My artwork is a feminist critique of consumer culture. During my teens in the 90s I was surrounded by a commercial visual landscape in which sexual objectification was repackaged as feminist empowerment that could be achieved with the correct purchases. Between Wonderbra adverts and Sex in the City there seemed impossible to challenge these positive, yet reductive, feminine ideals. Today, cartoons for young girls feature protagonists with plasters across their noses, talking about carb-free diets. It seems that very little has changed. My practice encompasses photography, video, installation and performance to draw attention issues of sexualisation, objectification, and idealisation. I examine representations of gender in adverts, magazines, and tv programmes in order to appropriate their visual language and expose the stereotypes they reproduce.
My work blurs the boundary between self-portraiture and still-life, producing inanimate bodies and seemingly animate objects. I began working in still life after seeing my self-portrait work on a blog. The blogger had incorrectly assumed that the creator was male, and interpreted The Substitute series as “the artist has made a series about his ideal girlfriend, who is perfect because she doesn’t talk back….”. After the initial outrage subsided, I was concerned how easy it was to remove the feminist context of my work. To continue my examination of stereotypes and objectification I began sculpting objects that function as portraits of different types of consumer. Materials include porcelain, rubbish, blancmange, and rotting meat.
I also create public domain interventions in physical commercial advertising spaces in cities and in virtual ones on online social networking sites: it is my intention to challenge advertising cultures through my work. The poster campaigns have been supported by the Arts Council of Wales (Cardiff, 2014-5), City Centre Posters (London, 2016), the Lipman-Milliband Trust (Cardiff, 2015 and Leeds, 2018), and Leeds Arts University (2019).
Woolley is a visual artist, consumer culture researcher and research fellow at Leeds Arts University. She completed an MA in Photography (2008) and PhD by project in Fine Art (2017) at the Royal College of Art.
Recent group exhibitions have included; “Still Life: Things Devouring Time” The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds (co-curated by Dr Dawn Woolley and Dr Katie Herrington) (2018), “Self/Selfie” Ballarat International Foto Biennale, Australia (2017), “Le Féminin” Circulation(s), Arles (2017), “From Selfie to Self Expression” Saatchi Gallery, London (2017), “Basically. Forever” Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
and “Recollection” Ruimte Morguen
Gallery, Antwerp (2014).
Solo exhibitions include; “Consumed: Stilled Lives” Leeds Arts University Gallery (2019), Blyth Gallery, London (2018), Ffotogallery, Cardiff (2018), Ruskin Gallery, Cambridge (2017), and Dyson Gallery, London (2016); “Visual Pleasure”, Hippolyte Photography Gallery, Helsinki, Finland (2013); “Visual Pleasure”, Vilniaus Fotografijos Galerija, and Lithuania(2012). Woolley has created tableau vivant performances at Vilniaus Fotografijos Galerija (2012), Ffotogallery and Halle 14, Spinnerei in Leipzig (2011), G39 in Cardiff and Park Conservative Club in Cardiff (2010). She performed Hysterical Selfies at EXPERIMENTICA INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART FESTIVAL, CHAPTER ARTS CENTRE, CARDIFF (2015), and The Mystical Scientist at conferences at the Centre for Women Ageing and the Media at the University of Gloucester (2019), The Hepworth Wakefield (2018) and the University of Chester (2017).
In 2017 Woolley's photograph The Substitute (holiday) was designated the world's best selfie by GQ magazine, after winning Saatchi gallery's from selfie to self-expression competition.
Recent academic publications include: ‘The Iconography of Disruptive Bodies: Social Media and Medical Identities’ in Bodies in Flux: Embodiments at the End of Anthropocentrism (Brill: Leiden 2019)(https://brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004408760/BP000003.xml)and ‘Aberrant consumers: Selfies and fat admiration websites’ Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society, 6(2).
Consuming the Body: Capitalism, Social Media and Commodification will be published by I B Tauris.
Further examples of research can be accessed at
Collaborative Project: Hard Stop
Dawn Woolley & Davin Watne
A visual essay examining the rhetoric of mass-media. The artists exchange images & ideas to explore how images communicate, persuade, and seduce.
In December I joined Davin on a residency at Wassaic Project in Wassaic, a small Hamlet upstate in New York. Wassaic Project comprises two sites for studios and project spaces in a disused mill and a disused auction mart, and a number of residential buildings that house artists all year round. Davin and I had been experimenting with optical illusions and how they could be employed as metaphors for media distortions and political biases.
The text refers to the “Windrush” and “Dreamers” communities in the UK and the US respectively, whose citizenship has been under threat of revocation by current ruling governments. The use of optical illusions demonstrates the fugitive nature of truth, by aligning the inherent biases in human visual perception with implicit social, political and racial biases in our news media. The text is installed to replicate a visual distortion illusion in which the segments of different colour text trigger a visual stimulus that is misinterpreted by the brain, leading to the perception that the columns of text and curved. The illusion a of crooked line signifies a broken promise to the Windrush and Dreamers communities.