Nov. 18 2009 12:00 AM

Bra exhibit examines undergarment’s role

I never would have imagined the phrase “Over the shoulder boulder holder” could be so concrete, until I saw a pink, lacey brassiere sagging with the weight of two large rocks in the front window display of the Lansing Art Gallery.

If burning brassieres didn’t turn every head in the ‘60s, now women are hanging their intimates in storefront windows. Whether you like to wear them or not, the "ABRAcada Bra Project" exhibit challenges viewers’ ideas of what the purpose of the bra is. Designed by the members of W.H.A.T. (Women Heartfully [making] Art Together), of Grand Rapids, the exhibit was initially created as an entry in the ArtPrize art competition that took place in Grand Rapids in October.

“We started realizing how the bra has affected women’s lives in different ways, trying to make women more natural with the bra, to lift and separate, and all those different kinds of words,” said Bonnie Slayton, founder of W.H.A.T. “We decided one of our main themes for ArtPrize would be changing the bra, because the bra has been trying to change women throughout all of these years.”

Like many of the artists, Slayton toyed with puns for inspiration. Her piece titled “Car Bra” incorporates a discarded windshield wiper, a steering wheel that plays “Happy Birthday” when the horn is pressed, and a set of battery powered headlights placed you know where. The auto brassiere is meant to serve a similar function as its mammary gland counterpart. “It’s to protect the front of a car, so men can really relate to that in one way,” Slayton said. Racking their brains for more puns, artists expounded on the obvious to the subtler.

by Sandy Kirchinger, looks like a wardrobe piece after Madonna’s own
heart, with its explosion of multi-colored noisemakers jutting out in
all directions. Two sewn-in hands hoist the bulk of a bra titled "The
Push- Up Bra."

of the undergarments, like Brenda Sipe’s “BRAss Ensemple,” require
deeper contemplation. The glittery golden bra is covered in brass
buttons. Sipe explained that every associate she has had with brass
leads to some kind of ensemble, either musical or military. “Two
breasts make an ensemble,” she concluded.

ArtPrize was finished, Catherine Babcock, Lansing Art Gallery’s
executive director, talked with women about bringing the exhibit to
Lansing. The show went up on Halloween and comes down after the gallery
closes today. In the time it’s been up, Babcock said she’s overheard many interesting conversation about the show.

collection is dedicated to all women who have experienced breast trauma
or disease, and it includes pillars of bras donated from around the
country. Each bra has it’s own story, from mastectomies to those who
have lost mothers and wives to breast cancer.

the exhibit has traveled its course (the creators hope to attend the
Women’s Festivals in March), all of the donated bras will be passed
along again to women’s shelters.

the last few weeks, the bras have been the topic of conversation on
Washington Square. Art gallery employees have noticed more pauses in
the foot traffic that normally rushes by. "Many of them stop to read the artists’ view, to read what the
artists had to say about it, and that is very valuable to us as a
gallery, because we are providing education about the subject in a
tangible way," said gallery shop manager Barb Whitney. "It’s caused
quite a commotion.”