Nicole Klebosis

Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls

Senior Project April 2015


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Florida Gulf Coast University
10501 FGCU Blvd, South
Fort Myers, FL 33965-6565
(239) 590-1000 or (800) 590-3428

In Victorian England decorum was strictly monitored and all respectable citizens were required to conform to well-established social rules. If anyone chose to be unique or different they could be stigmatized, ostracized, and even institutionalized. Women were particularly targeted for commitment to public asylums for any number of reasons ranging from actual insanity to the simple crime of a young woman trying to live on her own before marriage. The fashions of the time became another means of restricting women, with the corset as the most notable device. Tight lacing, or waist training, was the act of manually altering the body with excessive use of a corset to reduce the waistline in an extreme manner. The use of the corset created the characteristic Victorian silhouette that is still easily recognized.

The title of my project is a play on the name of an institution, as well as referring to a safe place where you can’t be harmed. The Victorian era is my metaphor for the imposed conformity of our modern day society, and the physical and psychological repercussions it has on a person. I wanted to use the corset shape to show the common expectation of the unnaturally conditioned 18-inch waist, and how socially accepted and normal rituals in one era is considered brutal in the next. I used references to historical asylum instruments and techniques as a symbol for social stigmas and the forceful act of changing people to fit our expectations, just as quackery medicine was used to change how a person acted. The cut-out women are based on Victorian silhouette shadow art and cameo brooches. These faceless women were the model of beauty and I used them with a collage of asylum medical charts, images, and advertisements to show how to achieve these apparently perfect women. The gasmasks are my own personal symbol of the social poisons we are exposed to every day, and each figure and pedestal has one handy in hopes to protect what of their true selves they have left.

My project is a mix of sculpture and installation, using both found and fabricated objects. My medical equipment was partially found and partially constructed, mixed with facsimile items of Victorian etiquette to show how closely related the two lifestyles were to each other. I printed old asylum medical charts, procedure pictures and corset ads that I tinted antique and added to wooden cutouts of silhouette women. I sculpted and molded gas masks for my silhouette women. I also sculpted one corset out of clay and cast it in Soma Foama silicone foam material, another I constructed out of wire mesh and covered in leather and buckles, and the third is riveted steel plates that I patterned with brass pin needles.