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.

No comments:

Post a Comment