BSU pop-up art show on gender 

A group of Ball State grad students are using mixed media as a form of interactive storytelling

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“Make him handsome.”

“Make her beautiful.”

“Make me amazing.”

These are all statements that will be plastered on mannequins during December first Friday. And the implications have been on Elise Lockwood’s mind for the last few months.

Lockwood is in the first semester of a new graduate program at Ball State University, an advanced degree in Emerging Media Design and Development. As a final project for one of the classes, her group is putting together a pop-up art show about gender roles that will make it’s way to Fountain Square and Mass Ave.

The group is setting up three mannequins; each with a rack of clothes next to it and a sign that has the “make them …” statements listed above.

“[They’re] gendered, gendered and non-gendered,” says Lockwood referring to each of the three.

Her group (four graduate students in total) has spent the last few weeks conducting 78 interviews. They also utilized surveys, bumping the total to over 200 people involved in the entire process.

“When we asked people to write down the top three problems that the gender binary caused, physical appearance came up in 60 something of the 200 people we asked, and 150 of those were sort of related to it,” says Lockwood. “You know like, ‘men have to be stronger than women,’ or something like that.”

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How people interact with the mannequins will be documented as well. The group has chosen locations where it won’t be immediately clear that the installation is about gender (unless you read NUVO of course). Each one will be far enough removed that they will be individually experienced. They will also be documenting the outfits on each through the website The entire process is based around a practice that the BSU department calls Design Thinking.

“You can't start making stuff until you have the foundation,” says Lockwood. “The foundation is where you do the research to find out what the problem is and how people engage with it. Then you brainstorm 50-some ideas. Then you narrow that down to 7-10 and make low-fidelity prototypes (sketches that they showed people).

“The project was designed also based on research that we did about how people engage with things,” says Lockwood. “We didn't want to make something that forces people to do something or makes them feel like they are being judged, or have to stay there a really long time — something that people can choose their own level of engagement.”

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The show was inspired by the UN Sustainability Goals; one of which was gender equality. The idea behind the project is the athetesis of the newborn grad program.

“You learn a combination of design and computer science and story telling to make creative projects that solve real world problems,” says Lockwood of the Journalism-based degree. The first year is spent in classes creating research projects like the mannequins: The second one allows students to do lab work with companies around the state.”

This installation has given them a taste of that already through research intensive meetings with organizations like Indy Feminists and the heads of the Riley Dance Marathon, to document how to raise awareness effectually.

“When you talk to someone who is in an organization like Slut Walk, this (binary gender roles) is something that they are aware of,” says Lockwood. “I didn't think that when I interviewed someone’s grandmother that … this same issue has had a really negative impact on them as well. Just maybe they have never been asked about it.”

One of the staggering data points was how gendered expectations of presentation and beauty can be debilitating to any generation. Lockwood found herself learning from the installation as well. While dressing the mannequins for a trial run she automatically reached for the dress for the female and the collared shirt for the male frame.

“I hope that everyone leaves with a nudge that we all have ingrained biases,” says Lockwood.
”We can at least make people aware that this affects everyone and affects some in a really negative way. For someone who is genderqueer, for someone who doesn't identify male or female, or someone who feels differently every day, the absence of fluidity there is really harmful.”

Dec. 4, 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
3 mannequins will have racks of clothes around Fountain Square and will change locations throughout the night.
Dec. 5, one mannequin will be at the Toolbox 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 

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Emily Taylor

Emily Taylor

Emily is the arts editor at NUVO, where she covers everything from visual art to comedy. In fact she is probably at a theater production right now. Before joining the ranks here, she worked for Indianapolis Monthly and Gannett. You can find her thoughts about Indy scattered throughout the NUVO arts section and... more

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