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.
Installation view of Wiebke Siem: Collection, on display at the Henry Moore Institute in 2001, showing Werkgruppen 1 Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones Senga Nengudi, Performance Piece, 1978 Courtesy the artist; Lévy Gorvy, New York, London; and Thomas Erben Gallery, New York
Installation view of Wiebke Siem: Collection, on display at the Henry Moore Institute in 2001, showing Werkgruppen 1
Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones
Senga Nengudi, Performance Piece, 1978
Courtesy the artist; Lévy Gorvy, New York, London; and Thomas Erben Gallery, New York
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.
|10:00||Welcome and Introduction|
Jessica Akerman (artist) and Kirstie Gregory (Henry Moore Institute)
|10:30 - 12:30||Session: 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 - 1:30||Break|
|1:30 - 3:30||Session: 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 - 4:00||Break|
|4:00 - 6:00||Session: 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
Jessica Akerman is a visual artist based in Bristol. Her sculpture and installations bring together social histories, pattern and colour. In 2020 she participated in group exhibitions at Centre of Gravity, Soapworks and Kosar Contemporary, both in Bristol. Her solo show Annihilation Seal was at ArcadeCampfa, Cardiff in 2019, and in 2018 she was a Lead Artist for Processions, the national performance celebrating the suffrage centenary. Recent commissions include a podcast on Rough Music with Caraboo Projects, and a series of embroidered patches inspired by Morecambe’s heritage for DecoPublique. Her postponed solo show at Cork Midsummer, Ireland, inspired by local women street traders, the Shawlies, is currently scheduled for summer 2021.
'BODY out to SPACE: Embellishment as a Spatial Concept'
For this paper, Sorger will discuss his use of the spatial theories of Naum Gabo and Kenneth Snelson, as well as Edward T. Hall’s notion of proxemics, in the development of his practice, which aims to supplement the fabric of fashion through the development of a new technique. His practice-led PhD project is situated at the intersection of textile history and practice (specifically embroidery and embellishment), fashion theory (specifically the dressed body), spatial theory (tensegrity, stereometrics), and post-modern (art and literature) and post-structuralist (philosophy) theory.
Between 1915 and 1917, Naum Gabo explored the body, space and volume, through a series of figurative sculptures that had an open cellular construction. Gabo represented implied space and volume through the absence of traditional sculptural solidity. He implied the mass of the body through the use of space and called this principle the stereometric method. The engineer Richard Buckminster Fuller is credited with first using the term tensegrity in 1962 in relation to the sculptures of the artist Kenneth Snelson. Tensegrity is a merging of the words tension and integrity. Snelson himself refers to his sculptures as ‘discontinuous compression, continuous tension structures’. The anthropologist Edward T. Hall coined the term proxemics in 1963 to refer to the distance between people as they interact or more specifically ‘the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture’ (Hall, 1969). Hall described four levels of personal space and social distance; intimate distance, personal distance, social distance and public distance.
Sorger has adapted the use of tensegrity as a tool, developing the tensegrity principle for embellishment; tensegrity allows his embellishment to grow from the surface of the fabric and enter into its proxemic space. When the embellishment has a relationship to the body -through dress- it makes visible the proxemic space of the body itself through the application of the stereometric method. It is this practice that he would like to introduce and explain.
Richard Sorger is Associate Professor and course leader for MA Fashion at Kingston University and has taught at various institutions including Middlesex University, London College of Fashion, Nottingham Trent University and Central Saint Martins. Sorger is currently a PhD student at London College of Fashion. His PhD working title is ‘Material INTO practice; practice ONTO body; body OUT TO space: Embellishment as a spatial concept; supplementing fabric through the development of a new technique’. His PhD research explores the notion of embellishment as a spatial and theoretical concept through its relationship with the body, fashion and dress.
From 2006 to 2011 Sorger designed and produced an eponymous fashion label of ready-to-wear womenswear, selling in the UK, Europe, North America and the Middle East. His work has been exhibited in various exhibitions worldwide including Dangerous and Divine - The Secret of the Snake (Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal, Netherlands, 2012), Couture Beside the Catwalk (Amsterdam Fashion Week, 2012), Browns: 40 years of Fashion Innovation (London, 2010), Telling Tales; Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2009), and Unbridaled- The Marriage of Tradition and Avant Garde (various venues worldwide, 2008-2009). In 2009 the Victoria and Albert Museum acquired his ‘The Garden of Eden Dress’ (Spring/Summer 2007) for its permanent fashion collection.
Sorger is the co-author of the three editions of Basics Fashion Design; Research and Design for Fashion and The Fundamentals of Fashion Design, both for Bloomsbury Publishing. The Fundamentals has been translated into six languages and has sold more than sixteen thousand copies worldwide.
'Principle of Dressing: Wall Paintings and Sculptures by Thomas Schütte and Luger Gerdes, c. 1980'
In his 1860 Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten, oder Praktische Aesthetik (Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts, or Practical Aesthetics), architect Gottfried Semper argued that architecture's origins lie in the human need for making sense of the world through the sensuous play of surface. Architecture, Semper claimed, has roots in textile art, the wickerwork of fences and the woven fabrics that answer to a symbolic and utilitarian need at once. What he called Prinzip der Bekleidung (Principle of Dressing), then, implied that architecture's sociability and politics originate in an act of dissimulation. Architecture creates domestic and public spaces through a masking of construction, like an "improvised scaffolding" on which are hung the patterned fabrics and decorations that define social life.
This paper mobilizes Semper's theory of dress to examine the early works of Thomas Schütte and Ludger Gerdes, artists (and close friends) that studied under Gerhard Richter at the Art Academy Düsseldorf in the late 1970s. Trained by an artist whose work mediates between the avant-garde and bourgeois paradigm of painting, Schütte and Gerdes, like their teacher, problematized both the idiom of critique or 'unmasking' associated with avant-garde art and the notions of semblance and 'masking' connected with bourgeois painting. Reacting to the entwined legacies of Minimal and Conceptual Art, however, Schütte and Gerdes negotiated these paradigms in and through sculpture. Their wall installations, reliefs, and scale models conceive of sculpture not in terms of any truth-to-materials or conceptual transparency, but as an act of veiling, cladding, and dressing. As I will argue, the central role and importance of architecture in the entwined and parallel work of these artists needs to be seen along similar lines: sculpture and architecture, for Schütte and Gerdes, are not defined by function, space, and materiality alone; rather, these fields have a tradition and history that, as Gerdes literally wrote as early as 1982, "root in Semper's principle of dressing as leading onto a 'practical aesthetics'."
Stefaan Vervoort is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Art History, Musicology and Theatre Studies, Ghent University, and a lecturer at AP University College in Antwerp. His PhD study examined architectural scale models in the visual arts in New York and Düsseldorf (1966-84).
'On Becoming a Building'
A presentation of practice-based research that explores the relationship between the female body and architecture, particularly in relation to power. Wearable architecture is a key element of her research in both highlighting and also making absurd, traditional spheres of power in relation to scale. This presentation will broadly introduce the use of wearable architecture in her practice and how architectural costume has been used by others, with both comical and poetic results.
The idea of shelter and the inhabitant is at the core of much of her work; how a person is shaped by the buildings they have occupied and how a person occupies their own psychological space. The word inhabitant contains the root habit (dress) and implies a habitat (dwelling) and her work often has this double function of being both shelter and clothing.
Emily Speed is an artist based in the North West, working in sculpture, performance, and film. She has been commissioned to make performances for Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Laumeier Sculpture Park (St Louis) and Edinburgh Art Festival among others. Recent exhibitions include: A Woman’s Place at Knole House; Body Builders at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, Texas; and Happenstance, Scotland + Venice at the Architecture Biennale in 2018. Emily is currently working on a solo presentation for Tate Liverpool in 2021.
‘On Faggots and Faggoting: Crafting the Queer Body’
In contemporary use, the term ‘faggot’ has been used as a pejorative for homosexuals since around 1914. The etymology of the term is notoriously messy but it was originally used to describe bound bundles of sticks that would have been used for fuel, or for burning heretics at the stake. Alternatively, if the person recanted then they would be made to physically carry a faggot in public as a mark of shame and often had to wear an embroidered or painted depiction of a faggot on their clothing. ‘Faggoting’ is also a needlework technique used to join two pieces of fabric together, leaving a narrow gap between which is often filled with a decorative stitch. The term, therefore, has interesting roots associated with the abjection of citizens, as well as in dress and textile history.
Fountain’s paper charts these semantic slippages in the term and gives an overview of two bodies of work that emerged through exploring methods of bundling and faggoting –Faggots (2019-20) and Faggoting (2019). The resulting sculptures are assemblages of found objects and found fabrics that represent the (queer) body in absentia. Fountain works solely with waste materials and sees affinities between their own identity and these objects which have been abandoned, shunned, unloved and tossed aside. Through this dual process of reclamation, they hope to recuperate the deprecated into a source of strength and empowerment.
Daniel Fountain is an artist who has exhibited work internationally, most recently in Queer Contemporaries (AIR Gallery, Manchester) and Slippery and Subversive (Wellington B. Gray Gallery, North Carolina). They are currently completing a practice-led PhD at Loughborough University entitled ‘All That Glitters Is Gold: Queering Waste through Campy Craft’. They regularly publish writing on these themes and have a forthcoming book chapter in The Routledge Companion to Gender and Sexuality (Routledge, 2021).
'An Encounter with Resonant Materiality: Cathy Wilkes and the Green Dress'
In the British Pavilion for the 58th Venice Biennale, sculptor Cathy Wilkes installed artwork and objects that were sparse, melancholic and materially resonant. Moving through the rooms of this understated exhibition of objects made and found; it was the materials themselves that invited closer consideration, materials resonant of the intimacies of the home and of the body. In room three of the installation one encountered a mannequin clothed in a green dress of the kind known in 1950s Britain as a ‘house dress’, the kind made at home and worn to cook, clean and care for children in, the kind of dress worn by women of small means, the kind of dress worn by women in images of poverty and deprivation, like those by photographer Walker Evans (1903-75). Wilkes’ work invokes immaterial labour and female affects of care (Sliwinska, forthcoming). The affective encounter with the objects and materials of Wilkes’ installation is resonant of the sculptural works of Arte Povera, where the use of poor or impoverished materiality recalled a past history and culture not so long past; of manual labour and the struggle for survival. Materiality in Wilkes’ installation is resonant of the temporality and spatial uncertainty of the threshold, the unstable materiality of objects at the boundaries (Boscagli, 2014).
This paper argues for a feminist new materialism, for affect as an assemblage of bodies and matter as the vibrancy of matter, performs an embodied feminist materiality. The materialism of the embodied encounter has transformative potential where shared materiality produces not objects but events. As a sculptural object, the green dress in Wilkes’ installation inhabited the room like a mother guarding the domestic realm, amongst the muted colour palette of the other objects exhibited, the dress stood like a small act of resilience, a material critique against neo-liberalism.
Paula Chambers is an artist, academic and arts educator. She is Subject Leader for Sculpture on the Fine Art BA at Leeds Arts University and has recently completed a practice-led PhD at Middlesex University. Paula’s recent solo exhibition Shoplifting at Woolworths and Other Acts of Material Disobedience at Barnsley Civic in January 2020, was reviewed for Third Text by Dr Dawn Woolley. She has chapters published in Feminist Visual Activism and the Body, edited by Basia Sliwinska (2020), titled ‘Folding Chair for the Feminist Resistance: Activating Feral Materiality’, and in Feminist Art Activisms and Artivisms, edited by Katy Deepwell (2020), titled ‘Materialising Dissent: Pussy Riot’s Balaclavas, Material Culture and Feminist Agency’.
‘Fashioning Galatea: Style and Sculpture in the Display Mannequin’
This paper presents primary research into the sculptural process that defines the corporeality of the female mannequin and its interrelationship to the display of dress and fashion. Based on findings from interviews with professional mannequin sculptors for her PhD thesis, the paper details the design and fine art discourse that is mediated to produce an eloquent and balanced figurative form as an exemplar of fashionable style. The contribution of the sculptor within bespoke mannequin production is an undocumented process but sculptural technique remains at the core of the display mannequin and its aesthetic viability as a body moulded for fashion.
The paper examines two key contexts in the development of the display mannequin. The first relates to forms of stylisation in the composition of the mannequin body, its sculptural signature and alignment with modernism for the display of couture and the exhibition of the bespoke garment. The contemporary mannequin is examined in its life-like and abstracted miens to illustrate the conceptual basis that is used to achieve synchronicity between the sculpted body, fashionable attitudes and varied styles of clothing. With reference to specific models of mannequins the paper presents the relationship between figurative sculpture and dress as a finely attuned and integrated practice in form and corporeality. The paper elucidates on the conception of the display mannequin as a conduit of style, its wider material significance to the presentation and display of fashion and the sculptural techniques which lie at the centre of the mannequin’s corporeality and its capacity to suggest the intimate relationship between body and dress.
June Rowe is an associate lecturer at Central St Martins and the London College of Fashion at the University of the Arts, London. She was awarded her doctorate from UAL in April 2020 for an object-based study of the fashion mannequin: ‘Sculpting Beauty: A Cultural Analysis of Mannequin Design and Fashionable Feminine Silhouettes’. Publications include ‘Designer Unknown: Documenting the Mannequin Maker’ for the edited volume Fashioning Professionals (2018) by Leah Armstrong and Felice McDowell.
Sarah-Joy Ford is an artist, PhD researcher and Associate Lecturer based at Manchester School of Art. Exhibitions include Banner Culture, British Textile Biennale (Blackburn) and Weaving Europe: The World as Mediation, Shelly Residence (Paphos). Funded projects include: The Guild, Cut Cloth: Contemporary Textiles and Feminism and Hard Craft. Her work has been commissioned by The Yorkshire Year of the Textile (University of Leeds), Processions: a hundred years of Suffrage (Artichoke), Beyond the Binary at The Pitt Rivers Museum and Superbia as part of Manchester Pride. She is the recipient of a NWCDTP Award for her PhD research. She is co-director of the Queer Research Network Manchester and a member of the Proximity Collective.
'Being in the Work'
Through his presentation Phillips will draw out the inherent ideas set within the performances he has generated over the past 25 years, exploring their commonalities and cultural interrelationships. This chronology of works have explored ideas rooted in activist performance for audience and camera, utilising costume, sculpture and location. The starting point is The Agenda of The Aggressive Dyslexic, first published as an artist manifesto in DAIL Magazine (September 1995) and first performed on Speaker’s Corner (January 1996). This work sets the agenda for many works to follow including as it does performance in a public space, use of sculptural objects and a designed outfit or costume. The costumes or outfits are often handmade and detailed with insignia on buttons and hats and colour coordinated to represent or reference a specific artistic idea key to the design of the outfits. With the work Laurence meet Laurence (1999) (delivery of a glass sided suitcase of glass vessels of human breath to 10 Downing Street) the costume and haircut specifically referenced Phillips’ grandfather’s Hiroshima vigils of the 1960s. In common with many subsequent performances these personas often carry an object, such as a 5 foot boat to be launched into a river (River River - Dry Dock, 2002) or the briefcase with an LED screen set into the side with trigger buttons, a specially developed platform for the work Alternative Acts of Architecture, Venice 2019. Embedded within the outfits worn are not only historic references such as the Hiroshima vigils but also ideas of inverting tradition as a form of rebellion and resistance such as claiming the Dunce’s cap as a symbol of empowerment for the series of ‘DIV’ dyslexic personas.
Benedict Phillips is an established artist, mentor and consultant. His practice is eclectic, encompassing a broad range of methodologies, generating work as diverse as public art, performance, photography, and media art. He is particularly concerned with the on-going interrelationship and shifting hierarchy between photography, sculpture and performance within his practice, and the aesthetics of each approach. Exploiting historical production processes as well as more recent digitally driven approaches informs the making of much of his work. Benedict is a founding member and Director of several arts groups and organisations including Field Study est. 1993 (book art and mail group), Digital Media Labs est. 2010 (artist professional development) PO Publishing est. 2004, presenting documentation and representation of cross disciplinary artists research. Phillips is currently working on an exhibition and review of 25 years of his dyslexic artistic projects, and is a member of the expert panel at Manchester school of Architecture.
'Experiments and Ideas around the Performative Function of the Sculptural Object as Dress'
In this paper Bonnell proposes the aesthetic of Wilful Amateurism. As formulated by Bonnell, Wilful Amateurism is a form of serious play derived from the chance and play of John Cage (1912-92) and Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) reworked as a feminine/ist 21st-century deviation of dada and conceptualism. Wilful Amateurism functions within a paradoxical space between sculpture, performance and photography. It is made manifest through lived experience and is fuelled by the following characteristics: play, imagination, dysfunction, irreverence, absurdity, chance and fiction.
Examples include: the Dadaist Baronness Elsa von Loringhoven who lived in New York in the early 20th century. She ‘moved throughout the city with shaved and painted scalp, wearing headdresses made of bird cages and wastepaper baskets, celluloid curtain rings as bracelets, assorted tea balls attached to her bust, spoons on her hat, a taillight for a bustle’ (Jones in Sawelson-Gorse: 1998, 156); a tiny photograph discovered by Bonnell in 2012 featured in a Sotheby sale in Paris taken by Constantin Brancusi, of a young dancer friend Lizica Codreanu posing in his atelier wearing a sculptural headdress he had made for her; Eileen Agar and her Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaise, 1936.
In Bonnell’s own practice she has requisitioned a number of disparate household items as forms of attire, including magazine holders as boots and plastic picnic plates as halos. My paper will explore ideas of agency with regard to the ways that found sculptural objects are transformed when they are utilised as items of apparel.
Sian Bonnell is a UK based artist, living and working in West Yorkshire and is currently Reader in Wilful Amateurism in the School of Fashion, at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her work is held in many public and corporate collections notably, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, the Ransom Center, Texas and the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.
Her research is divided into many strands concerning photography and its relations with performance/performing for the camera; sculpture/the object and the camera; the dissemination of the photograph, with regard to curation, publishing and the book and its relations with other disciplines such as medicine.
'Being Sculpture(s) #shadowselfie'
James Hutchinson is a Contemporary Artist and MA Fine Art Programme Leader at University of Sunderland. For the Sculpture & Dress conference he will make an artist’s presentation 'Being Sculpture(s) #shadowselfie' showcasing works that explore links between the body & sculpture.
Recent projects include: Cyber cage, Weighed down by art and Bagist Sailboat Performance. His practice embraces a wide variety of media. He runs a studio in Whitley Bay with ongoing drawing, painting, digital sculpture, and photographic projects. Hutchinson has worked with architects on regeneration projects and collaborated on sound and performance works as one half of H+M. He is a member of the space/socialspace research group, Ars Mathematica Paris and a self-confessed Insta-holic
Uthra Rajgopal is an independent curator, formerly Assistant Curator of Textiles and Wallpaper at the Whitworth. After graduating from the University of York and the Courtauld Institute of Art, Rajgopal has worked with a number of museum dress and textile collections, commercial archives and exhibitions. She has developed a specialist interest in South Asian textiles, having carried out fieldwork in Tamil Nadu with handloom weavers and various museum collections and has been a contributing author to Textile History and 'Authenticity and Replication: The ‘Real Thing’ in Art History and Conservation' and has lectured at Manchester School of Art. During her post at the Whitworth, Rajgopal worked on the South Asian textile collection, working alongside Dr Maria Balshaw and Diana Campbell Betancourt on the Raqib Shaw exhibition and curating the textile exhibition, Beyond Borders, which marked the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence and the Partition. Most recently, she was the lead curator on an Arts and Humanities Research Council exhibition in conjunction with the University of Manchester, titled Beyond Faith: Muslim Women Artists Today. In 2019 she received the prestigious Art Fund New Collecting Award, mentored by Dr Sona Datta, to build a new collection for the Whitworth of South Asian textile artworks made by South Asian female artists from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh and from the diaspora in England.
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