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Posts from the ‘Exhibitions’ Category

Beats, portraits and tennis coats

As it’s now the weekend, here are three cultural treats of my week…

Hey Daddio, it’s Beat Girl

Swinging cats, strippers and squares all star in Beat Girl (dir, Gréville, 1960), an exploitation film revelling in the seedy side of Soho and the bad deeds of 1950s teens. The soundtrack by the John Barry Seven is the epitome of hip coffee bar cool. Just check out the entrance of the eponymous, rebellious ‘Beat Girl’, Jennifer (played by Gillian Hills) in the opening credits (and a young, zoned out Oliver Reed).

Jennifer is disgusted when her father remarries a much younger French women, Nicole, and sets out to reveal her stepmother’s murky past. One of the movie posters proclaims – “my mother was as stripper, I want to be one too”. Another warns, “this could happen to your teenage daughter”, but the moral panic offers an excuse to linger on lengthy strip scenes, explicit for the time.

The post-war generational divide is addressed awkwardly in the film, with the disaffected young men discussing their experiences of growing up during Blitz and hiding out in the underground, just like the cavernous clubs they now swing in.

In contrast, City 2000 is the obsession of Jennifer’s architect father, offering a rather sterile vision of the future, and her rebellion is a way to get attention from him. Ultimately, after she gets into danger with strip club owner (played by Christopher Lee), she is pulled back into the family unit.

While Beat Girl is not quite “over and out”, it’s worth a watch for the “straight out of the fridge” lingo, Gillian Hill’s pouty, beatnik disdain, and the recurring theme song. You dig.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012

For an afternoon treat this week, I headed to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. You can explore some of the chosen photos in this gallery. This portrait photography competition received over 5,000 entries, which were narrowed down to the 60 displayed in the exhibition. There weren’t any portraits which I felt would linger with me long after the exhibition, but I enjoyed seeing the variety of contemporary photos from the famous to family, from friends of the photographers to those they met on the street. Most of the portraits were staged, whether strictly commercial or not, and often full of drama and imagined stories behind their faces.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 M Shed

A sense of discomfort emanates from the winning portrait, Margarita Teichroeb (2011) by Jordi Ruiz Cirera, and as a viewer you wonder why the subject of the piece is covering her mouth and whether you or the photographer should be sharing this moment. Margarita is from a Mennonite community in Bolivia, living without electricity and cars, and where photography is often forbidden. The photographer spent time with them, but they were very uncertain about having their portraits taken (understandable in the circumstances). You can see blurred glimpses of her mother and sister in the background, in the context of the photo, seeming to shield themselves from the camera’s gaze. In comparison the second prize-winner, captures a woman at ease, almost incidentally naked with a chipped mug in her hand.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 is on at the M-Shed in Bristol until 3 November. This year’s prize starts on 14 November until 9 February 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Tennis Coats… at last

When in Tokyo, we wanted to say “sayonara” to the city by going a gig on the final night of our holiday. One of the city’s coolest married couples, the Tennis Coats (Saya & Takashi Ueno), were playing so we headed off to see them, got a little bit lost and ended up arriving just as they were playing their last song. (We hadn’t realised that the main act plays first in Japan, but at least we got to see the support act.)

Serendipitously this week, I noticed they were playing a surprise gig at Cafe Kino in Bristol. Although both feeling a little under the weather, we knew the holiday circle had to be completed. We came away feeling more than a little warm and fuzzy. Memories of our time in Japan, combined with the lovely, mellow but energetic atmosphere the musicians created, delightful tunes and the way that random people took to the stage throughout to join the act. A perfect way to spend a Tuesday evening.

What were your cultural highlights this week?

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Couture in Colour: Abraham’s silks in Antwerp at the Fashion Museum

Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Balenciaga… you may know their haute couture designs, but how much do you know about the fabrics that give body to their creations?

On a recent visit to Antwerp’s fashion museum, I learnt a little more about the luscious fabrics that give couture its colour. The Musée de Mode’s (MoMu) latest display is ‘Silks and Prints from the Abraham Archive: Couture in Colour.’ This fashion exhibition combines beautiful fabrics hanging like works of arts, key haute couture pieces and photographs from the Abraham Archive – a Swiss silk company, whose work is intertwined with couture from the 1930s onwards.

Haute couture and Abraham Ltd

Abraham Ltd meant nothing to me before attending the exhibition. The origins of this Swiss silk company can be traced to 1878, but it was not until after World War II that it became an international fashion heavyweight. In the 1930s, Abraham was run by Gustav Zumsteg, who mingled in the artistic environment of 1930s Paris with the likes of Georges Braque, Marc Chagall and Alberto Giacometti, and famous fashion designers, including Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Yves Saint Laurent. This creative atmosphere influenced his designs, helping to position him as one of the top fabric suppliers to haute couture designers.

swatches of Abrahams fabric

Abraham archives interactive swatch files

Prêt-à-porter from the 1960s ushered in a new era for Abraham Ltd; as the demand for high quality silks diminished, they adapted to the high-end ready-to-wear market. In 1995, when the firm’s collaboration with Yves Saint Laurent ended, Abraham’s time was numbered. The company may have closed in 2002, but they left behind an extensive archive of textiles, sample books and fashion photographs telling a vibrant story of twentieth century extravagance and couture.

Christian Dior and Abraham partnership

Dior’s New Look, with its luxurious and excessive fabric contrasting with war-time austerity, was a perfect match for Abraham’s high quality silks, and thus an important fashion partnership was born in the 1950s.

Dior exhibit Fashion Museum Antwerp

This sweet, but nonetheless grown-up, Dior cocktail dress exemplifies the 1950s silhouette and style. Abraham’s flower print, “Apricotine” could hardly be more aptly named.

Dior orange dress

Yves Saint Laurent and Abraham

Yves Saint Laurent met Gustav Zumsteg at Christian Dior’s funeral in 1957, marking the start of a working relationship and lifelong friendship. The red and black silk satin dress from 1985 was the stand-out piece for me, with its bustle and large exotic flowers spreading across the fabric.

Yves Saint Laurent dresses

Balenciaga and Abraham

Balenciaga also came to Abraham for fabric, in particular for gazar (a crisp, sheer, plain-weave silk cloth), which was a speciality of this silk manufacturer, and was perfect for Balenciaga’s sculptural creations.

Fashion Museum Antwerp Balanciaga and monochrome display

Balanciaga black dress in the centre

Balanciaga blue dress Fashion Museum Antwerp

Fabrics everywhere

Fabrics weaved throughout the exhibition providing, not just a pretty backdrop to the fashions on display, but literally the material for them. From checks and animal prints to monochrome, from matte to sheen, a wide range of Abraham textiles, textures and patterns were on show.

monochrome fabrics hanging

Monochrome fabrics

Checked fabric fashion museum Antwerp

animal prints - fashion museum

Fashion Photo from Museum of Fashion Antwerp MoMu

Luxurious fabrics hanging Fashion Museum Antwerp

Flowers, and in particular roses, were a recurrent motif in Abraham’s designs, from traditional bouquets to more abstract, larger patterns.

Roses fabrics

roses catwalk

Fabricand shadows Fashion Museum Antwerp

Luxury shines through these heavy, glittering cloths. The high production costs of such fabrics meant that they were often the preserve of haute couture.

Luxurious fabrics Fashion Museum Antwerp

Givenchy and Abraham

Givenchy, whose fashion idol was Balenciaga, also collaborated with Abraham Ltd. Givenchy has become synonymous for dressing two stars in particular: Audrey Hepburn appeared in Givenchy on screen, for instance in Sabrina (for which costume designer Edith Head won an Oscar), and Jackie O wore one of his designs to JFK’s funeral. The yellow evening dress and cape below is from 1973 in silk gazar, and the similarities in shape between it and the blue Balenciaga dress (pictured above) are apparent.

Givenchy evening dress in yellow gazar

Givenchy dress black and green

The Givenchy piece above from 1987 is made from Abraham silk in crêpe de chine falconné imprimé. Although the puffball feature would probably be best avoided by almost everybody, this dress with its 1940s silhouette stood out for me (perhaps a nostalgia trip to the 1980s and reminiscent of a dress that my Mum wore and loved).

Kronenhalle

Towards the start of the display, this sweet table-for-two tableau greeted visitors. It represents Kronenhalle restaurant, a Zurich institution with a guestbook of the big names of the time across the spectrum from politics to art. Gustav Zumsteg helped his mother, Hulda, run the business and used the restaurant to house his growing art collection. His artistic connections helped in designing the restaurant: Alberto and Diego Giacometti designed lamps and other furnishings for its bar which was designed by Robert Haussman.

Kronenhalle Zurich at Fashion Museum Antwerp

Before Pinterest…

Long before Pinterest, the pleasure of preserving memories and aspirations was played out through cutting out and sticking in scrapbooks. On display were twenty scrapbooks from between 1947 and 1996 creating a picture book history of fashion, textiles and Abraham Ltd. 

Scrapbooks at Fashion Museum Antwerp

The Abraham Textile Archive is housed at the Swiss National Museum. Abraham Ltd began archiving professionally in 1955 preserving 50 years of creativity, and I imagine this collection would be invaluable to fashion students and designers now.

Fashion Museum Antwerp Musee de Mode MoMu

I would recommend an Antwerp adventure full stop, and if you do, check out the Fashion Museum (MoMu). “Silk and Prints: From the Abraham Archive: Couture in Colour” is on until 11 August 2013.

Antwerp Adventure: a weekend in photos

For a birthday / bank holiday treat recently I headed off to the Belgian city of Antwerp. Apart from some top tips from Twitter friends, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised at this stylish, friendly and laid-back city. I hope you enjoy exploring Antwerp with me now via some of my snaps …

Central Station Antwerp

Train station meetings do not always live up to their Brief Encounter romantic expectations, however after arriving at Antwerp station from the Eurostar, I had a perfect rendezvous with my loved one. After being apart for a week, he appeared at the top of the steps in the magnificent Central Station. We missed our chance to run in slow motion into each other’s arms, but it was memorable nonetheless.  This nineteenth century fin de siecle station alone almost makes a visit to this Belgian city worthwhile. 

Antwerp central station

Antwerp station ceiling

Markets 

Markets tend to give a good flavour of a city’s character, and Antwerp has its fair share. We made it to Vrijdagmarkt, where locals were auctioning their goods at low prices, and we felt more like spectators than participants.

Antwerp market.

Chocolate has to be sampled in Belgium, so we had a post-market hot chocolate stop…

hot chocolate

Antwerp vintage shopping

Still in Vrijdagmarkt, there’s a a rather cool vintage clothes store called My Ohm, and home to a good selection at reasonable prices. I tried on a gorgeous evening dress from the 1970s, which fitted perfectly. The owner’s sales technique was direct, “just get it.” And I did … well it was my birthday.

Ohm Vintage

Another store that we came across was Jutka and Riska, which was a combination of new and vintage fashion.

Jutka and Riska

Antwerp fashion 

Antwerp is a fashion trendsetting city, and to capitalise on this growing reputation, you can go on a fashion tour. (Please let me know if you’ve been on it… ). I’m more of a vintage gal but if you prefer designer stores, Antwerp has it covered too. In the 1980s, the world took note of the Antwerp Six (Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee). Dries Van Noten‘s store is housed in the beautiful building below.

Dries Van Noten shop Antwerp

Couture in Colour: Silk and Prints from the Abraham Archive is the current exhibition at the Fashion Museum – Momu in Antwerp. And it was lucky for us, as I really enjoyed seeing sumptuous fabrics and couture dresses up close by Dior, Yves San Laurent and Balenciaga. I’ll save any more for a blog coming soon…

Fashion Museum Antwep Momu

Retro in the streets

I just couldn’t resist snapping  this glamorous shop dummy which brought to mind Ken Russell’s The Boyfriend somehow, and although the male dummies below should have been incongruous, they looked right at home in the street.

retro shop Antwerp

Male dummies

My boyfriend sniffed out quite a few vinyl record stores including Chelsea (pictured below).

vinyl record store

Whether jazz music is your thing or not, I’d recommend heading to the De Muze. Like all good jazz bars, it’s almost standing-room only on a Saturday night, but after a little wait we climbed the windy stairs to secure a table on the top floor, and there was no entrance fee. Sorry I’ve no pics, but visit their website for aural treat…

Museums: Culture Darling MAS here…

Although it’s me who works in marketing, my boyfriend took the opportunity for some free publicity for this blog. Perhaps he should have chalked “Culture Darling MAS here”, which covered some products in the MAS gift shop, shorthand for the Museum Aan de Stroom.

Culture Darling MAS here

The MAS Museum is part of a recent riverside redevelopment in the Eilandje or “little island” area of Antwerp. The building comprises boxes in brick-red sandstone piled neatly on top of one another like children’s play things with curved glass in between. Over six floors, the museum tells the story of Antwerp past and present, but as this is a port city its story incorporates the local and the global.  There are four permanent exhibits – Metropolis, Power, Life and Death and Antwerp as a Port city drawing on the museum’s collection of 470,000 objects. As this collection is so vast, the majority remains in storage. However, they made a feature of this by revealing their processes in a “visible storage” exhibit so that we could see how the objects are looked after by the team. This type of innovative curation continued throughout giving the museum a slightly off-centre appeal.

MAS

 

MAS entrance from outside.

The Winnie the Poohs are piled high as part of the exhibition about Antwerp as a port city, representing the trade in  illegal goods.

MAS museum pooh exhibit

The impact of Napoleonic rule of Antwerp from 1794 to 1814, when the city gained influence as an important military post was the focus of another exhibit. Many objects, featuring the French ruler, were displayed, such as pocket watches and the pipe featured below.

Napoleon pipe MAS museum Antwerp

‘Home Call’ was a interesting exhibit about globalisation, juxtaposing life for the Kasana in Northern Ghana with the lives of migrants in Antwerp, the second largest immigrant group in the city after Moroccans. Home Call means death in Ghana, a return to the ancestors, and whilst children used to announce the death in the streets, now posters are distributed. The home call posters were fascinating, displayed on lightboxes above our heads, which was fitting as there is a belief that the dead remain in the roof of their house. You can read more about this exhibition from the curator, Ann Cassiman.

Ghana exhibition Antwerp

Artist George Nuku combines traditional Polynesian sculpture with modern materials, such as polystyrene and plexiglass. Here he explains about the origins of the Haka dance.

Aboriginal art Antwerp MAS Museum

At the bottom of the MAS museum, Time Circus have transformed a disused crane into an urban garden, and we could see someone tilling the crops whilst making our way up to the top of the building.

MAS-garden

Bitter Zoet  – land of honey at lunchtime

When your museum-treading, fashionable feet are worn out, head to Bitter Zoet, a lovely cafe in the t’Zuid area of Antwerp. Its quirky, retro style is matched with a friendly, laid-back vibe. I think I may have had the most delicious baguette ever via the introduction of honey as a spread.

Bitter Zoet Cafe Antwerp

Boerentoren – the original European skyscraper

Just around the corner from our apartment was Boerentoren or the KBC building, one of the tallest in Antwerp. This art deco building by Jan Van Hoenacker, is often thought to be the first skyscraper in Europe.

Antwerp skyscraper

Also up high were these religious icons on the buildings throughout the city.

Christian sculpture on building Antwerp

Building in central Antwerp

In contrast, there were signs protest throughout the city…

Occupy Antwerp

rusty doors Antwerp

On our last day in Antwerp, we headed to the Photography Museum (FoMu), which is well-worth a visit for any lovers of the medium, and again we were lucky that their current exhibitions were fascinating; from dressing like a wild beast to the power of the camera, this museum deserves a blog post of its own…

Photo Museum Antwerp FoMu

Have you ever been to Antwerp? I’d love to go back soon, so please share your tips and thoughts on the places I’ve shared.

Fifty fabulous frocks – Bath Fashion Museum

Think of the biggest names in fashion, and you’re likely to see their creations have made it to the party to celebrate 50 years of the Fashion Museum in Bath. Fifty Fabulous Frocks curates pieces from the top fashion designers from Vionnet, Schiaparelli and Chanel to Quant, McQueen, and Erdem, as well as historical creations.

Frock may mean dress to us now, but it actually has a wider meaning:

“Frock: historically referred to an article of clothing; in the 17th century specifically a workman’s outer garment; in the 18th century a man’s loose fitting coat; a religious robe; more typically a woman’s dress.”

As a keen frock lover myself, I headed to the museum for some vintage fashion inspiration. Here are my top five from the collection, not in any particular order…

1. Red mini, André Courrèges, 1960s

Andres Courreges red mini dress

Swinging sixties chic with the optimism of the decade is conjured by this simple, angular mini dress in block red by André Courrèges. A designer for Balenciaga before establishing his own fashion house, he introduced a radically different line in 1964 with dresses like this worn with flat boots, goggles and helmets – outfits ready for the ultra-modern space age. This frock was worn by Ernestine Carter, fashion editor for the Sunday Times (1955-1972), who called 1963 the Year of the Leg. Indeed, as Courrèges  started to shorten skirts at the same time as Mary Quant, the debate on the mini’s originator rages on. An engineer by training, his designs are functional and in heavier fabrics, and he also helped to popularise trousers for women. Go back to the future in ’60s style with this footage of one of his fashion shows. (I’m unsure whether the girls are being locked away for another fashion show or being sent into space…?)

2. Mickey Mouse Dress, 1930s

mickey mouse dress

This quirky dress from the late 1930s made it into my top five, despite a dislike of product placement or branding on clothes, and an ambivalence towards Disney. The maker of the dress is unknown but according to the exhibition, from its skimpiness and narrow seam allowances, it appears to have been mass-produced for wholesale. Without the Mickey motif, the puffed sleeves and fitted waist make it a style I would wear today. Fashion seems to maintain a fascination with cartoons from Minnie Mouse hairstyles at Zac Posen to Manga inspired fashion at Gucci

3. Opera Coat, Christian Dior, late 1950s

Dior coat

The Dior New Look was such a fashion shift that this red satin opera coat had to make it into the top five. Dior’s lines marked a return to a ‘feminine’, curvaceous shape and a luxurious look using lots of fabric after war-time’s less restrictive lines and scrimping on fabric. The bar was the ultimate hourglass outfit with narrow shoulders, nipped in waist and padded hips and full, flared skirt.  Dior was also a marketing innovator by devising theatrical shows, creating trends every six months and diversifying his market. This coat is not couture, but from Dior London, through which his designs were licensed and sold at cheaper prices.  I can just picture this coat modelled in one of Norman Parkinson’s photographs, epitomising effortless glamour.

4. Opulent mantua, 1760s

Mantua 1760s

To show the breadth of the collection, I wanted to include a pre-20th century piece, and so opted for this mantua from the 1760s. Although highly impractical, its sheer opulence and beautiful embroidery made it fit for a top five. This piece was created around the same time as the Assembly Rooms in Bath, home to the Fashion Museum today, but it would have likely been worn in even grander venues, perhaps weddings or birthdays at the Royal Court. The expensive fabric and design would signify the wealth and status of the wearer immediately, and although the owner is unknown, the Museum thinks it is likely it was worn at the court of King George III, who succeeded in 1760.

Before ‘make do and mend’ and the resistance to fast fashion, in the 1760s, fabrics were re-used and clothes ‘upcycled’. The exhibition quotes from a Mrs Papendiek in the 1780s:

“Fashion was not then… the matter of continual change. A silk gown would go on for years a little fashioned up with new trimmings.”

5. Green silk dress, Jeanne Lanvin, 1919 

Jeanne Lanvin dress 1919

This green shot silk pannier dress by Jeanne Lanvin illustrates the word ‘frock’ perfectly. The influence is 18th century with the full skirt requiring panniers, which are sewn into the dress. Lanvin began designing for children, and this fashion house’s logo remains a mother and child. As the Museum suggests, this dress certainly has a child’s birthday party feel. I love the way that now looking back it’s going against our idea of the period with its streamlined flapper look. Alber Erbaz now heads up the Lanvin label, and one of his dress won the 2005 Dress of the Year award showing some affinity with this dress. The footage below features the designer herself in fittings. Don’t miss the pockets in the first dress shown – the detail is absolutely beautiful. 

Happy Birthday Bath Fashion Museum

Fifty Fabulous Frocks is just part of the Fashion Museum’s fiftieth birthday celebrations. The museum was established in the sixties (initially called the Museum of Costume Bath) by Doris Langley Moore and Bath City Council. Fifty Fabulous Frocks runs until the end of 2013. If you’re in Bath next month, check out Bath in Fashion 2013 too.

In case you can’t make the exhibition, look out for another post featuring the next top 5. After all, there are another 45 fabulous frocks to choose…

No Borders – the post-Christmas antidote

My suggestion for the perfect antidote to the post-Christmas bulge? A trip to No Borders

No Borders: contemporary art in a globalised world is an exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which pulls together artists from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to explore global stories from local perspectives. Reflections on the local and global seem particularly timely in the aftermath of Christmas with its consumer frenzy for stuff and more stuff made miles away with little connection to their location of production, or purchased online in seemingly non-spaces. Having Bristol as the site of this exhibition puts a twist on it, where city initiatives are helping to rethink the local and global with creative projects, such as Bristol Pound which encourages us to shop and spend locally with the city’s own currency. The pieces in No Borders, which have been purchased through the ArtFund, are themselves part of a global trade network, and open up a dialogue about our global interconnections, shared histories and conflicts as well as Bristol’s economic and cultural place as an international trading city. 

Ai Weiwei

In Ai Weiwei’s A Ton of Tea, Pu’er tea, drunk by ordinary folk in China (and named after the trading post for dark tea in Imperial China) has been dried and compressed into a block as though it were being packed for export. In this minimalist, witty piece, the everyday and ubiquitous are transformed into a precious object to be looked at and tiptoed around in the gallery space, which raises its commercial price as well as cultural value. (At another exhibition, Ai Weiwei said of it “don’t touch it or you’ll have to drink it”.) So this new museum acquisition is put into conversation with the more traditional Chinese objects collected by the museum, questioning what constitutes ‘art’ from China for Western galleries and how the Chinese nation has been constructed through these traditions. In another well-known work, Ai Weiwei plays with similar political and cultural themes, creating Duchamp-like ready-made vases and purposely dropping a prized Ming vase offending the antiquities trade not only in China, but globally.

Questioning the role of art culturally, politically and commercially is certainly a theme of the exhibition with the contemporary works set in the traditional gallery space of the blue damask patterned wallpaper and placed in dialogue with those in the permanent collection of Chinese ceramics and Indo-Persian miniature paintings. 

Imran Qureshi

The Mughal tradition of miniature painting is given a contemporary twist by Pakistani artist, Imran Qu’reshi. This Leprous Brightness makes the blood from a reported incident of violence into beautiful foliage. In the video below you can see Qu’reshi’s imagery of flowers/blood seep from the stones in a site-specific piece. 

The creation of nationhood, history-making and the mass media are explored by Shilpa Gupta in her piece, In Our Times – Singing Mobile Microphones. The speeches of Jinnah and Nehru at the time of Independence of India and Pakistan in August 1947 are played through two swinging microphones. Annotated versions of the speeches hang at either side behind the installation indicating that Nehru’s speech was more prepared for ‘history’ with memorable quotes (“At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”) compared to Jinnah’s more practical prose. (“Dealing with our first function in this Assembly, I cannot make any well-considered pronouncement at this moment, but I shall say a few things as they occur to me.”) The microphone swings up and down as power shifts from one leader to another, as regimes come in and out of favour. The see-saw of history illustrates the way that nations are constantly in flux and with conflicts still unresolved.

Shilpa Guptta: Singing Mobile Microphones

In Berlin-based Korean artist, Haegue Lang’s work Holiday for Tomorrow the private/public, holiday/work, insider/outsider are explored through an installation of pretty coloured Venetian blinds and traditional Korean bamboo blinds or hanoks. The blinds were used to allow women to see out into the public world of men whilst remaining private in the domestic. Here we can peek through the blinds as voyeurs but also always be partially seen as we wander the exhibit.

Haegue-Lang BlindsIn the exhibition space fans flutter the blinds evoking a holiday mood, whilst the video narrates about the world of work evoking the repetitive nature of many occupations, for instance opening shop shutters each day (which you can see pictured in the still below). Ultimately, perhaps holidays only function to make us refreshed for work.

Haegue Yang Unfolding Places
Walid Raad describes his work as “reigniting our curiosity in truth”. A fictionalised foundation, The Atlas Project, is his mechanism to interrogate the truth of the history-making, specifically of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). By gathering, sorting and thus knowing the evidence both written and produced by visual media, those with power create the ‘truth’ of the manifold stories involved. The “regimes of truth” (in Michel Foucault’s terms) created by institutions such as the Museum are brought into question in Raad’s miniature version of a gallery (pictured below).

Walid Raad / The Atlas Group

No Borders, run in partnership with the Arnolfini, is on until 2 June 2013 and if you are in Bristol I would recommend it. I headed off there after hearing that there was an Ai Weiwei piece but actually there are a variety of works worth seeing in this well-curated show.

If you’re not able to make it, I hope that you can check out of some of the artists’ work. You can download pdfs about the artists and some of the key themes. Let me know your thoughts.

Ballgowns: playing dress-up at the V & A

Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950.

Ballgowns are the ultimate dress-up fantasy. For most, they are not for wearing but left for red carpet dreaming. I haven’t ever had the occasion to wear a classic ballgown before, even at university balls, anything too formal or unashamedly feminine made me uncomfortable. The prom dress a la riot grrrls was more my style, however, a couple of weekends ago, I had a self-indulgent day of dresses. Although you can’t actually play dress-up at ‘Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950’ at the Victoria & Albert Museum, you can get up close to 60 gowns showing the changes in silhouettes, fabrics and styles over six decades.

‘Ballgowns’ is very much a showcase of British fashion, appropriate in the year of the Queen’s Jubilee and London 2012 Olympics. Curated by Oriole Cullen and Sonnet Stanfill, the exhibition charts the changes in ballgowns from the private sphere of dressing for royalty to the global, public glare of flashbulbs on the red carpet. Although the royal link has not disappeared. (I heard one person comment that Diana in the Elvis dress looked like a “proper princess.”) The ballgown with its romantic princess connotations are part of fashion’s wish-fulfilment. Gareth Pugh is quoted in the catalogue by Oriole Cullen,

‘That’s what fashion’s about… you’re transforming yourself from something that you are to maybe something that want to be… that’s the crux of what we do, it’s selling people a dream’. 

And although the exhibition is a social history through a particular garment, in truth the pleasure is in looking at all those dresses from the stylishly simple to the eccentrically attention-grabbing.

Fabric fetish in the ballroom

The exhibition is on two levels with the ground floor showing the preparation for the ball upstairs, where the contemporary designers are displayed. Fabrics stood out for me in these latter designs. From Alexander McQueen’s feathered dress to Atsuko Kudo bringing fetish to the ballroom with a stunning latex lace effect.

If you feel that you need body armour to go to the ball, then Gareth Pugh’s silvered leather gown is the one for you, where even the face is shielded. The beautiful busted dress with full skirt and casual pockets by Erdem (in the catwalk video below at 33s) couldn’t be more different but again makes innovative use of fabric to create an autumnal print using appliqué, quilting and beading.

Debs to swinging 60s

These dresses are designed for celebrities (Beyonce, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Annette Bening…) but back in the 1950s, the upper class girl would come of age at the débutante ball, often her first chance to don one of these fancy frocks. Reinforcing the relationship of ballgowns to old money, the designer was compelled to make their creation work with the family jewels. At fittings, fearing theft, some would draw the shape of a necklace on their skin to ensure the dress still work once they were bejewelled. I could just picture Matilda Etches’ dress from 1956, wonderfully named “Spinning Crystal“, being worn by young deb of this time. This pale green silk gauze dress has one shoulder sash with a pleated full skirt that I can imagine flowing and swirling during a dance.

With the likes of Mary Quant and Foale and Tuffin on the Kings Road, young debs of the 60s could wear mini-skirts as day-wear and so desired styles different to their mothers in the evening too. To cater for this shifting market, designers such as John Cavanagh and Bellville Sassoon, extended to boutique ranges for younger women.  The pink embroidered organza dress with cute bow at the front by Bellville Sassoon stood out for me as being particularly evocative of a ballgown from this period.

Kaftans rule 

In the 1970s the debutante ball changed to the charity ball where access was given to those who could pay the ticket price, encompassing the new royals – celebrities. One of the first dresses on display in the exhibition is a kaftan from the label Yuki worn by the actress Gayle Hunnicutt. Designed for dramatic entrances, it even looks stylish in the static case of the exhibition. This decade also saw trousers becoming an acceptable garment for women. Skip to the ‘oos and the Stella McCartney piece featured is a ballgown cum jumpsuit with pretty floral embroidery and casual pockets.

Bigger and bigger in the 1980s

Gold, extravagant and glitzy, Zandra Rhodes’ dress from 1981 seems to usher in that most decadent of decades. ‘Renaissance Cloth of Gold’ was modelled on Elizabethan styles and at the forefront of the corseted and hooped fashion revival of the time. The gold lamé of Craig Lawrence’s piece from 2010-11 again feels excessive but looks rather shapeless until movement gives it form. (see the video below at 01.50s)

At the turn of the last century the mixing of celebrity, commodity and the ballgown is exemplified in an Elizabeth Emmanuel romantic silk floral dress worn by Liz Hurley in an Estee Lauder advert.

Going to the ball

When I saw Patti Smith perform earlier this year (no less cool for wiping sweat off her face with her t-shirt), I would not have thought her an admirer of ballgowns. She can, however also pull off a Christian Dior.

“People wouldn’t know this about me, but I adore ballgowns,” she said. “I love their cut, their architecture and the thought of the hands of so many seamstresses working on them.”

If I was going to the ball…I’ve love to try Giles Deacon’s pleated “carwash” dress… or maybe this beautiful Worth dress

What about you? Which dress would you pick?

Have you been to the exhibition? What did you think about it? I’d love to hear from you.

Ballgowns: British Glamour since the 1950s is open until 6 January 2013.

Naoshima – Japan’s art island

Naoshima bath house

Where have empty houses been transformed into perception-altering installations, art museums grow from the natural surrounding and giant pumpkins sit by the sea? On Naoshima, Japan’s art island, where even the bath house (pictured above) is a work of art.

Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan exemplifies the way art can be used to regenerate a community in economic decline. Depopulation and pollution threatened the residents’ livelihoods, when in the late 1980s private investment intervened to revitalise the island. The CEO of publishing corporation, Benesse, worked with the Mayor of Naoshima to drive economic regeneration by displaying his own private collection as well as commissioning site-specific architectural projects and art installations, involving the local community.

Honmura art project

Honmura Fishing Village

Honmura is a small fishing port on Naoshima and home to the Art House Project, a group of abandoned residential buildings and shrines transformed into works of art. Kadoya, the first art house created, features ‘Sea of Time ’98’ by Tatsuo Miyajima comprising LED counters set to different speeds by residents of all ages, illustrating shifting perceptions of time as we grow older.

Charred cedarwood sidings cover many of the buildings adding a beautiful colour and texture to the town, and this renewal of materials is theme of the island as art is created from the decayed and unwanted.

Burnt wood at Honmura art project, Naoshima, Japan.

Go’o Shrine, a reworked Shinto shrine features a glass staircase leading from an underground passway to the worship hall representing heaven and earth.

steps at at temple Honmura art project.

temple at Homura art project

Also built on the site of a shrine, Minamidera contains James Turrell’s “Backside of the Moon”. Visitors are led into the room in complete darkness (we got lost and I sat on somebody…). Then as your eyes adjust to the lack of light, shapes start to appear playing with our modes of perception.

Delica neon sign at Honmura art project, Naoshima.

Haisha (photographed above) was the home and office of a local dentist in a previous life. Rather than demolishing these vacant houses, the artists transformed them into something new, often in collaboration with the people of Honmura. Located in residential areas, these site-specific pieces are embedded into the community. The artist Shinro Ohtake designed this house, using his scrapbook style with a montage of cuttings on the floor and a neon-lit Statue of Liberty simulacrum squashed into one its rooms.

Naoshima Bathhouse – I♥湯 or I love Yu

Refreshing, relaxing and a new cultural experience for me, one of my favourite things to do in Japan was visiting to the sentō or bath house. I♥湯 or I love Yu, the Naoshima bath house, again designed Shinro Ohtake, is a play on words with ‘Yu’ phonetically meaning hot water in Japanese.

I love Yu bathhouse sign

As in Honmura, the art work is placed at the centre of the community and the space of the bath house aims to foster cultural exchange between tourists and locals.  Although this is a more touristy experience than other bath houses in Japan, the interior space is worth experiencing to see this artist’s scrapbook style. And how often do you get the chance to get naked and wash yourself in an art installation?

I love water bathhouse Naoshima.

I love Yu is a cultural collage as you can see in the image below as various tiles from different periods and styles are juxtaposed. A tiled image of a female diver surrounded by jellyfish and an elephant statue look down on bathers, whilst peering down to the bottom of the bath, you can catch glimpses of pop cultural images through the shimmering water. This scrapbook-style adheres to the decay and renewal theme of the island with old fishing boats, a plane cockpit and empty picture frames recontextualised on the outside of the building becoming art rather than junk.

Tiles on the Naoshima bathhouse

Ohtake uses a mix and match postmodern style culminating in the kitsch 1970s influenced female silhouette framing the bath house entrance.

Lady symbol for the Naoshima Bathhouse.

Benesse House Museum 

Architect, Tadao Ando’s vision is integral to the Naoshima Art Project creating the Benesse House Museum and hotel, designed to fit into its surroundings, not just in order to preserve the beauty of the island coast, but also to use the interaction of culture and nature to create art. Interactive works such as Kan Yasuda’s ‘The Secret of the Sky’, allows the viewer to lie on a curved stone seat and gaze upwards with the modern concrete of the building juxtaposed with the blue sky or starry nights.

The Benesse Art Gallery shows works by big names, including Warhol, Rauschenberg and Hockney, but a piece that resonated particularly with me was Yukinori Yanagi’s ‘Ant Farm Project‘. It critiques our discourses of national identity by allowing ants to live in the flags of national states so that they symbolically create patterns without borders. In the cafe, our relationship with television is questioned by Nam June Paik’s ‘Sonatine for Goldfish’, where a goldfish circles and circles a vintage set. Bruce Nauman’s work 100 Live and Die with his trademark neon signs flashes combinations of words about life and death, from tragedies (‘young and die’) to the mundane (‘sleep and live’).

Kusama on Naoshima

After visiting the Kusama retrospective at the Tate Modern in London this year and with her work inspiring a fashion collection, I was looking forward to visiting her iconic pumpkin statue.

Kusama's pumpkin with light stream.
When we arrived at our accommodation, I couldn’t believe that we could almost swim up to the yellow and black dotty pumpkin. Kusama’s red and black pumpkin is one of the first things that you see as you arrive and leave Miyanoura port. As in the residential spaces of Honmura and the communal bath house, the viewer is able to get very close to the art works and interact with them.

red and black pumpkin top.

Red and black pumpkin by Kusama at Naoshima.

For more Kusama photos, check out Kusama: seeing and wearing dots, my previous blog post.

Visiting Naoshima

On our stay, we slept in a yurt mere seconds away from the sea. How relaxing to listen to the sound of the waves and watch the natural glow of jellyfish.

Our yurt on Naoshima

You can find out more about visiting Naoshima on Benesse’s website and I would recommend Naoshima Tsutsuji-so Lodge as a place to stay. There are regular buses from Miyanoura port to the Benesse House but it is not actually very far on foot (around 30 minutes) or by cycle.

There is art everywhere on Naoshima, even these little frogs are placed to add colour to an industrial building along the coast road to Honmura.

The architect, Tadao Ando also designed two galleries that we didn’t have time to visit – Chichu Art  Gallery, which is mainly built underground so as not to detract from the natural landscape, and a gallery devoted to the work of Lee Ufan. So we have an excuse (as if we needed it) to return.

Fancy taking a trip to Naoshima now? If you’ve visited already, please share your experiences. Are there any other art islands that you’d recommend visiting?

Seeing and wearing dots: Yayoi Kusama, fashion and art

I came face-to-face with artist Yayoi Kusama in Omotesando Hills in Tokyo…

Kusama model Louis Vuitton Shop Tokyo.… that is a model of the octogenarian artist who is now window dressing across the world. Kusama with her signature dots has become Marc Jacob’s muse for his Louis Vuitton collection.  Her art, which has never been confined to the gallery, has taken over the department store, and a few weeks ago a pop-store appeared in Selfridges in London designed as her iconic pumpkin sculpture.

Kusama-inspired Louis Vuitton fashion collection

Kusama is not the first artistic collaboration for Marc Jacobs, previously working with Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Marakami but this is the most extensive, including sponsoring her Tate Modern retrospective earlier this year. This exhibition showed her extensive creative output over a 60-year career and the breadth of media, from sculpture, drawing and paintings to installations, performance art and fashion.

As one of the most recognisable female “celebrity” artists in the world with fashion as part of her artistic repertoire, it is understandable that designers would want to collaborate. Indeed the meeting of art and fashion is not new from Elsa Schiaparelli’s surrealist creations to the postmodern circularity of Campbell’s soup creating paper dresses à la Andy Warhol. Before the Louis Vuitton collection, Kusama had put her name to other commercial products such as lip gloss and, as a popular artist, her work is embossed on scarves and bags, perhaps more for tourists than high fashionistas.

Art, fashion and commerce had already combined for Kusama back in the 1960s. With financing of $50,000, the Kusama Fashion Company was established with her clothes on sale at 400 stores across America, including Bloomingdales. Her range was designed for the sexual revolution – dresses with circular cut-outs and holes in the breast and rear, and some designed for more than one person to party. Just as in her other artistic output she tried to eradicate the boundary between self and other through fashion. In her autobiography she says that her stock was in demand from the Jackie O crowd and that, “All the clothes I designed and produced were, of course, decorated with polka dots”. The  images below illustrate the dots in her sculptures, taken in Naoshima, Japan.

Kusama dots closeup.

Kusama red and black pumpkin.

Kusama dots

The Louis Vuitton collection is all about the dots too. After a nervous breakdown as a teenager, Kusama has lived with psychological trauma and has been in a psychiatric hospital since the 1970s of her own volition. During hallucinations, she says that dots multiply covering her field of vision threatening to overwhelm her. Her art has been therapy to help control these feelings and she puts the viewer firmly in her hallucinatory world, often in the domestic setting. In one of her installations, children are invited to stick brightly coloured dots in a white room – the blank canvas.  When you visit the Louis Vuitton website, red dots flash before your eyes and so a consumer of fashion, you’re positioned in Kusama-land.

I first entered Yayoi Kusama’s head in Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. “Gleaming Lights of the Souls” could only be entered two by two. Immediately the queue added to the aura of the experience and anticipation at seeing in the box. Inside, we found a hall of mirrors with water on the floor and dots of lights that sparkle off into infinity. The installation made me feel slightly off-balance, wanting to reach out but fearing slipping. Perhaps I wasn’t given into Kusama’s art process where she tries to understand her place in the universe through “self-obliteration”.

“My desire was to predict and measure infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots – an accumulation of particles forming in the negative spaces in the net… I wanted to examine my own life. One polka dot: a single particle among billions. I issued a manifesto stating that everything – myself, other, the entire universe – would be obliterated by white nets of nothingness connecting astronomical accumulates of dots. White nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch-dark background of nothingness.”

Fashion is sold more in terms of the drive for self-expression than self-obliteration. The Kusama persona and her style became an intrinsic part of the installations as she was self-consciously photographed in front of her sculptures in similarly patterned clothing so that the distinction between self and world dissolves. In advert for the Louis Vuitton collection below, the model stands in for Kusama and the dots of the clothing merge with the background.

Kusama raincoat Louis Vuitton

Department store art

The visual merchandising of the collection takes lessons from Kusama’s work. In her autobiography she says that “my work is a means to heal myself from psychosomatic illness. As a category of art, therefore, it did not relate to the social establishment or to fads. My art was not of the department stores window variety, where you are constantly changing the display to conform to the latest fashion – Action Painting today, Pop Art (or whatever) tomorrow.”

However, in the shop windows, we can see reproductions of her work which would not look out-of-place in the gallery, although we may read them differently there.

Kusama shop window.

Flowers recur throughout Kusama’s work from her first sketchbook of worm-eaten peonies to later psychedelic sculptures with eyes at their centre. In her early visions, she says that:

“I saw the entire room, my entire body, and the entire universe covered with red flowers, and in that instant my soul was obliterated and I was restored, returned to infinity, to eternal time and absolute space.”

The scene below reminds me of an Alice in Wonderland set, with the oversized shoes and purses evoking Kusama’s distortions of scale in her later sculptures.

Kusama bags and shoes

In the 1960s, Kusama held one of her Happenings at the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in New York’s Central Park. At these events, hippies from the protest movement became a naked canvas for Kusama to paint them in dots. The rain-mac above from Marc Jacob’s collection is a playful nod to these performances as the dots almost look painted on the skin.

“I, Kusama, am the modern Alice in Wonderland. Like Alice, who went through the looking-glass, I, Kusama (who have lived for years in my famous, specially built room entirely covered by mirrors), have opened up a world of fantasy and freedom. You too can join my adventurous dance of life.”

In the 1990s Kusama created a series of pumpkin sculptures, including the one photographed below in Naoshima.

Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin Naoshima inspiration for Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton.

As with the flower motif, pumpkins have recurred throughout her work from early Nihonga paintings in her late teens. She says that she “was enchanted by their charming and winsome form… its solid spiritual balance.” In the Louis Vuitton collection, the pumpkin sculptures are transformed into sweet little bags and keying chains.

Fear of phallus fashion

Fashion, art and psychological obsession are again evident when she uses repeated phallic symbols as a way to work through her associated fears. In the image below, the phallus-filled cream-coloured shoes evoke a nightmarish wedding. In a similar style of repetition she created macaroni pants which illustrated her disgust of overeating and the mass-produced American food which contrasted with post-war Japan austerity. Sex and food seem inextricably linked to the fashion industry with its commodification of the former and the perfect female body starved of food, not through economic dependency, but desire for an idealised shape.

Kusama Fashion Company

This critique of mass-production becomes mass-produced as fashion albeit luxe fashion in the phallic tentacle shapes in the Louis Vuitton window display.

Kusama phallic window display

Get Kusama fashion inspiration

If like me, you only look at designer fashion and prefer to buy vintage, it’s still easy to join the fashion dots with one piece. In fact, if you make clothes, cutting out a circle or two in a summer dress (I don’t recommend in the breast or bottom) could look striking. However, perhaps it’s more “Kusama” to find your own statement “dots”. Here’s footage from one of Kusama’s happenings which almost parodies itself but contains beautiful images including one of the artist on a horse covered in dots.

What do you think about the Kusama and the Louis Vuitton collaboration? Please share your thoughts.