches advanced photography and digital imaging classes.
He is currently a Fulbright Research Fellow in Stockholm, Sweden.