© 2021 Caitlin Rueter

Poise, Power and Protocol: An American Allegory in Forty-Four Scenes

Poise, Power and Protocol explores history as a vehicle for constructing identity. Rueter uses an underdeveloped chapter in American history, addressing the First Lady’s role beside the president of the United States. Inspired by the American tradition of historical re-enactment and its blend of reverence and play, she adorns life-sized paper dolls with personal effects borrowed from each of the First Ladies. Pins hold the dresses, objects, and backdrops in place and permit their return to autonomous, scattered pieces.

The process is a dialogue between the historiography of the First Ladies, from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, and the history of image making. Each piece begins with an historical portrait. The source material ranges from photographic reproductions of oil paintings, to daguerreotypes, glass plate negatives, photographs and digital images. Rueter then creates high-resolution self-portraits and combines them with objects cut from reproduction prints. Finally, she pins the prints to the wall, allowing the paper to hang and sometimes drape across the gallery floor to create a three-dimensional form, referencing the origins of portraiture in sculpture, muralism and bas-relief.

Poise, Power and Protocol manipulates history’s inconstancy and exploits the mutability of memory. The works contain an endless number of histories. Each with elements of truth and fiction, they bedevil any attempt to construct a single, all-purpose narrative.

*Rueter would like to acknowledge Evan Winter who photographed the "dolls," and thank the kind and helpful staff at the Library of Congress, the National Portrait Gallery, the White House and the New York Public Library for their invaluable assistance.