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Artist Statement

My socially engaged artistic practice encompasses performance, photography, video, and installation. I examine my experiences in contemporary consumer culture through a queer, feminist and anti-capitalist lens, often working with participants in workshops to examine social issues and co-create alternative visual languages. For example, in the Recycled Relics project, participants made sculptures for still-life photographs using waste material to consider the value of objects in times of environmental crisis. In the Bois of Isolation project (in collaboration with AC Davidson), we explored visual approaches to queering the gender binary in selfies during the confines of the pandemic. 


My artwork is a form of activism and a feminist critique of representations of gender in commercial and popular culture. This began with an examination of naturalized gender performance in early works such as The Doll’s house and idealized representations of femininity in The Substitute and Visual Pleasure. In my still-life work, such as Pacifier and Hysterical Selfies, I attempted to describe the idealised, gendered, ageing body through commodities. I also examined self-tracking practices to understand how these forms of measurement and judgement contribute to an ideology of health, and produce particular subjectivities. 


Currently I am developing #Rebel Selves, a project that comprises a series of self-portraits, participatory installations, a smart phone app and artworks produced in collaboration with queer contemporary dancers.  #Rebel Selves critiques idealised heteronormative gender expectations in selfies and portraiture. A series of theatre flats and banners, wearable sculptures and photographic cut-outs create a performative space in which visitors can create queer selfies that rebel against gender and beauty norms. Selfies are an important contemporary mode of self-presentation, however, they are often restrained in relation to binary gender beauty ideals. Research shows that bodies that do not reflect these norms, such as those marginalised in terms of race, gender, sexuality, size and disability, are subject to greater discipline and hostility online. The project aims to develop a visual and gestural language for queer selfies present the individual as a glitchy, composite person formed from blurring fragments of body and installation. They will challenge the human centricity of consumer culture, blending the self with different objects, places, and people, to give a complex impression of a more-than-human multispecies tentacular entanglement, to use Donna Haraway’s term (2016).

Ethics Statement

My work highlights gender and other inequalities in popular and commercial visual cultures. Through participatory practice I aim to raise awareness of these inequalities, increase visual literacy in relation to gender and other stereotypes, and provide the tools and spaces in which marginalised people can represent themselves.


Activities and discussions will focus on the values, wishes and aspirations of the groups I work with.  I will amplify the voices of those communities through exhibiting and posting their artworks, but will practice ongoing consent so that people can change their minds about sharing their work and be in control of how and where they are shared. This means that I will remove images from my platforms if I am asked to.


I will treat people with dignity and respect. I will actively listen to discussions without assumptions or preconceived ideas, and maintain awareness of my privileges – both as a white, cis, slender women and an artist / academic with perceived authority and expertise –and how they create a power imbalance in my interactions with others. When it is possible and desired by the group, I will enable them to lead activities and discussions.


I will positively strive to meet the needs of the people I work with and ask in advance what I can do to make spaces and activities inclusive.  If this isn’t possible, I will create space in the workshops for participants to voice their needs in a way that feels comfortable for them. I will aim to create equitable places in which everyone feels confident to speak, act, and thrive.


Dawn Woolley is an artist. She is a research fellow at Leeds Arts University where she co-convenes the Thing Power Research group, and Honorary Research Fellow, Faculty Research Centre Business in Society, Coventry University. She completed an MA in Photography (2008) and PhD by project in Fine Art (2017) at the Royal College of Art. 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.


Woolley’s research examines contemporary consumerism and the commodified construction of gendered bodies, paying particular attention to the new mechanisms of interaction afforded by social networking sites. She examines the visual characteristics of different types of selfies posted using the hashtags #fitspiration, #thinspiration, #fatspiration, #bodypositivity, and #quantifiedself in order to understand what these types of self-representation communicate about adherence to and rejection of consumer culture ideals.


Her solo exhibition Consumed: Stilled Lives examines the contradictory imperatives characteristic of food advertising: to indulge to excess and show restraint. Professor Mark Durden describes the exhibition as ‘an adroit reprisal of the still life genre’ that ‘never seeks to speak from outside, but she often uses the vibrant, ersatz and often sweet forms of consumer culture, to mess with and spoil consumerist modes of address. The result is an unpalatable, abrasive, discordant, comic and violent art that alerts us to the fundamental contradictions and hypocrisies, as well as the obsessions and indulgencies, of our present culture’ (Consumed: Still Lives Exhibition Catalogue, p.31 & p. 34).


Woolley also creates public domain interventions in commercial advertising spaces in cities and in virtual ones on online social networking sites.

Examples of research can be accessed at:,Dawn.html

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