Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Concise Dictionary of Dress

The Concise Dictionary of Dress by Judith Clark and Adam Phillips was an installation at the V&A's store at Blythe House. Details of the project and essays relating to it can be found on the Artangel website. A truly magical mystery tour behind locked doors revealed 11 installations and their accompanying definitions - no dates, no makers, no artists, no materials, no accession numbers - just one mans definitions of a series of chosen words and the artworks that had been chosen to accompany them. There was something very special about this exhibition and it wasn't just the privilege of a peek behind the scenes at this treasure house of precious objects. The audience is forced to think about what they are seeing and what it means, without the usual back-up information. This is highly stimulating and more than a little risky on the part of the curators.
Armoured - One of Adam Phillips' definitions for Armoured is; 'Hardened for the elements; soft-centred'. This seems highly appropriate for the cast resin lady in period costume who looks out over the London rooftops.
Conformist - For Judith Clark nothing says V&A more aptly than the designs of William Morris. This installation features an exquisitely hand embroidered Morris wallpaper design on a calico dress toille that is merely pinned together, highlighting its impermanence and transitory nature. Above all this piece questions our desire to conform and blend in with the norm.
Pretentious is a series of dresses hung opposite a wall of wax that has been carved to represent their relief. Without the usual labels the only the connoisseur knows which dresses are by famous designers and so it is down to the audience to judge for themselves the quality and desirability of the garments. The wax 'impressions' give the opportunity to study subtle detailing without the usual distraction of colour - the drape, line, tucks and pleats all become clearer in this most unconventional medium.
Plain - the piece exhibited is 'Balenciaga: A Retrospective', inspired by a Balenciaga dress in the collection. Created entirely from museum storage materials, such as Tyvek and bubble wrap, this piece questions what happens to the pieces in a collection that are not on display and hence why we collect in the first place. No small question in such a setting.

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