Updated: Mar 31, 2020
@TAYLORYOCOM | WWW.TAYLORYO.COM | ST. LOUIS, MO | INTERDISCIPLINARY
"This was my way of exploring what happens when one has all the power."
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. She has given lectures about the work and exhibited the series 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. She is currently represented by Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis, Missouri.
I am drawn to, love, pink and flowers yet turn around to deconstruct their meanings. Through my practice, I explore and critique the social construction of femininity. To be feminine is to be submissive. To be feminine is to be happy. To be feminine is to be “nice.” I push back against the mandate of performing “female niceness” through my still and moving images. I make the teacup run over. I stomp on the butter. I recreate the flowers that signal docility. I rip the pink, inflatable hammer apart.
Pink is “girly.” Pink is “calming.” I try to subvert pink’s traditional sedative function by creating tense moments dripping in pink. By positioning these actions of breakage and overflowing in front of a pink curtain, I draw attention to the performance of female niceness. I reclaim these tropes of femininity to allow for expression of frustration.
Still from "Bouquets" (in progress)
Your work exists in multiple formats: installation, performance, video, collage, photography, and more. Does this indicate that the paradigms and power structures you challenge also exist in multiple formats?
This is a stellar connection that I haven’t consciously made in my own work but completely works. I’m investigating the social construction of femininity and the idea of “female niceness.” Sexism and sexual harassment take shape in many forms – and my work reflects this struggle in multiple formats. My photo series “Guarded” shows women holding what they use to protect themselves with from sexual assault on walks at night – items such as keys, pepper spray, and water bottles. I see this series as a blatant protest to the patriarchal norms that keep us “on guard.” Other works are quiet. In “but nice ladies don’t talk about that, right?” I pour tea into a cup – and it overflows. I keep pouring. I see this as an ‘’f-you” to the norms that prevent us from talking about the microaggressions we put up with.
Still from "but nice ladies don't talk about that, right?"
Can you discuss your conceptual use of parody and cliche within your body of work It’s
I was extremely fortunate to win the Milliken Foreign Travel Award from Washington University in St. Louis when I graduated with my MFA in 2018! This award provided a grant and two months at the university’s live-in studio at Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris. I came to the residency focusing on French Feminism and the #metoo movement. I was somewhat horrified by the response from Catherine Deneuve about how this movement will mean the end of flirtation.
I have to preface this – I believe that myself and many other women know the line between being creepy and flirting. It all has to do with both parties having power in the exchange! I didn’t go into this project dismissing flirtation and romance – I was instead interested in how harassment can be masked as flirtation. That got me thinking…how does flirtation and romance relate to power balances?
I was spending my time in the heart of the “most romantic city in the world” and I had such an urge to explore romantic clichés and tropes. What happens when you take this iconography and turn it on its head? I smashed roses and let them dry up. I broke a cheap necklace and scattered the pearls across lace. I smashed a box of chocolates. I let champagne go flat. My intention was to create rosy, pink-filtered, romantic scenes that looked set up but also off. This was my way of exploring what happens when one has all the power.
Also, as a personal, funny anecdote – I was single when I made this work. I met my boyfriend two days after this exhibition opened at Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis!
Still from "no worries!"
You employ a consistent and considered color palette; this is seen throughout all bodies of work. Can you talk about your use of color and other aesthetic sensibilities?
I love pink – it’s the palette of my wardrobe and also my art practice. When it comes to my art practice, this decision is more subversive. I was naturally drawn to using the color in my videos and photos because I enjoyed the aesthetic. I did more digging in the history of the color and realized that there was a certain shade of pink – it’s called “Baker-Miller pink” – the bright, Pepto-Bismol pink – that was used as a sedative in the 50s. Authorities painted prison cells that shade of pink to calm inmates down!
This horrified me and also got me thinking about my use of pink in my work. My practice revolves around the idea that women be “nice” and put up with it. How has pink – gendered as a “girly” color for decades – relate to this expectation that we’re supposed to temper our emotion? I try to strategically pair this color with some sort of aggressive action. Smashing. Ripping. Ruining. Destroying pink objects in a pink room is how I play with the idea of fighting back against this expectation.
Guarded - Fayetteville, AR - Keys
A portion of your work utilizes others as participants or photographic subjects. How has your work grown by including the experiences and stories of others?
I see the issues I’m dealing with in my work as shared experiences with nuances that deserve to be highlighted. My “Guarded” series was the first time I worked with others. We all felt the threat of sexual assault – from walking home at night to being at a party. Showing as many examples of these responses – as many women – as possible gave more breadth and depth to my message. I am so fortunate for this experience, too. I’ve met so many amazing people through this project!
Working with the subjects in “Guarded” has provided a sort of road-map for my process with participatory work. I realize that there’s an issue that’s important to me and to others. I then create a prompt and let others respond how they wish.
I’m working on another participatory project which has an open call right now. While in Paris I explored the idea of the “flaneur” - the man who walks the city and enjoys his surroundings. While women are able to walk around the city and enjoy their surroundings, there’s always a level of threat. Being catcalled, followed, or harassed are all possibilities. This word wasn’t made with a feminine equivalent (although artists and scholars have explored this divide – and I recommend the book Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin!). I am collecting stories from women feeling objectified while walking in public to use for a short film exploring the idea of the flaneuse. I have set up a Google Voicemail at 314.329.8148 for anyone to call in and leave a message. I’m looking for many voices from a range of experiences and would appreciate any participation!
Still from "In Paris, I tango for Maria (take 2)"
There is an incredible sense of tension in your video works. What is the function of this tension? What does it communicate?
I really started making video when I was in my second year of graduate school – Fall 2017. This was when the #metoo movement really took off. I was feeling so much of how women have been socialized to “put up with” harassment and assault – and now there was a huge movement encouraging people to speak out about their experiences. Even so, those who spoke out were still punished in some way. This angered me! My videos weren’t made in direct response to this dynamic, but looking back on it, this response to the social landscape was there.
There’s so much tension in my video works. These videos hover in a space between domestic and performance. A pitcher of milk sits on a table in front of a curtain. A teacup sits on a table in front of a curtain. I make both of these vessels overflow or tip over. The liquid spills over the table, the puddle is getting bigger and bigger. Some women have told me that watching these pieces feel cathartic. I see the “spilling over” as sort of a release in that way.