A house party as art

MFA student invites guests to her apartment built in a KSU gallery

By Mary Shirk

Tooflady put out a full spread of traditional party foods including sherbert punch, salmon loaf and pickles wrapped in cream cheese and pastrami, for her house party. Guests played board games, enjoyed food and danced to ‘90s music the living room of her apartment — inside the Chapman Gallery at K-State’s Willard Hall.

“Living with Tooflady” is the master’s of fine arts project of Thea Meussling. The interactive performance art piece is the first of its kind for K-State. She lived for a week in the apartment she built in the gallery, sleeping, eating and dressing as the character she created.

Meussling said she can’t imagine doing anything else for her MFA.

“Doing something else would be like having to eat peas, and I hate peas,” she said.

There are some similarities between Meussling and Tooflady but the differences are striking.

“Tooflady is who I would be if I wasn’t scared,” she said. “She is this fearless lady but I’m still struggling with those issues.”

Meussling began as a ceramics major and created the Tooflady character in 2014.

Traditionally master of fine arts shows feature paintings, pottery, multi-media pieces or photographs, so this exhibit was unusual.

Walking into the gallery, audience members enter the world of Tooflady. Her apartment is complete with a living room, bedroom, kitchen and front lawn with green turf. There are pictures on the wall, and a television in the living room.

The bed has a headboard and blankets, the kitchen has a refrigerator and a stove — all built within the gallery space.

Tooflady has a ‘50s style hair, wears tight pants and short skirts, and enjoys making beaded lizards, which she sometimes sells or trades.

“She tells people she is from Florida at the end of the Appalachian Mountains. She isn’t very good at geography,” Meussling said.

She also speaks her mind and tell stories about her past, she added.

“A lot of her existence is based around facilities and fiction,” Meussling said.

During the more than week-long exhibit, Tooflady invited folks to come to her home and watch WrestleMania XIV. Each person who brought a dozen eggs that evening was entered into a raffle. Tooflady made the eggs into deviled eggs, and the following night about 40 audience members watched two men eat 66 of them each.

Another night Tooflady invited people to come to her house to watch the movie “Scream” and bring boxes of Jell-O. And one evening, patrons came to watch her decorate cakes.

Erin Ehiguese, a digital art major, attended Wednesday night’s house party. “I am inspired by this because it is interactive art.”

Ehiguese said Meussling has set a high bar for others in the department.

Meussling said one of the difficult parts of becoming Tooflady is interacting with people who know her as Meussling when the character doesn’t know them.

“Tooflady has blown off people who I know because my character doesn’t know them.”

She said this project has been challenging, and she learned somethings about herself in the process.

To alter her body to fit into the character, Meussling worked out with a personal trainer. She took acting classes at K-State to further develop the alter-ego.

Meussling said she is thankful to her advisers in the art department and others on campus and in the community who assisted her.

She received a small research grant to help cover the cost of the exhibit.

Ehiguese and Allen said students, faculty and staff have been talking about the unusual exhibit.

Rebecca Allen, who is also a graduate student in art, said she has met Tooflady a few times in the past year.

“One of my favorite things about her is that she is a big believer in equality, and you have never seen a toilet as clean as Tooflady’s,” she said.

Allen called the exhibit a psychological space. She said some visitors don’t understand how to interact with Tooflady but seem to warm up to the character quickly.

The exhibit is open approximately 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

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