A Not Unruffled Surface: Contemporary Sculpture and Dress

  • Online event
  • Wednesday, 24 February 2021
  • Online conference, 10am - 6pm

Join us for our first online conference exploring the creative possibilities of combining sculpture and dress. Including artists and art historians, sessions will focus on the architecture of dress, sexuality/feminism and the sculptural potential of costume.

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 is perhaps even harder to define, although sculptor and tutor Gareth Jones’ words are remarkably fitting, ‘as long as we exist corporeally, actual objects will continue to hold the key to sculpture’. The body is the key link between sculpture and dress.

In the first half of the century artists such as Giacomo Balla, Oskar Schlemmer and Sophie Tauber-Arp saw the potential of dress to realise sculpture with widely varying formal and conceptual methods and concerns. The 1960s saw Louise Bourgeois realise her wearable ‘landscape’ Avenza and in 1978 choreograph the influential performance, Confrontation. From Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece 1964 to Joseph Beuys’ Felt Suit 1970, or Vito Acconci’s Umbrufflas 2005, the skin represents a boundary for negotiating the body, its form and its relationship with the mediated world beyond. Queer histories of dress, drag and sculptural form disrupt visual codes of power and identity, and the cyborgification of the body by the mass buy-in to corporate technologies – smart phones, watches and earphones –  mark our constantly evolving understanding of what represents sculpture, and where the body begins and ends.

These ways of working with dress as sculpture have expanded and developed through subsequent decades, as demonstrated by the work of contemporary artists such as Azra Akšamija, Dorothy Cross, Laura Ford, Alicia Framis, Marie-Ange Guilleminot, Mella Jaarsma, Senga Nengudi, Orlan, Lucy and George Orta, Grayson Perry, Wiebke Siem, Yinka Shonibare, Sharif Waked, and Hague Yang. These artists represent just a handful of those exploring the infinite possibilities of hybrid dress and sculpture, and the methods one can use to free dress from the usual spatial and societal rules.

This conference will examine and interrogate aspects of this phenomenon in contemporary art including: situations, strategy and statement in dress/sculpture; technologies, dress and sculpture; survivalism and function; processes and making; dress as an allegorical device in sculpture; the anthropological: sexuality, feminism, ethnicity, social history and dress; performance, sculpture and dress.


10:00Welcome and Introduction
Jessica Akerman (artist) and Kirstie Gregory (Henry Moore Institute)
10:30 - 12:30Session: Architecture, Structure and the Mobilisation of Costume
 Richard Sorger (Kingston School of Art, Kingston University)
‘'BODY out to SPACE: Embellishment as a Spatial Concept'
 Dr Stefaan Vervoort (Ghent University)
'Principle of Dressing: Wall Paintings and Sculpture by Thomas Schütte and Luger Gerdes c. 1980'
 Emily Speed (artist)
‘On Becoming a Building’
 Discussion chaired by Kirstie Gregory
12:30 - 1:30Break
1:30 - 3:30Session: Material Explorations of Feminism, Queer Identity and Corporeal Representation
 Daniel Fountain (artist / Loughborough University)
‘On Faggots and Faggoting: Crafting the Queer Body’
 Paula Chambers, (artist / Leeds Arts University)
'An Encounter with Resonant Materiality: Cathy Wilkes and the Green Dress
 Dr June Rowe (University of the Arts, London)
'Fashioning Galatea: Style and Sculpture in the Display Mannequin'
 Discussion chaired by Sarah-Joy Ford (artist)
3:30 - 4:00Break
4:00 - 6:00Session: Sculpture as Dress as Performance
 Benedict L. Phillips (artist and consultant)
'Being in the Work'
 Sian Bonnell (artist / Manchester Fashion Institute)
'Experiments and Ideas around the Performative Function of the Sculptural Object as Dress'
 James Hutchinson (artist / University of Sunderland)
'Being Sculpture(s) #shadowselfie'
 Discussion chaired by Jessica Akerman
 Response from Uthra Rajgopal (independent curator)


Speakers' abstracts and biographies


Venue details

Venue address

Online event
Participate online from your location.
Online platforms will vary for each event.
Please check your booking confirmation for details and joining links.