Pincushion to Serve as Fetish, 1965, was one of the earliest sculptures Tanning made. She was then living in Seillans, a hill-top town in Provence, and from 1965 to c.1970 was to produce approximately twenty cloth sculptures, including the multi-part room-size installation Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202, 1970-3 (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris). This burst of activity sprang from a sudden, and for the artist cathartic, desire to see the nameless characters and ideas of her imagination expressed in sculptural form. In her recently reissued biography she wrote of this decision, ‘An artist is the sum of his risks, I thought, the life and death kind. So, in league with my sewing machine, I pulled and stitched and stuffed the banal materials of human clothing in a transformation process where the most astonished witness was myself. Almost before I knew it I had an “oeuvre”, a family of sculptures that were the avatars, three-dimensional ones, of my two-dimensional painted universe’ (Between Lives 2001, p.282).

Pincushion is made up of black velvet with painted white lines, and includes an orange plastic funnel disguised to create an orifice of the small creature-like form. For stability the sculpture is weighted internally with gun pellets. The pins pushed into the velvet hint at magic or ritual and are the linking element between the object’s shifting identity as a pincushion and a fetish. In 2000 Tanning wrote about this object:

Maybe a pincushion is a far cry from a fetish. A fetish is something not exactly or always desirable in sculpture, being a superstitious if not actually shamanistic object; and yet, to my mind it’s not so far from a pincushion – after all, pins are routinely stuck in both. This one was my bid for a statement of simple form, maybe not so simple, with its equivocal psychic suggestion – something I believe form cannot exist without. Not an image but bristling with images. And pins.

(Dorothea Tanning: Birthday and Beyond, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art 2000, n.p.)

Tanning chose to remake this work as a larger, floor-based, version in 1979 (collection of the artist).

Further reading:
Jean Christophe Bailly, Dorothea Tanning, New York 1995, reproduced p.309 in colour
Dorothea Tanning, Between Lives: An Artist and her World, New York and London 2001

Jennifer Mundy
March 2003