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Welcome to rachelsays... The blog of Rachel Lewis, containing my thoughts and musings on illustration, design, fashion, music, cakey-bakey goodness, culture and things that I generally find cool. There's also a good chance my own illustration work will pop up on here.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Exhibition Review: SHOWstudio: Fashion Revolution

I finally got the chance to pop into London so I made sure I visited the SHOWstudio exhibition. I wrote a blog piece about it a while back and have been intrigued by it so am glad I finally got the chance to check it out.

Remember I said the 'Taking More Liberty's" bit sounded quite cool, and probably some kind of interactive store window? Well I was right, as Susie 'style bubble' Lau first posted about, and then I went to see first hand.

So, it's the Liberty's window that is in Carnaby St, and you wander up with a small smile of amusement on your face, press the pink button, walk backwards, and let it take your photo. Out of all the photos, the best outfit will be judged and then you could win £500 of Liberty vouchers... pretty sweet. Read what the actual website has to say about the project here.

So this was my picture, which you can see on the site. Not great. Didn't have time to stand up straight so I look terrible really. And you can't see my awesome Betseyville handbag! Defo not going to win. It doesn't even look like me actually, my face looks strange, haha. And that outfit was cooler in real life, here I just look a bit fat. Oh well. The skirt is actually a crazy tutu style from Topshop, the tights were pink with cream lace layered over, and the jumper is an old Taking Back Sunday one which I bought in NY about 4 years ago. It's cuter and much less frumpy than the pic suggests.
So that was in Carnaby St, I jumped on the tube down to Embankment and headed to Somerset House to see the exhibition.

First off, to get to the main exhibition you have to walk through what I can only describe as The Cube of Hell. It's entirely wall to floor to ceiling mirrors and lights, so you can see yourself from every single possible friggin' angle. For someone who hates their profile, legs, and general view from the back, this was awful! But it was supposed to be: "the Mirror Room invites all who walk through it to survey themselves as an infinite image...which afforded anyone visiting the studio a surprising and often uncomfortable introduction.... The immersive mirror experience here goes some way to exposing us and our bodies to the same, intense scrutiny upon which fashion and image culture thrives." Which is entirely true.
That's the thing about not only fashion, but the celebrity, image obsessed culture we live in; if we're not scrutinising ourselves, then you can be sure someone out there is. Especially with the rise of 'Vanity photography' that Facebook has fostered like a multiplying disease. It's the delete button which is to blame, and to a further extent, digital photography and digital living. Who is guilty of taking a camera on a night out, photographing you and your friends, and saying, 'oh no, delete that, I look (insert derogatory phrase here)" and so clicky click a better photo is taken. Said photos end up on facebook or other social networks for the entire world to see, and if you dont like it, you detag. Done. Your own personal curated image library of you looking nothing but how you intend. I am very guilty of this, as are most people. So when you
see a photo or image of yourself that is less than perfect, it's more of a shock now than it would normally be. Especially if it's out of your control. That's why disposable cameras are kind of exciting to me. No delete button there, no preview, just point and shoot, develop, and omg look at how we really look.

I'm the worst person in the world for loving things like Dove's real women ad campaign, and yet aspiring to be a size 6. I love chocolate, don't do enough exercise and the
n cry because I don't look like the cover of Elle magazine. You know? Silly things. And such is the way that things will be; I agree with Gok and his advice on how to love who you are etc on How to look good naked and then see a girl with ankles and collar bones and beautiful hip bones and mentally slap myself, for actually wishing to have the body of the very un-politically correct and probably dangerously thin catwalk model. I'm either extremely susceptible to image conditioning or am a bit weird.

Anyway, we're not even through the door yet!
This sculpture was mahoosive. Like, 2 storeys. It's of Naomi Campbell, the supermodel who apparently polarises extreme opinion. Really? Ok. Projected onto it was sc
ribblings/words from visitors and internet people in various colours. Visually quite nice but a bit blaa. No deep thoughts for me here. Nice bum though.

So the exhibition is separated into 4 sections - Process, Performance, Participation and Fashion Film. You walk through in a linear kind of way and the whole thing is very well curated and easy to view, walk through and take in without missing anything. The physical setting of Somerset House is amazing, it feels very underground-y with interlocking rooms and darkness and kind of like a cellar, but a cool, arty one.

This image is from 'Power of Witches' which is in the Process section. It basically intends to lay bare every step in the creation of a fashion image, with a series of slides of everything from experimentation, photo shoots, retouching, progress reports, to the final image being published in a magazine. Quite an interesting insight but nothing overly groundbreaking; I did like the imagery though, kind of like when you see an artist's sketchbook, has that same feeling.

I loved this. This dress was part of 'Sweet' by Jane How, which is recreations of S/S 2000 ready to wear collections, made out of sweet wrappers! This looks like cake wrappers, and I love the fragility and feminity of it.

'Sleep' was also a good one - an example of's live image broadcasting from 2001, it was a live feed of stills of models as they slept in hotel rooms over the length of one night. The models were styled as if going for a conventional photoshoot, but then put into a hotel room and told to sleep. Watching the videos was completely mesmerising, it looked like they were half floating, half dancing around, really feminine and quite ghostly. Watching people sleep is quite relaxing I suppose, (without sounding stalker-y) and the fact they are so made and dressed up and look so beautiful gave it a real ethereal sense to it.

I think my favourite out of the whole exhibition was 'Freedom of Love'. This was the one thing that I stood watching for ages and had me completely rooted to the spot. The concept is hard to explain but basically, it's a video of Brad Pitt, reciting the poem 'Freedom of Love' by Andre Breton, which was written about the poet's wife. Interspersed with that is footage of Pitt energetically, almost angrily, painting over a massive photo of his own face with red paint and adding captions/text in paint as well. "Dissolving between the actor's projected image, his actuality in the studio, and his self-painted image on paper, the film is a meditation on image and celebrity, and on an actor's response to the way he is seen by others." If that helps. It's fascinating though, because you really do get this sense of 'what is celebrity' and how much you can really know of someone presented to you in the media vs this really intimate portrait of a man reading a poem about the poet's wife. Interestingly is how your mind automatically thinks of Angelina Jolie though; you know Brad is an actor so could just be acting sincerity while reading it, or is he thinking of his own wife, not as a celebrity but as an actual person, while he reads the lines? A girl actually came up to me half way through and (having obviously not read the signage) asked me if he was talking about Angelina. I said no, the poem is about Breton's wife, but I guess that's the context you could take it in, after all isn't poetry supposed to be personal and supposed to be applied to you as the reader to have any kind of affinity to it?

Definitely go read the poem though, it's beautiful. Although I suspect made even more beautiful by Brad Pitt's voice. I forgot how great his voice is - took me right back to Fight Club. It has this kind of monotone about it that is infinitely interesting. And I don't even think Brad Pitt is that hot, to be honest. Just has a great voice. And has aged depressingly well.

'The Sound of Clothes: Synaesthesia' was a cool concept. The idea was to reimagine the possibilities of experiencing clothes by utilising the full range of senses, and specifically to explore the relationship that music has always had with fashion. Sounds good to me. No pun intended.
So this amazing Balenciaga jacket was photographed on a model, and then the composer Nick Ryan was asked to interpret the image as a soundscape. He worked with an orchestra to capture the sound for each section of the jacket (ruffles, sleeve, collar, etc) and then passed the whole lot onto digital artist Daniel Brown to create an interactive piece which is what is seen in the exhibition - you roll the mouse ball over the image and the different orchestra pieces are played. It's really fun and quite moving actually - the skin has a really deep, ghostly, almost quite scary sound, the uber ruffles are sort of jolly upbeat layered violins, then you move down to the lace sleeve and it's kind of sombre cellos rising and falling, it's a really great concept. It made me think - if lace and ruffles is a full on orchestra, what are other pieces of clothing? Are jeans electric guitars? Is my bright pink dress a crazy techno beat? I love that thought. Intriguing...

The jacket is just amazingly beautiful on it's own too, I would do anything to own a piece like that.

One of the things in there that I have to mention is Peter Saville's/Julie Verhoeven's 'Forget Me Not'. I'm not going to post a picture of it here because it's super explicit illustration, and even though art isn't pornography (although this is kind of intended to be) I really don't want to open that whole debate so you'll have to go explore yourself.

"Inspired by the use of the French eighteenth century textile Toile de Jouy in the Spring/Summer 2001 fashion collections, creative director Peter Saville commissioned the young illustrator Julie Verhoeven to create ‘wallpaper for the computer’. Acknowledging the contemporary anxiety about the mainstream role of pornography in fashion photography, in addition to concerns about the availability of sexual imagery on the Internet, Saville supplied the artist with reference imagery of Japanese rope suspension bondage to introduce an element of erotic danger; a counterbalance to the delicate detail of the historical textile source. From this, Verhoeven produced a sequence of virtuoso, linear vignettes that grew increasingly dark in subject and expressive in execution as the series progressed."

Julie Verhoeven is one of my favourite illustrators, and Peter Saville is... well, awesome, but this definitely won't float everyone's boat. I really like it, even though I'm slightly stunned by the 'worst' layers, in fact that kind of makes me like it more. But that's possibly because I'm a bit twisted and strange. View the entire interactive piece here, in all it's explicit glory. There's a warning first to be 18+ but then you're away. Find the different coloured sections (quite small), click and it takes you to the next, 'worse' level.

There were loads of other projects, and the whole Fashion Film section too, but these were the ones I thought most note-worthy anyway. Great exhibition though, I spent hours in there. Well done if you got this far, that's a whole lot of reading you've just done.

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