Graduate student explores family ‘Threads of Imperfection’

Boudreaux gives “holding on by a thread” a whole new meaning.
Shirley Boudreaux poses for a portrait Oct. 28 in her office in the Bingham Gallery. Boudreaux’s exhibit, “Threads of Imperfection,” will be displayed at the gallery in November.

Graduate student Shirley Boudreaux seeks to challenge the idea of perfection. In her exhibit “Threads of Imperfection,” Boudreaux examines how the pursuit of perfection within a family can ultimately cause it to fall apart.

The exhibit, which will be on display Nov. 3 to 21 at the George Caleb Bingham Gallery, features several sculptures of clothing items in various states of quality to represent four members of the “ideal” family. The family starts off well put-together, but begins to fall apart as the storyline within the exhibit continues, as the clothing represents.

Boudreaux, a master of Fine Arts candidate in Fiber Arts and an art instructor at MU, says that she wants to express through her work that the common idea of the perfect family is unrealistic.

“The idealized family is the husband, the wife, the 2.5 children, churchgoer, soccer mom, clean house, organized, well-respected, everything in the community,” Boudreaux said. “We can’t all be that.”

To form the sculptures, Boudreaux free-spun thread onto water-soluble paper using a sewing machine. After the paper was dissolved, a stiffer version of the thread was left behind, which she shaped into clothing items.

By using clothing sculptures made of fibers to symbolize a mother, father, sister and brother, Boudreaux said she wants to convey how individuals, and a family as a collective unit, can fall apart over time as a result of a hectic lifestyle and stressful situations.

“They (start) in whole forms, and then as the storyline goes on, the wife and the husband start disintegrating,” Boudreaux said. “They start to fall apart where they’re just a puddle of thread on the ground.”

Boudreaux said she believes that constantly striving toward a goal of perfection ultimately has a detrimental effect on people.

“Perfection does not exist, it will never exist,” Boudreaux said. “It is something we as humans have made up. What I’m trying to do in this work is (show) that if you keep trying to obtain perfection, there is an outcome you may not like. You may start falling apart.”

Josephine Stealey, professor of art and head of the MU fiber program, said what makes Boudreaux’s exhibit unique is how she was able to convey her ideas about the effects of stress on a family unit.

“Shirley's work is very personal, yet considers universal emotional states about family dynamics and the sometimes destructive emotional effects stressful situations have in our lives,” Stealey said.

Stealey said the materials Boudreaux used and the ways she assembled and hung the sculptures contribute to the expression of her intended message.

“She highlights these emotional states of specific family members through clothing that simultaneously references a presence and absence of the body,” Stealey said. “These forms are floating in space and made out of chaotically stitched thread as a means to visually articulate various states of ‘coming undone’ and losing control of oneself.”

Boudreaux said she hopes visitors to her exhibit will realize the risks of trying to attain perfection. After viewing her sculptures, she wants people to be able to make changes in their lives that will allow more room for error and, ultimately, lead to a better state of mind.

“The message I’d like them to take away from it is to re-evaluate their own life and give themselves permission to accept imperfections in their life,” Boudreaux said. “Get off this cycle that is affecting the human psyche.”

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