Saturday, April 16, 2011

Piles of Clothes

Boltanski's No Man's Land
I spend a lot of time treating clothing well. In my work in museums and archives, I treat clothing and textiles very well, wearing gloves, handling them with extreme care and even foregoing the wearing of cosmetics in order to ensure no pollutants come into contact with the delicate and sometimes struggling objects.  At the second hand designer and vintage boutique where I work, mending, steaming and neatly displaying carefully selected garments for resale, is part of the daily ritual.  At home with my own wardrobe, I do my best to keep my clothes properly cared for and stored, and to cease wearing things when they become too fragile.All this neatness and precision can really take its toll on a person.

It has I believe led me to become mesmerised by piles of clothes. Haphazard mounds of textile stuff. Not my own laundry, I'm afraid, but works of art where clothes are not precious, but somehow no less alluring.

Piles of clothing at flea markets and boot fairs are attractive too, but their magic lies in what you think you might find in them, which you might come to possess. They don't linger in the memory with a solemn strangeness like the ones that follow.

No Man's Land, Park Ave Armoury
Last summer, the Park Avenue Armoury in New York City, was the site for Christian Boltanski's monumental installation No Man's Land.  Piles of clothes weighing over 30 tons mapped out, "an immersive landscape," irrigated by the action of a 60 foot crane that moved and created mountains of discarded textiles.  Boltanski's work frequently uses multiples, archives and discarded relics of material culture to create vignettes and landscapes that address anonymity, individuality and mortality.

I'm really regretful to say, that I didn't get to experience this piece firsthand. I happened to be in New York City while it was on, and set out on a pilgrimage to see it, but went to the wrong armoury.  When I got there, a private event was going on, and they didn't seem to involve 30 tons of cast off garments.

A few months later, at MADRE in Naples, Italy, I had my piles of clothing and my cake as well.  Their autumn 2010 exhibition Transparency: Art for Renewable Energy, featured two works that comprised piles of textiles, one of which was a cake of socks.

Gatuea des Chausettes, at MADRE 2010

Pascale Martine Tayou's Gateau des Chausettes, literally "sock cake," strikes as both somber and absurd.  Somewhat glittering in the gallery sun, white powder sits atop a disc socks. Is it a delicious dessert or a foul pile of footwear? A surreal thing that may be meal or bed or colony of cast-offs.

Venere degli Stracci, MADRE 2010

At the same show, Michelangelo Pistoletto's Venere degli Stracci (Venus of the Rags) offers a host of allusions by installing a copy of Thorvaldson's Venus with an Apple, with her front body embedded in a wall of multi-coloured rags.  The artist selected rags because they bear with them the memory of human lives.  The piece seeks to question the nature of beauty by contrasting the female nude of the canon, with the colour and splendour of an assemblage of discarded earthly goods.  Even without those associations being apparent, the piece is fabulously sensual, evoking the feeling of coming head-on with a pile of fabric.

I remember this feeling from being a child at adult's parties, and going into the room where everyone's coats where on the bed, and just jumping into it. So many different fabrics, scents, and textures. Leather and wool. Perfume and hairspray.

Charles LeDray, Party Bed 2006-7

I didn't really remember those occasions at all until I saw Charles LeDray's Party Bed, in his exhibition workworkworkworkwork at the Whitney this past winter.  LeDray was already a favourite, and the subject of an earlier post on Shattered Silk, but this piece made me want to get in bed with him so to speak.  As usual for LeDray, scale shift holds the power of the uncanny, but in this case the whimsy of the vaguely 1970s bed and coats, make the effect startling and delightful. Startling like having just walked in on an orgy of inanimate objects, and delightful because now you know such things are possible.

While my usual encounters with clothing involve padded hangers, archival boxes and acid free mannequins, it was a nice break from the everyday to see clothes in museums on the floor, still being very much admired.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ghosts of Halloween Past

Halloween, London 2007
It is yet again time for me to pull Shattered Silk up by the corset laces, and post more frequently. There has been no lack of topic ideas in my corner, so the only thing keeping me from the task has been time. Yawn.

However, since I am on a brief hiatus from some of my other work activities, and since I have not actually posted since Halloween, I thought to pick up where I left off, and offer up a photo essay of a life spent dressing up.

A few months ago, someone marveled at my saying I had dressed up for Halloween every year of my life, some years with two different costumes. I then wondered if I had mis-spoke, and challenged myself to remember my Halloween costumes from every year to date.

Turns out there are possibly two years when I did not dress up for Halloween. Tellingly those were in my early teens, when mischief of other sorts took precedence over trick or treating.  Yet, I have been able to collect photos of nearly every Halloween costume I have worn.

While this blog does not set out to be a personal portrait, I offer this post as a case study of costume and ritual. Hopefully this might inspire you to remember your own Halloween costumes and what they meant to you then and now, and how they were manifestations of your aspirations at particular moments in time.

Enjoy, and do get in touch with comments, memories or photos of your own.

I add a brief reading list on Halloween costumes and customs.

Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween
by David J. Skal

Masked Culture: Greenwich Village Halloween Parade
by Jack Kugelmass

Treat or Trick: Halloween in a Globalising World
by Hugh O'Donnell and Malcolm Foley

Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History
by Leslie Pratt Bannatyne

Dressed for Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and Masquerade
by Valerie Steele, Mark Alice Durant and Phyllis Galembo

October 1978, Minnie Mouse

October 1979, Witch

October 1980, Raggedy Ann

October 1981, Snoopy

October 1981, Snoopy (with mask on)

October 1982, Annie

October 1983, 1st Grade Class 

October 1983, Princess Leia and Ernie 

October 1985, Rainbow Brite and Superman

October 1987, Cleopatra

October 1992, Group photo, Cleopatra (again)

October 1993, Sally from Nightmare Before Xmas

October 1994, Death from the Neil Gaiman comics

October 1995, Aeon Flux and the Crow

October 1996, Sally from Nightmare Before Xmas (again)

October 1999, Bastet the Egyptian Cat Goddess and Satyr

October 2000, Medusa and the Devil

October 2000, Cruella de Ville

October 2002, Drowned Ophelia

October 2003, Skeleton Pirate

October 2004, Group Photo, NYC

October 2004, Bearded Lady and Circus Barker

October 2005, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride and Groom

October 2006, The Black Dahlia

October 2007 Spoiled Brat/Candy Doll

October 2008 Egyptian Bird Goddess, Bull and Invisible Woman

October 2009 Victorian Mourning and the Elephant Man

October 2010, Zombie Nurse and Otto the Zombie