Arielle Walker – 8 November, 2016
For every costume tucked into a corner, there are another five louder pieces in the centre of the space. The majority of costumes have been displayed on full-height mannequins, posed languidly in clusters through the main gallery of the Gus Fisher. A more intimate room off the main space holds many of the more intimate pieces - at least, those that aren't spread out amongst the mannequins, slipped into corners or hanging from walls.
Intellectual Fashion Show
Curated by Janie van Woerden, Sheridan Keith and Doris de Pont
8 October - 5 November 2016
An opening is, in many ways, the best and worst time to view an exhibition. There is little chance to pause, reflect, let something catch your eye and then figure out why it did. There is barely room to breathe, and the only way to experience the works is in scattered glimpses between heads and shoulders. And yet the room is filled with the energy of mass, the viewers often reflecting the works - both intentionally and inadvertently. In the case of the Intellectual Fashion Show, I’m sure this reflection was anything but accidental: what better place to wear your most wildest costume than in a room filled with the same? Of course, when any space is filled with over 60 such competing objects, the pieces that do stand out are sure to be unusual.
A case in point: Beatrice Carlson’s wonderfully blunt (excuse the pun) Costume in which to engage in the murder/suicide of self-criticism first caught my eye, despite its corner setting. Sky-high platform shoe, weighty chef knife forming the heel. Anyone who has worn heels can relate to this costume at first glance, and on reflection find that the concept of such an obviously self-inflicted source of pain is not so ridiculous at all.
For every costume tucked into a corner, there are another five louder pieces in the centre of the space. The majority of costumes have been displayed on full-height mannequins, posed languidly in clusters through the main gallery of the Gus Fisher. A more intimate room off the main space holds many of the more intimate pieces - at least, those that aren’t spread out amongst the mannequins, slipped into corners or hanging from walls. There is a museum quality to the whole layout, a quality sustained by the meticulous labelling of every individual object. The labels include everything from the all-important titles to the artist-statement behind the creation of each garment or artwork. In all, there is an enormous amount of information to take in, even excluding the visual elements of the show.
The effect in execution is naturally overwhelming, even without opening-night crowds; a little background knowledge from the initial show publication came in handy while attempting to navigate the works. (A full exhibition catalogue, in the form of an “offbeat fashion magazine”, was launched a few weeks after the opening, and includes photographs from the opening night.) In brief: this exhibition was conceived as a response to artist June Black‘s 1959 Intellectual Fashion Show, which incorporated paintings and ceramic wall sculptures with a series of metaphorical costumes, all with intriguing titles. It’s easy to get lost in imagining what a “costume to be worn over a heavy heart”, or a “costume to get on one’s high horse” might be; for this 2016 show, curators Doris de Pont, Janie van Woerden and Sheridan Keith invited more than 50 creatives to ponder June Black’s such suggestions at will.
Some connections between title and object are perfect, even humorous. Madeline Brighouse’s Costume to withstand rejection, a pair of high-topped combat boots covered liberally in sharp black spikes, suggests quite bluntly how the wearer might actually use this costume to withstand said rejection. Horst Kiechle’s Costume in which to invite undiluted pleasure, aside from being a rather stunning feat of engineering, does invite a rather literal kind of pleasure through craftily placed openings. One of the standout pieces, Dawei Zhang’s Costume in which to pick the locks of grandeur, is undoubtedly grand but also has a hint of sly elegance (especially in the back detailing) that suggests the wearer would be perfectly capable of picking locks if so needed.
Other pieces seem forced, as though the title itself is a costume that doesn’t quite fit. It’s probably no coincidence that I am struggling to remember names and even makers of such costumes; fortunately they are few and far between in an exhibition full of mostly fantastic surprises. Besides, these pieces are forgettable rather than dreadful, and with so many other startling works to see, forgetting the bland ones doesn’t seem so bad.
In case there was any chance of me leaving the show with little impression made: I was, at one point, spritzed with a delicate perfume, only discovering later that I had in fact been doused gently in a Costume to say goodbye to wild impossible hopes.
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