Pen v. Sword. The pen wins every time.
But in the hand of Dara Vandor, the pen possesses an altogether peculiar type of influence. Her unorthodox compositions get inside you with a sabre's efficiency, but linger like a Grade 9 crush. Her subjects are so delicate, but so unabashedly exposed as to be unsettling, arousing.
With remarkable attention to detail, the McGill University alumnus takes months to write a story you might finish in the blink of an eye. But you don't just close the cover on something Vandor authors; not when each chronicle contains imagery that belongs to her, but also seems pulled from your own memory and imagination. When her work is done, the tale is far from over.
Dara Vandor draws lingerie and the reason her style is so unnerving is because positioned as each piece is, remarkably lifelike and public, but with no human form in sight, it twists your focus to something as sexual as it is innocent. Women's intimates are supposed hidden away. And when they're not, well, there's a whole other story happening somewhere else, begging to be explored.
I'm really intrigued by the power that lingerie has,” Vandor explains, in a tone that comes across as both coy and matter-of-fact at the same time. “Women put it on and they feel like Superwoman. They feel powerful, in charge, sexy.”
The former model is also keenly aware of the awe-inspiring effect womens undergarments have on the opposite gender. “There's really a lot of power to it, even though it's just a little bit of fabric, a few straps, elastics and maybe a belt or two.”
Earlier this year the Toronto artist's series was featured at a Valentine's showing in London's South Place Hotel. From there she returned home to exhibit as part of the Toronto Artist Project. Now though, she's coming to the end of the lingerie series with a well-deserved feeling of accomplishment. “I've loved every moment of it, not only because it gives me the ability to talk about sexuality and desire – it's a beautiful topic – but it also has beautiful, formal shapes. The shapes you can get out of these garments fascinates me.”
“But it's also got this ability to evoke memory.”
Reminiscence, cognition, reflection, retrospection... they're central themes in Vandor's work.
Hungarian on her father's side, Dutch on mom's, Vandor's own story came together in Montréal. “Actually my grandparents' backyards bordered each other in the back. They never met. Then years later my parents were like 'I lived on this street,' 'Oh, I lived on that street,' and realized how close they were.”
Both sets of grandparents came from Europe after the war and brought with them various items that had meaning. “They've been passed around through the family and it's become a diaspora of objects that I'm really, really interested in. Like, 'Why would you bring that? Why wouldn't you bring something else?'”
The piece she's working on now involves her great grandfather. He was an apothecary, “so there are all these little weights... they're beautiful little objects. I'm working with memory and how that can get obscured and confused.” The weights, she says don't have much real-world value. “You could sell them at a flea market for ten bucks, but there's more to it than that. There's this interesting baggage attached to them within the context of my life and my imagination.”
There's a story in my family where my grandparents were fleeing Budapest and they're running over this huge bridge that's getting bombed and they're carrying a full set of Encyclopaedia Brittanicas. I don't know why, but that's what they brought.” Although she's heard the family stories as they've been passed down, “it's also about finding my own way around them.”
And therein lies the power of the pen in Vandor's fingers, giving life – hers, someone else's, probably some of your own, but also something borne from the holes in stories that pass from one teller to the next – to something as inanimate as a druggist's weights, but as persuasive as your imagination.