Duchamp's Urinal Is a Lot Funnier in Felt

Jenne Giles spins a urinal, a bunny, and a bloodied tampon out of traditional textiles.

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Feb 5 2017, 1:05pm

Images courtesy the artist

Within this artist’s collection, there are a series of sculpted pies, a urinal, a hare, and even a bloodied tampon. Each piece is made from wool and felt—traditional textiles—resulting in soft and earthy textures. The urinal appears not to be dirty, stained ceramic but a delicate art piece, and a used tampon is transformed into a thing to be admired.

Experimental and impactful, artist Jenne Giles turns our negative perceptions of certain objects around. Inventive with textiles, she is fascinated by the unexpected things natural materials can do. As she tells The Creators Project, “The more I experiment with an open-mind, the more I play with the materials. This leads me to find weird and unexpected things and it makes every day like Christmas.” Describing her artistic process as if it were a “tuning fork,” Giles desires her work to be viewed as moments of unedited emotional truth. “I try to offer a lot to connect to some positive and some negative so that the viewer can engage with these different hooks to experience how they resonate. I want the viewer to have an overwhelming desire to bridge the distance between themselves and the piece: physically, emotionally, and conceptually,” Giles says.

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Formerly an architectural metal fabricator constructing gates and staircases, Giles turned her creative skills to working with softer mediums. “My previous work involved lots of precision and spending most days alone in a cold, dark workshop. I wanted the complete opposite: more color, more people, more discovery, smaller and less cumbersome products, so I started to cast around for a new medium,” Giles explains. “Wool and felt-making are versatile art mediums, similar to any other you’d find in the art world, like paint or clay. You can go in any direction with it!  Plus, despite having an unbelievably long history, it is relatively unknown—it certainly took me by surprise.”

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Giles is intrigued by the way natural fibers combine to create unorthodox mediums. She explains, “Felt-making, wool, and fibers are interesting to me on many levels. They are natural materials so there is lots of character to work with. Hemp has a scratchy, grassy look whilst milk fiber has a silky, murky look. Wool can be fine or coarse, thick or thin, bumpy or smooth and can be meshed together using water-techniques or a barbed-needle to make 3D forms. Furthermore, it can be felted around other non-felting materials, so there is a possibility of using the wool like a glue. On top of all that, fiber materials have practical applications: they can be worn, they can muffle sound, they can provide heat or prevent heat.”

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Through her ongoing project, A Girl’s Life, Giles discusses what it means to be female and how many of her sculptures, including the bloodied tampon, explore this theme. “There is a very absorbent quality to the finished felt material—this got me thinking about staining and drips. Being a ‘woman’ (and I’m approaching ‘woman’ as a very open-ended concept) is a very messy thing, yet we pluck and shave, sterilize and clean that messiness away. Perhaps if we embraced that female mess, there is liberation there,” says Giles. “The tampon is a way of combining those ideas: floating forms, elegant shapes, a celebratory rainbow of colors to render an object we culturally have very negative, shameful sentiments for. This is life: it is messy and it is beautiful. Having a period is, at a bare minimum, a reality, but maybe—in these strange times—it can also be a rallying cry.”

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To view more of Giles’ work, visit her website.

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