Shift 1: Emily McGuire

Emily McGuire / Problematique 2015 / Second hand garment and thread
Emily McGuire / Problematique 2015 / Second hand garment and thread

*Words by Meg Slater

Emily McGuire is one of four artists whose work will feature in Shift 1, an interdisciplinary exhibition by In Residence, which will feature works that respond to the theme of physical displacement. McGuire is incredibly well-rounded. She assumes many roles and can be described as a fashion designer, writer, and early-career researcher in contemporary fashion practice. McGuire has completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Honors Program majoring in fashion at the Queensland University of Technology. She is currently based in London working as a design assistant and writing for a number of reputable fashion criticism publications.

McGuire is a self-proclaimed feminist. This is reflected in both her writing and her creative practice, both of which investigate the complex relationship between fashion, female identity and digital visual culture. McGuire's work does not conform to the unfavourable stereotypes and feminine clichés commonly associated with the fashion world; it subverts them. Using tongue in cheek tactics, she aims to provoke questions relating to heavy themes such as oppressive gender norms, exploitation, consumerism, and sustainability. This is exemplified in her ongoing Problematique series. For this series, McGuire has used different coloured threads to embroider sections of text such as ‘how to look chic when you feel a crushing sense of inferiority’ and ‘20 new ways to wear pink when you’re contemplating your own morality’ into dresses, shirts and other items of clothing. By using conventional signifiers of femininity (i.e. clothing and the colour pink) in an unconventional, ‘ugly’ way (i.e. to draw attention to the superficial insecurities and pressures felt by women in relation to their personal style and physical appearance), McGuire successfully communicates a serious message to her audience in a light and humorous manner.

In a recent interview, McGuire cited contemporary British artist Tracey Emin and contemporary Australian artist Anastasia Klose as key artistic influences. Each artist’s impact on McGuire’s creative practice is clear. Much like Emin’s highly personal installations, and Klose’s lo-fi video, performance and installation art, which often depicts the artist in humiliating and/or embarrassing situations, McGuire’s works are candid and confessional. The ‘aesthetic of the pathetic’ associated with the work of both Emin and Klose is present in a number of McGuire’s artistic projects, such as the works in her Problematique series, and a hanging piece entitled Seductively has no life (2015), a text-based work that takes the form of an over-sized, pink first place ribbon. The mildly depressing, self-deprecating phrase, ‘seductively has no life’, has been scrawled across the surface of the work in block letters. The work demonstrates that, like Emin and Klose, McGuire uses humour to address the gendered stereotypes, dominant patriarchal values and idealised notions of femininity that continue to plague women in the 21st century.

Together with the themes of feminism and the fashion industry that characterise her creative practice, McGuire will also be exploring a new theme of displacement in her work for Shift 1. For the exhibition, she will be creating a work using second-hand clothing and text-based embroidery. Currently she is in the early stages of developing her work for the exhibition, which, for a fashion designer, involves sketching and sourcing materials. McGuire says that her decision to move to London has significantly influenced her interpretation of the exhibition’s theme. The process of relocating oneself to another town or city is a fairly obvious example of physical displacement. On a practical level, the shift has imposed limitations on the way in which McGuire is able to work. She is now forced to create and think in different, arguably more innovative ways, as she no longer has access to her studio in Brisbane, which is fully equipped with the necessary tools and materials for her design practice.

The psychological repercussions that can result from physical displacement must also be acknowledged. McGuire has found the frustrations and anxieties associated with familiarising herself with a new and unfamiliar place (i.e. finding somewhere to live, buying new things and gaining employment) to be incredibly overwhelming. It is for this reason that she has chosen to pay homage to one of the creature comforts that keep the negative feelings associated with physical displacement at bay - clothing. For McGuire, clothing acts as an anchor to her identity, and to what is safe and familiar - home. In a broader sense, her work will also address the effects of displacement in the fashion industry. It is for this reason that she has decided to source second hand garments and threads. According to McGuire, ‘displacement can have layered meanings for used clothing’, in that ‘it is displaced from its original owners and from the fashion industry’. It can therefore be deduced that a number of the aforementioned themes highlighted in her work, such as exploitation and sustainability, will also be emphasised in the hanging piece that she creates for Shift 1.

After reviewing McGuire’s background in fashion design, artistic practice and interpretation of the theme for Shift 1, why she was selected for the exhibition becomes abundantly clear. She is an incredibly intelligent, emerging young artist who, through the use of clothing and her unique sense of humour, produces ironic and satirical works that address a number of themes relating to feminism and the fashion industry. Furthermore, having recently made the bold choice to relocate to London, she is currently in a unique period of transition, resulting in her experiencing feelings of anxiety, confusion and self-doubt. Therefore McGuire is well placed amongst the other Shift 1 artists to create a work that responds to the theme of physical displacement.

For more information about McGuire’s practical and theoretical work, check out her website -