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A Not Unruffled Surface: Contemporary Sculpture and Dress

Henry Moore Institute in collaboration with Piece Hall, Halifax

Friday 12 June 2020

The Henry Moore Institute and Piece Hall Halifax present a one-day conference exploring the relationship between sculpture and dress. The Piece Hall has a history rich in the production and display of both, and serves as a fitting backdrop to consider how these two subjects interconnect in contemporary practice.

Throughout the twentieth century artists have made work that blurs the boundaries between dress and sculpture. From clothing to functional accessories and architecture, sculpture and dress cooperate to explore scale, identity, power structures and the boundaries between public and private space. In their influential essay, Joanne B. Eicher and Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins classified dress as ‘a comprehensive term to identify both direct body changes and items added to the body’. Sculpture can also be hard to define, although artist and educator Gareth Jones’ assertion that ‘as long as we exist corporeally, actual objects will continue to hold the key to sculpture’ positions the body as the key link between sculpture and dress.

The cyborgification of the body by mass buy-in to corporate technologies - smart phones, watches and earphones - and medical interventions - pacemakers, prosthetics, plastic surgery - marks our constantly evolving experience of objects, and where the body begins and ends. Queer histories of dress, drag and sculptural form operate particular visual codes of power and identity. The protective function of body and vehicular armour, and transportable storm shelters, reflects our survival mechanisms in the face of social and environmental threats. This conference thus seeks to examine the sculptural use of dress as a system of creative communication, particularly in relation to the identity of the wearer or maker.

Diverse approaches to sculpture and dress have been presented at recent UK exhibitions, such as the current UK tour of Lucy + Jorge Orta’s Mariner, Haegue Yang at South London Gallery (2019), Nick Cave at Tramway, Glasgow (2019) and Senga Nengudi at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (2019). While numerous other contemporary artists have dress at the heart of their practice - Azra Akšamija’s Nomadic Mosque project, Marie-Ange Guilleminot’s transformative textiles and Sharif Waked’s Chic Point film all interrogate the role that dress can play as a very present, potent, moveable object, rejecting the quality of stasis so often associated with sculpture. These artists represent just a handful of those exploring the infinite possibilities for sculpture and dress to collide.

We invite abstracts which examine and interrogate aspects of sculpture and dress in contemporary art. Beyond those already mentioned, subjects might include (but are not limited to):

  • Situations, strategy and statement 
  • Technologies
  • Survivalism and function
  • Processes and making 
  • Dress as an allegorical device 
  • The anthropological
  • Social histories and intersectionality
  • Performance
  • Activism

This conference has been programmed alongside a solo exhibition of work by artist Jessica Akerman in the Piece Hall’s Gallery.

Please send a 300 word abstract and a brief biographical note to Henry Moore Institute Research Coordinator, Kirstie Gregory ( by 6 January 2020.