Elizabeth Duffy
Settee, Security Envelope Wallpaper, and Textile
19th-century settee, re-upholstered with security envelope fabric, and digitally printed wallpaper 
The Chipstone Foundation
For the last decade, I have been making work that examines questions such as: How do our homes and lives speak about not only our cultural and economic status but also our desire for protection? What are we protecting? What makes us feel less or more secure?
My installations transform neutral spaces into environments of apparent comfort—with upholstered furniture, wallpaper, curtains, clothing, embroideries, drawings, and objects—that unnerve because of the security envelope patterns that cover the various surfaces. Arranged to evoke house museums or furniture showrooms, these spaces create an immersive experience that blurs the space between present, past, and future, between reality, nostalgia, and desire.
I am interested in using security envelope patterns and the small clear windows from physical mail because of their associations with surveillance and transparency. These throwaway envelopes are compelling for both their symbolic cultural resonance and impending obsolescence. Mostly unnoticed, the patterns protect privacy by preventing a viewer from seeing information enclosed in an envelope. We find them with credit card bills and bank statements, with letters from a great aunt and a government office. The patterns function to obscure, but they also speak eloquently of the human impulse to aestheticize every aspect of life.
Hidden, the patterns suggest human striving, wishing, and longing. Turned outward, their function to conceal is exposed. There are thousands of patterns found inside these envelopes, not just corporate logos but also depictions of water, wood grain, text, and symbols of every imaginable kind. Some of the designs are the same as can be found in Greek temples and on Victorian cushions. They can connect us to a time with different values and help us see our own with greater clarity.

Security Envelope Installation
furnishings with security envelope patterns
Detail of security envelope wallpaper and settee with security envelope patterned upholstery
Neo, at the Milwaukee Art Museum
Embroidery of a security envelope
floss on Belgian linen