Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Caitlyn Murphy: Five Dresses, July 31st - August 22nd, 2020


Caitlyn Murphy’s exhibition at Dianna Witte Gallery, titled five dresses, takes place at the dry cleaners. The paintings trade in pastel hues—I imagine the winding tracks that snake around the front of the store making their way to the back, where the clothes are washed by the cotton candy foam of a car wash. 

The baby blue wallpaper stamped with daisies provides a rare glimpse into the back room of a dry cleaning business. The pinks of the assigned ticket to each garment echoed in a pink bow that encloses a bag of pillows, a pink dress, a spool of yarn. The faded legal-pad yellow of the receipt stapled to the top of the plastic—which is painted with so much constraint I can almost feel the slide of the material against my body as I walk down the street. I never feel as important as I do carrying a bag full of freshly laundered dry cleaning.

It’s the colour scheme, more than anything, that unites the paintings in five dresses. The consistent palette makes it feel as if each painting was shot on the same reel of film, on the same day, at the same time. The equally spaced out frames in the gallery space lends itself to this sensation. In reality, the premise of the project is a prolonged multi-day performance that involves taking the same five dresses to various dry cleaners in the city and photographing them upon return. A zoomed-in and an intentional snapshot of a phenomenon usually delegated to a chore. The use of gouache as a medium erases any evidence of touch from the brushstrokes, creating flat and cohesive compositions, not unlike the goal of the dry cleaners: to erase touch that had come before. 

The confines of tracking the same dresses as they move through different, rather mundane, and looked over spaces, tracks with the theory of the flâneur. But instead of a person wandering the city wistfully, rejecting a consumer-based society by not participating in commerce, it’s the dresses that roam.

I think of the films of Chantal Akerman, who was heavily influenced by the flâneur in her films. There are entire films by Akerman that take place in one building, (La Chambre, Hotel Monterey, for example) where she lets the camera linger, shifting the known into the unknown, the under-looked to overlooked. Just as Akerman can make me see a hotel in a new light, a motion-picture version of a Hopper painting, Murphy makes me look at the shoebox confines of a dry cleaner in a new way. Why do I, like Murphy’s project, only have five dresses that are worthy of the care of dry cleaners? The bulk of my closet is made up of material that blends together and is overlooked, lasting a season or two before being passed on.

The dresses, and care Murphy shows to them, coincide with Jane Bennet’s theory of thing-power, which Bennet defines as “the moment of the vitality of things.” In other words, how humans relate to inanimate objects, animating them through attention. Bennet proposes that the sheer number of products, and our desire for them, increases how much we throw out, which in turn decreases the importance that we place on individual things. Bennet, and Murphy, offer an alternative where we place a human-like dignity onto things, giving them agency and reorienting notions of importance towards materiality. The attention Murphy gives the fabric, plastic wrappings, and setting, anthropomorphizes the dresses, making them feel full of life—flâneurs without bodies. 

We invite you to join us for an opening reception to celebrate these new works and meet the artist on Saturday August 8th. We kindly ask that visitors book their time slot with us in advance. In order to maintain physical distancing measures we are limiting each time slot to 3 guests and request that you wear a face mask. Our hope is that these intimate receptions will create a more memorable experience for the artist and viewer. If you have any questions, please email us at

This project was created with support from the Toronto Arts Council. Caitlyn would also like to thank Rushton Dry Cleaners, Ellis Cleaners and La Rosa Cleaners for working with her.

We look forward to sharing this work you!