Taylor Yocom (b. 1992, Des Moines) holds a BFA in Photography from the University of Iowa and an MFA in Visual Art from Washington University in St. Louis’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Her photography and video based practice explores the gender performativity of femininity - particularly “female niceness” – through tropes of performance and an overload of pink. Most notably, her photography series Guarded has been covered in dozens of media outlets such as Huffpost and Buzzfeed and she has spoken about and exhibited the work on college campuses across the United States. Recently, she was included in the 2018 HTMlles Biennial Festival in Montreal and was in residence at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: She's a beauty
When and where did She’s a beauty begin?
This project came about from a series of accidental explorations – and it’s wonderful to reflect on. Last fall I was doing a residency in Paris at the Cite Internationale des Arts. My videos and photos focused on the implications of romance, femininity, and agency. I was working on a photo series exploring the tropes of romance and I made one photograph with a pile of torn pink envelopes.
Now, these pink envelopes were wedding envelopes, and EXPENSIVE, and beautiful. I couldn’t bear to just throw them away - and I had a desire to make collages again. So I grabbed the vintage Elle magazine that I got at the flea market and started experimenting with cuts outs of the models with their eyes just peeking over the flap of the envelope. I liked the idea of the torn envelope being a return – and the collage would be returning the gaze.
But as I was falling asleep the next night, I had an idea. (Side note, does anyone else have incoherent half baked, half asleep notes of ideas on their phone or is it just me?) The Elle magazine was for the female gaze. If I wanted this to truly be a statement about the male gaze, I had to do it with something made for that purpose.
I was staying right across from the Seine, where there are dozens of green stands where locals sell used books. The one right by my building was dedicated to vintage pornographic magazines instead of the traditional cheap paperbacks. The next morning, I walked across the street to buy a 1970s copy of Lui – which translates to him. There was a topless woman with ice skates around her neck, staring at you on the cover.
I flipped through the magazine trying to find images of the models staring right at the camera. I then delicately ripped or cut out the heads, leaving the bodies intact. I constantly had to go back to get more magazines, and the bookseller across the street and I quickly had a camaraderie. But still, I could hear his friends laughing at me as I flipped through his stacks of magazines. I knew this wasn’t made for me.
After completing the collage series, I flipped through the magazines again to see if there was anything that I missed. The pages were flimsy and the aftermath of my cutting felt violent. Turning each page led to a new composition – there was a hole where a head should have been that an advertisement was peeking through. I took out my camera.
This series was a departure for me – my work is generally pink and constructed. But there was something about this by-product of the collages that was more interesting than the collages itself. This object – this porn mag – became even more of an object once the heads were gone. It reminded me of how people call things a beauty and feminize it. This magazine wasn’t for my gaze.
Within the larger implications of the content of this magazine, cutting the heads off felt extremely violent. By taking their gaze off of the page, I acknowledge that so much of culture is catered towards the male gaze, yet I create an uncomfortable situation to acknowledge the ambiguity the image presents. In not acknowledging the agency women have in harnessing their sexuality, we see them as objects.
Removing the gaze solidifies that these flimsy magazines are objects – she is a beauty. But through creating a flattened image of different body parts – different women – different stories – I hope to call attention to the lack of nuance used when discussing women’s sexuality and objectification.
Where do you see this project going?
I finished editing this project a few months ago and I have around 15 images in the series. I am looking to exhibit this work and can’t wait to make big prints! I’m also playing around with making a glossy zine of the images that would imitate the form of a magazine.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
Right now I am teaching photography classes at the local museum and community college, so being around students and talking about the medium keeps the creative juices flowing.
I’m a big reader and one of my favorite, favorite things to do is to go to IKEA on a weekday and read and drink their free coffee! This quiet time in a public space gives me the space to brainstorm new ideas. The last book I finished was Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister. Her take on historically situating women’s anger alongside her analysis on the #metoo movement is educational and cathartic.
Most of my practice is video based now, so I miss making objects. During this hellish winter when no one wanted to leave the house I started embroidering without an agenda – just sloppily putting as many pink things as I could on this pink fabric. This led to a thought process of femininity and excess and I’m now working on a photo series of erasing certain parts of this “fabric collage.” Essentially, since finishing my MFA I’ve realized how so much of my practice comes from the process of making. I’m learning to embrace the process!
Also, I carry a sketchbook everywhere to jot down ideas!
What’s next for you?
This fall was pretty packed with a residency and inclusion in a few exhibitions, so there isn’t much news on the horizon in terms of exhibitions or publications. I am moving back to St. Louis soon and am looking forward to connecting with the art scene there! I’ll be having my first show with Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis, titled “romance: a feeling of excitement or mystery associated with love” that will run from May 16 - June 21.
But lots is going on in the studio! I am finishing up editing a new video, which is big since it’s my longest video and the first time I’ve used a green screen. I also am working on my photo series “I’m sorry, is this a bit too much?” which consists of erased parts of this giant fabric assemblage I made. Right now I’m having fun with this exploration and making work that’s jam packed with unicorns, flowers, and pink.
Also, I am looking for submissions for an ongoing video project – which will not be jam packed with unicorns and pink. While I was in Paris I was exploring the idea of the flaneur and the impossibility of a female equivalent. I’m creating a project of a video of a walk through Paris (where the term flaneur was coined!) from my vantage point and layering this with text of stories of women/non-binary folks’ experience with street harassment. To push back against the idea of the privileged urban walker I am pointing out this impossibility in a long piece that forces the viewer to sit with it. I am accepting submission for this on my website:
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
I am LOVING @suzy.floozy’s work on Instagram. Her still lifes playing with tropes of femininity and her response to power dynamics are so fun to look at but also insightful and cutting.
Right now, I’m influenced by Lily van der Stokker, Miranda July, Carolee Schneeman and Betty Tomkins!