Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Royal Academy's Aware: Art Fashion Identity

The third season of contemporary art at 6 Burlington Gardens examines how artists and designers use clothing as a mechanism to communicate and reveal elements of our identity.

The exhibition includes work by 30 leading international practitioners including Marina Abramović, Andreas Gursky, Claudia Losi, Susie MacMurray, La Maison Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen, Yoko Ono, Grayson Perry, Dai Rees, Cindy Sherman, Helen Storey, Rosemarie Trockel, Sharif Waked, Gillian Wearing RA, Yohji Yamamoto and Andrea Zittel.

Also on display are new works by Yinka Shonibare and Hussein Chalayan, commissioned especially for Aware by London College of Fashion and the Royal Academy of Arts. Hussein Chalayan presents a new dress inspired by the 300 year old Japanese tradition of Bunraku puppet theatre while Yinka Shonibare has worked with bespoke tailor Chris Stevens to create 18 designs based on 19th-century children’s dress assembled to form a wall mural.

Storytelling acknowledges the role of clothing in the representation of personal and cultural history. Grayson Perry’s Artist’s Robe, 2004, an elaborate, appliquéd coat made of a patchwork of luxurious fabrics, comments on the figure and status of the artist in the world today.

Grayson Perry
Artist's Robe, 2004This grand and elaborate robe combines historical references to the traditional kimono and the notion of clothing as an indicator of learning. It also refers to the uniforms associated with societies, clubs or academies, while commenting on the position and perception of the artist in contemporary society. The eye connotes wisdom and the artist’s role as an interrogator of the visual world.

Helen Storey
Say Goodbye, 2010Formerly a fashion designer, Storey has more recently investigated how science, art and fashion might come together in leading the way for a more sustainable future.
These dresses form part of her research into biodegradable materials: the enzyme-based textile will dissolve over time as it comes into contact with water. They also comment on contemporary society’s desire for a plentiful supply of clothing.

Building covers the concept of clothing being used as a form of protection and the notion of carrying one’s own shelter, referencing the nomadic, portable nature of modern life. On display is Shelter Me 1, 2005 by Mella Jaarsma who in her work parallels garment and architectural constructions. Jaarsma defines shelter as the minimal construction needed for protection, not yet the shape of a house, but directly related to the proportions of the human body.

Mella Jaarsma
Shelter Me 1, 2005
Born in Holland and now based in Indonesia, Jaarsma is interested in the process of adapting to the lifestyle and traditions of a new environment. This sculptural and mobile protective covering reflects the culture of the place in which it was made, the temple shape referring to the religious architecture of Yogyakarta. The refuge raises questions about migration and highlights two symbols of individual and social identity – clothing and habitat.

Azra Akšamija
Nomadic Mosque, 2005Acknowledging the need for flexibility in modern life, Akšamija has created a piece of wearable architecture. This private, mobile mosque redefines traditional places of worship for a contemporary context, and allows the individual the freedom to worship in any environment.

Yohji Yamamoto
From the Yohji Yamamoto Femme Collection, Autumn/Winter 1991–92The fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto has clearly articulated his position on the industry in which he works – he dislikes fashion and feels that his role is to regain respect for clothing and promote women’s independence. In this seminal piece, a wooden framework is moulded into the form of a dress, suggesting a human skeleton, an architectural structure and armour. While in shape it recalls the constraining corsets that women used to wear, its robust appearance also asserts the strength of the person that might wear it. In Yamamoto’s hands a prosaic material becomes an unlikely adornment.

Belonging and Confronting:
Belonging and Confronting examines ideas of nationality as well as displacement and political and social confrontation, recognizing the tensions associated with the assimilation of new cultures and traditions. In Palestinian artist Sharif Waked’s video installation, Chic Point, 2003, the contradictory interpretations of revealing flesh as a fashion prerogative or as a humiliation juxtapose two worlds, one of high fashion and the other of semi-imprisonment.

Yinka Shonibare MBE
Little Rich Girls, 2010In this piece, specially commissioned for the exhibition, Shonibare continues his exploration of postcolonial Africa. The wax-printed cotton batik fabric that is a feature of all his work is strongly associated with Africa, but in fact was
originally designed and printed in Holland and exported when it found no market in Europe. The installation of children’s clothes underlines cultural crossovers and the relationship between developing nations on the West. Dutch wax-printed cotton

Performance:The importance of Performance in the presentation of fashion and clothing, and in highlighting the roles that we play in our daily life, is explored in the final section. It features film footage of Yoko Ono’s performance of Cut Piece at Carnegie Recital Hall, New York in 1965, for which the artist invited the public to cut strips from her clothing. While the scraps of fabric fall to the floor, the unveiling of the female body suggests the total destruction of the barriers imposed by convention.

Yoko Ono
Cut Piece, 1965Yoko Ono first performed this piece in Japan in 1964. She sits motionless on a stage while the public are invited to cut her clothing. Closely in tune with the second-wave feminist movement that began in the 1960s, the work explores women’s emancipation from constraints on their identity represented by clothing and encourages respect for the female body. Ultimately, it also suggests the value of nakedness as an expression of identity in its purest form.

Gillian Wearing
Sixty Second Silence, 1996This video piece examines the authority of clothing and the dynamic of the group. People dressed in police uniforms are arranged in the ranked pose of a formal photograph. As time elapses they start to fidget and the individuality of each participant emerges, diminishing the authority of their uniform, with all its associations of state and power.

Hussein Chalayan
‘Son’ of Sonzai Suru, 2010In this installation Chalayan uses Bunraku theatre, a traditional form of Japanese puppet theatre, to examine the manipulative
element of the fashion industry. The beauty of the dress is evident, but the controlling figures around it invite us to consider how our perception of the value of fashion is managed by its presentation. The piece demonstrates Chalayan’s ease in bringing together different cultures and creative disciplines.


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