Sunday, August 7, 2011
Extreme Costuming at the National Gallery in Prague
A few weeks back in June, while I was traveling in Prague for a business trip, I was fortunate enough to spend my free day at one of the National Gallery museums. Overlapping with my trip was an international theater set design competition exhibition, with booths displaying the proud innovations and accomplishments from nations across Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Americas. The exhibition was sensually overwhelming and exhilarating, and instilled deep within me an intense desire to travel to these myriad diverse lands and explore their aesthetics. Coupled with the competition was an extreme costuming exhibit. Housed in the basement level of the National Gallery, the costumes were dispersed across a dark amphitheater space, the dim lights serving to create an illusion of actual creatures as opposed to material designs, the scattered array curation and spacing between pieces allowed the viewer to circumvent the entire look, to truly examine the details of the materials and the construction. Such an open attitude and such a trust with the work may be due to a different cultural attitude, or merely a lack of concern or funds for protection; it was unclear. Either way, it was a true treat to be able to view some of this work without glass or a rope intervening.
Overall, I found the extreme costuming work fascinating, as the various pieces, built from a plethora of objects and substances and materials, simultaneously elevated and ridiculed the elements involved in creating the costume. Everyday objects took on a regal quality, became things of true beauty, such as in the above images, where an illuminated dress was built from old plastic bottles and piping. Though beautiful, however, the plastic bottles remain recognizable; they are components of a dress and are placed within a new aesthetic context, but their original form and function is inherent. This gave each piece a humor, a whimsical attitude.
Along one wall in front of the plastic bottle dress, there was a video installation, with one of the films displaying the blue plastic dress being worn, the figure dancing in the sun and moving reasonably adroitly with this seemingly static fabric.
This long men's jacket and pants, with an accompanying hat, appeared to be made of paper, mashed and separated to the original pulp and reconstituted.
With this piece, iconography and context are integral; the Nazi symbol is seared upon the general public, the collective cultural and historical conscious, to be a thing of hatred and prejudice, violence and aggression, tyranny and genocide. Here, it becomes entwined in the design of this bizarre jumper, mocking and belittling the power and the dogmas that this icon portrayed in the past. While I believe it is important to always remember the original context of such imagery, it is equally important to be able to reappropriate and provide new meanings and interpretations, such that sociopolitical and artistic progress can continue and thrive.
I have never been one to be awed and amazed by the histrionic theatrics of the modern wrestling phenomenon, however, it is a very real and viable community and avenue for expression and entertainment. Not sure how this costume was originally intended in its design, but I envision a kaleidoscope of pyrotechnics and women in tight leotards with breast augmentation.
It was unclear whether this jacket was constructed of something organic or synthetic; regardless, it is a strange and incredible texture.
A garment of white lace bras, with quite impressive under wires.
This costume was some type of plastic capsule, which was oddly exotic and futuristic yet also primitive.
This bold red dress and ornate head piece was constructed from Porsche automobile materials.
This dress was elegant and beautiful, built from old bullet shells; as with many of these pieces, the entire piece served to elevate these discarded scraps of metal to something new and beautiful, while also calling to question their original use and function. Though sophisticated in design, this piece was quite absurd, as though utilizing bullets for anything beyond the realm of design was a ridiculous and irrational notion.
Many rubber balloons woven together to erect this rainbow concoction; although this image does not highlight it, the texture was very interesting, with wonderful three-dimensionality.
This piece just made me giggle; once again, symbolic iconography, the female form, a vessel of aesthetic adoration and procreative glory has been reappropriated and transformed to something, though still engaging, quite ridiculous.