In her early practice as a photographer Wallace documented friends and acquaintances from her trans and lesbian community. “I was always interested in power, and the way photographs tell a story and naturalize a narrative—who is beautiful, monstrous, unworthy, who gets to be shown in their daily life and who is only shown in crisis—and I’m interested in the way images participate in upholding inequality, and can also disrupt it.” Yet when Wallace sought to publish her portraits at leading media publications, she was appalled when photo editors asked her to show more violence and nudity, rather than reality. In order to gain visibility for her community in the mainstream media, Wallace developed a Trojan horse—she shot her subjects again using tropes from mainstream fashion photography.
Wallace found that the most effective way to talk about topics relating to female bodies was to not use bodies at all—to create conceptual art. “We’re so used to seeing the exposed female body, it’s everywhere. I think very little can be learned from looking at it. I wanted to address the unseen of this body,” the artist says.
Rather than objectifying the subjective experience of seeing the female, Wallace is interested in the non-literal, similar to the way Schneemann was looking for ways to explore the vagina conceptually and symbolically. Wallace sees it “as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the sources of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation.” She looks for new ways to talk about and think of the clitoris—to create new symbols and give rise to new meanings. “My primary concerns in this show were to aestheticize a vision of a liberation for the body othered by gender and sex,” she explains. “The work counters the two tropes of representation for women—beautiful object of desire or reproductive and relational (mother, wife, daughter, grandmother).” Works such as Until She Is Free (2016), inspired by a quote from the author and activist bell hooks, and Herself A Universe (2016), directly address the lack of representations of female-gendered bodies as powerful and autonomous. Wallace uses text as a a declarative gesture, a direct way to counter the unspoken nature of her subject.