Maura Brewer

Return to Artist


My work in video, performance and experimental fashion design explores the construction of female subjects in mass culture. The intersecting lines of feminist rhetoric, identity and consumption are motivating concerns in my practice, particularly as these discourses overlap in mass media, cinema and fashion. My research-based videos and performances appropriate footage from Hollywood film, television and Internet subcultures to ask questions about the ways that female subjects are mobilized and constrained by a mainstream culture that mimes the language of feminism in the service of patriarchal, capitalist hegemony. Similarly, my work in garment design explores the ways that normative gender identification is consolidated through dress, and proposes alternatives to the current fashion system.

For the last several years, my video and performances have explored the work and public persona of the actress Jessica Chastain. To date, the series is comprised of three essay-videos, titled The Surface of Mars (2016), :/nterstellar (2015) and Zero Dark Birthday (2014), and two performance lectures titled Vivian James (2017) and A Tribute to Jessica Chastain (2015). My videos combine found footage from ripped DVDs, torrents and YouTube, transforming the sweeping cinematography of Hollywood blockbusters into faded, low-resolution copies. I overlay diagrammatic animations and text, and work with a voiceover actress and composer to record original narration and new soundtracks.

Each video takes one of Jessica Chastain’s films as a point of departure, examining her typecasting as a successful career woman in a male-dominated field. The Surface of Mars is a video essay that takes Ridley Scott’s 2015 film The Martian as a site of analysis. Combining appropriated footage, animation and voiceover narration, The Surface of Mars follows Chastain, who plays the supporting role of Commander Melissa Lewis. The video compares Chastain’s character in The Martian to her work in two other films, Kathryn Bigelow’s 2012 film Zero Dark Birthday and Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar. Across these films, Chastain plays a similar type: a high-achieving career woman who is dedicated to the pursuit of non-romantic male counterparts, from Osama Bin Laden to Matt Damon. Chastain’s role within each film speaks to the language of neoliberal feminism; her talent and work ethic has propelled her into a successful career in a male-dominated field. But Chastain’s superficial agency within the film is undermined by the institutions and structures that she operates within and on behalf of, from the state (the CIA, NASA) to her father (the CIA, NASA.) An equivalence is drawn between Chastain’s character and the barren Martian landscape that surrounds her. She is an empty vessel, colonized by an external power.

In my work, Hollywood film functions as ground or site – material to be mined for analysis, or read symptomatically. Chastain’s characters operate within metaphorical landscapes that speak to the contradictory nature of her position. Chastain is a drone, or a satellite. She is triangulated. She is the product of a feminist rhetoric that prizes agency within a field of constraint, the demand for action mitigated by the reality of inaction. Jessica Chastain is depressed.

:/nterstellar (2015) is an essay video that appropriates footage from the 2014 film Interstellar. :/nterstellar retells the original film from the point of view of Chastain’s character, a girl whose father leaves at the beginning of the story. The relation between father and daughter is explored by analyzing a series of metaphors from the original text. In an early scene, Chastain’s character encounters a drone, defined as “an unmanned object, operated from a remote location.” The logic of drones becomes the logic of girls, in the thrall of their “remote” fathers. The structure of metaphor, governed by mediation, characterizes Chastain’s role in the film: always acting, but never under her own power.

In the last several years, my practice has expanded to include experimental garment design. I am the co-founder of the Rational Dress Society, a counter-fashion collective that produces JUMPSUIT, an open-source monogarment to replace all clothes in perpetuity. JUMPSUIT comes in 248 ungendered sizes. Alongside the production of the garments, we facilitate make-your-own-JUMPSUIT workshops, give talks and stage performances that draw attention to the systemic abuses of the garment industry and the rise of fast fashion. JUMPSUIT is a wearable garment, but it is also a conversation – a collective reimagining of our relationship to dress.

JUMPSUIT is disseminated in two forms, as a premade garment and an open source pattern, available to download free of charge. Rooted in the visual language of denim and the history of work-wear, JUMPSUIT imagines the possibility of an egalitarian garment, liberated from the signifiers of class, race and gender that inscribe our usual relation to clothes. JUMPSUIT accommodates a wide variety of body types while preserving a visual solidarity among individual wearers, drawing on the histories of feminist and utopian garment design.

I see my work with the Rational Dress Society as an extension of my larger media practice. In my work in video, performance and design, I explore mass culture as a site of identification. I am particularly invested in making work that questions how women identify in the public sphere, whether in the space of Hollywood film or fashion.