Category Archives: Fashion

Melbourne Now

Thirty-three years after that tumultuous turning point in Melbourne’s culture when Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (aka “The Yellow Peril”) was installed and then removed from the City Square. Melbourne Now is yellow; the exhibition’s logo is yellow, at the launch of the exhibition the Minister for the Arts, Heidi Victoria was dressed in yellow complete with yellow nail polish. Back in the 1980s Barry Humphries suggested that Melbourne should be called “the big Orange”, in reference to NYC moniker, “the big Apple”, but the orange trams are no longer on Melbourne’s streets. In Peter Tyndall blog post for 21/11/13 (reproduced in Melbourne Now) Tyndall suggests that Melbourne’s colour is black – that appeals to me (ha ha).

Thirty-three years ago it would have been impossible to have an exhibition of the quality and scale of Melbourne Now. There were not enough quality artists or gallery space in Melbourne then. Now Melbourne has become the city that Robertson-Swann’s sculpture anticipated, a city where the arts and design flourish.

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Melbourne Now is huge exhibition covering 8000 square meters of gallery space in both of the NGV galleries, and extending out of the galleries into the sculpture garden at the back of the NGV International and onto Melbourne’s streets. It is all free and will occupy most of a day; it took me over three hours to just to get an impression of the exhibition. I’m sure that I must have missed something and I will happily to go back for another look.

The exhibition includes so much – painting, sculpture, drawing, art publications, design, architecture, fashion, music, and dance. I will try to focus on a just couple of aspects.

Parents take your children to this exhibition; later in life they might thank you for it when it is mentioned in Australian art history and there is plenty to keep kids engaged with this exhibition at the present. Children’s activities include making experimental music with The Donkey Tail Jr. on the mezzanine gallery of the NGV (St. Kilda Road) and adding silhouette bird stickers to the sky of Juan Ford’s huge work You, me and the flock. The Dewhurst Family supported both these features of the exhibition. Much of this exhibition is interactive; you can also make your own jewellery, design your own shoes out of cardboard or sketch in the beautiful room of taxidermy work by Julia DeVille (sketching materials: black paper, gold and silver pencils and boards provided).

Street art is a major part of Melbourne’s current art scene and the influence of street art, graffiti and tagging is clear in Melbourne Now. There is Ponch Hawkes photographs of tree tagging, Stieg Persson’s paintings, Reko Rennie’s paintings, Ash Keating’s video and Lush’s installation: Graffiti doesn’t belong in the gallery? It is typical of Lush to get his tag up everywhere. Daniel Crooks’ a great video installation A garden of parallel paths and a Rick Amor painting Mobile Call also present views of Melbourne’s graffiti covered laneways. The walls of Hosier Lane, with All Your Walls, are also part of Melbourne Now. (I will write about All Your Walls in a later blog post when the project is complete on Friday 29th of November.)

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Finally with such a large collection of contemporary artists it is worth doing a bit of statistical examination: 56% of the artists are men, 44% are women and 11% identify as indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians are well represented in the exhibition given that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics “Victoria had the lowest proportion of people of indigenous origin at 0.6% of the total state population”. I only counted individually named artists and not groups. Compared to statistical break down of the artists to be included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial with only 32% women and 7.6% artists of African descent (see Hyperallergic “The Depressing Stats of the 2014 Whitney Biennial”) Melbourne Now is very balanced and representative.


The Meaning of a Moustache

Facial hair is once again fashionable for young men; the two-day growth is also fashionable, except if you are in Victoria Police who are busy with a legal challenge at the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal.

For complete disclosure I have had a full beard but I’m currently clean-shaven, my father has never had a beard but my maternal grandfather was a member of Kobe Moustache Club. But I’ve always wanted to write something about the cultural of male facial hair because it is a reflection of the collective consciousness of the society.

Male facial hair fashions are not independent of other forces – politics and religion is especially evident in facial hair. There are all kinds of faith-based beliefs about beards; I’m sure that if there is a heaven that there is a hair inspection for entry, just like in prison. Beards can be indications of wisdom and rank, like a silver back gorilla.

Historically Alexander the Great appears to have started the fashion of shaving amongst European men. Beards swung in and out of fashion in the Roman Empire and then continued to be the subject of fashion for the rest of history. Legislation and rules about beards started in 1698 when Peter the Great passed legislation against beards in Russia. For Turks moustaches are an indication of conservative politics. Beards amongst Moslem men are also considered an indication of conservative religious views, likewise amongst some Christian sects.

Aside from the uniformed services early childhood educators in Australia perpetrate one of the strangest claims; that men with beards – like Santa Claus, are naturally frighten young children. And that men going into primary or preschool education were encouraged to be clean-shaven.

In a multi-cultural society beards and other types of facial hair do not have any particular meaning. Sikhs are permitted to have beards in the Victoria Police and the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay has the opinion that beards look unprofessional on police unless it is a beard grown for religious reasons in which case it looks as professional as being clean shaven, whatever that means, if it means anything at all and isn’t Lay’s mental/legal diarrhoea. The legal fight against a stricter appearance code implemented last year goes on.

Victoria Police has many more serious problems than grooming and hair management, like racism and for them to be wasting their time with regulations about hair.  As Jesus said: “ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) and not “ye shall know them by their beards”.


Refashioned: Sustainable Design Survey showcases the talent and skills of graduate RMIT students exploring sustainability.

Where: First Site Gallery 344 Swanston Street

There were no deadly poisoned tunics ready to melt the skin from your very bones in this years showcase of graduate RMIT students which speaks well of the selection committee involved in choosing design students. They must have a ‘’No Medeas’’ policy. Though it would be interesting to figure out how exactly they could ascertain whether or not a student had a vengeful nature.

They hung from the ceiling like apparitions moving infinite nano inches from the breeze made from the air conditioning. This added to the allure of what was a very enjoyable and eye opening ode to sustainable forms of fashion. A waist coat made of growing grass hung on a limbless mannequin. It brought to mind a more army styled outfit that the first man, Adam himself would have worn had he been more creative and had more time in the garden of Eden before being distracted by illicit fruit. As I wandered the gallery quite spell bound, a gallery attendant sprayed water from a small spray bottle all over the green grass waistcoat in order to keep it lush. A cropped knitted jumper hung from a coat hanger with sleeves resembling wings and complete with plumage each tiny plume a different bright colour. I would have worn that quite happily. It would go so well with black leggings and ….

But I digress.

It is this kind of digression that made the whole exhibition so enjoyable. A blue dress made from garbage bags and a tutu skirt that included six strips of malleable metal curving around the flare of the skirt, adding a sense of resilience to another otherwise feathered friend inspired item. It is a dress for the environmentally conscious girl with a steely determination to succeed. How often do you by items of clothing because they are cheap and wear them once only to throw away soon after because they fall apart?

This exhibition is not just a flimsy excuse to look at pretty items of original clothing. It is an excuse to raise questions about consumption and excess in our day to day. Clothes become ladfill just as easily as take away coffee recepticles and plastic plates. We need to redefine how we think about clothes and fashion. This is not to say we must not enjoy it and take pleasure in a well fitted and flattering item but to simply be more mindful of how much we buy and dispose off over time. The talented students of RMIT should be proud of their accomplishment as its breadth is far wider than the confines of the gallery it inhabits.

By Jessica Knight


Architecture & Fashion

I saw a few exhibitions this week that united art, architecture and fashion: “Transitions” at No Vacancy and the combination of Denise Wray’s “Compartments” and Jake Preval’s “Costumes for the Ark” at the George Paton Gallery. This seems an odd remark because I rarely see exhibitions that unite art, architecture and fashion and yet what is the difference between them?

“Transitions” by Make Shift Concepts: Armando Chant, Donna Sgro and Oliver Solente is part of the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival’s cultural program. “At first glance it will look like just a video and some sculptures.” Oliver Solente (from the exhibition paper.) It did look like that but the suspended dresses and video of the dress worn on the catwalk reminded me that this was a fashion exhibition. The suspended dresses were not hung to suggest a human form but hung to show potentials in their architectural form, much like the angular architectural forms of the sculptures.

It was these angular architectural forms that reminded me of the structure of the masks in Jake Preval’s “Costumes for the Ark”. Preveal’s exhibition isn’t in the fashion festival’s cultural program but it should be, it is like the queer alternative. The exhibition is basically a series of photographs of queer couples wearing only black underpants and Preveal’s cardboard masks. The architecture of the couple’s bodies as they posed together is what made the photographs. Love the scattered black underwear around the room, suggesting that the couples from the photographs had stripped off their costumes and left the ark.

Denise Wray’s “Compartments” definitely united art, architecture and fashion. If art and architecture is about filling or not filling a space than Wray’s four works did that, with stitched zips, acrylic on canvas, polyester twine and leather strips. It looked like Wray gone mad after reading too much Greenberg and books on Duchamp and had raided a leather garment factory’s bins to make ‘art’. I liked it is ironic in punk deconstructionist way.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a big fashion, design or architecture fan; it is too cool for me. I want passionately engage – this why I’m very interested in sculpture and I enjoy writing about it. It is odd because sculpture and architecture are so similar – it is often difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends – visually it is often difficult to distinguish them, they might be indistinguishable. But what is the difference between sculpture and architectural or fashion forms? Function appears to be too simple an explanation as sculptures are also functional (see my post on the Uses of Public Art). Given that I can’t clearly distinguish between sculpture and architecture I don’t know why I feel differently about them.

The difference between sculpture and architectural forms is not an insubstantial issue and can have legal, as well as, aesthetic implications. The Copyright Website reports that in the case of Leicester vs. Warner Bros. the Los Angeles “district court found that the towers (Andrew Leicester’s sculpture Zanja Madre), although containing artistic elements, were actually part of the architectural work of the building.”


T-Shirts – Design & Fashion

There is so much to say about the t-shirt that a small exhibition is not enough, it is just whets the appetite for more. The small exhibition that I’m talking about is TEES: Exposing Melbourne’s T-shirt culture at the NGV Studio.

The NGV keeps on doing this: small exhibitions in the awkward Studio space on big topics like the Everfresh exhibition and the skateboard exhibition. Meanwhile there is a rather ordinary design exhibition for the Cicely & Colin Rigg Contemporary Design Award occupying the larger Gallery 12 on Level 2 where the fashion exhibitions are normally displayed.

There is so much to write about on the subject of t-shirts that this post will be as superficial as fashion. There is logo busting t-shirts, t-shirt memes (“….and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”) and the whole history of the t-shirt. And the TEES exhibition does cover some of this with some of Eddie Zammit’s collection of over 4,000 t-shirts and photographs by Nicole Reed of local t-shirt designers. Many of these designers I know from their street art: Brendan Elliot of Burn and the guys from Everfresh studio (Rone, The Tooth and Meggs).

I was talking with C. about street art and fashion because I’d heard that he had done some designs for Boywolf. He mentioned the usual names and pointed out that a lot of the stickers around are clothing labels and the NGV’s TEES exhibition included a vitrine of labels and stickers.

Street art was made for fashion. Not since punk has an art movement been so closely integrated with the rag trade. Graffiti and hip-hop culture has added its own style to street fashion and there are so many street artists creating their own fashion labels and their own t-shirts, trucker caps and other fashion accessories, chiefly badges. But the striking thing about this is that it is often fashion made by men for men, decorative, practical and functional at the same time.

I could have mentioned so many other street artists (big shout out to James Bryant of Panic printing t-shirts for all the volunteers the Melbourne Stencil Festival a few years ago). Melbourne street artist Ha-Ha had different approach working both ends of the market he has done silk-screen prints for Mooks Clothing 2004 but was always offering to do a print on t-shirts and other garments for friends who bring him a blank item.

You can understand the synergy – if graffiti is all about getting your name up then why not have your own brand – have it on t-shirts, trucker caps, have it everywhere. Aside from the t-shirt there is also the rise of collector and custom sneakers – I’m not big on this scene I just wear Volleys – but Sekure D discusses it in a regular column in the Bureau magazine (cheers again Matt – I’m getting good value from the free copies that you sent me).

There is so much more – Arty Graffarti recently wrote about “Read It and Weep is an awesome Melbourne based clothing label with heavy ties to the street, graffiti and tattoo culture.” (And their own zine, the subject of Arty’s post.)

T-shirt design is worthy of a major exhibition and the NGV has failed give it the space it deserves.


Fashion & Dictators

Art and fashion follow the money but are the taste of the powerful and wealthy as dubious as their ethics? When French Elle magazine vote the wife of the Syrian leader, Asma al-Assad, “the most stylish woman in world politics”, they not only displayed political naiveté but a serious lack of taste. French Elle was not alone Paris Match and American Vogue also lavished praise on the dictator’s wife. (For more see Angelique Chrisafis “The first ladies of oppression” The Guardian.) Don’t these people remember Naomi Campbell’s testimony in 2010 about receiving diamonds from convicted war criminal Robert Taylor? Don’t these people remember that Imelda Marcos had 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1,000 handbags and 1,000 – 3,000 pairs of shoes?

The high end of couture fashion is dependent on selling products to people, many of whom have obviously acquired their wealth dishonestly, at prices that no honest person could afford. Yet these labels are never held in anyway responsible – sure a few portrait painters might fall with a dictator – no fashion house suffers. The high fashion labels keep on racking in the money from the corrupt without any implications on their character or taste.

Entertain the thought that fashion is not superficial, that it is actually the most deep and important of all cultural signifiers. We identify ourselves through our fashion, and now more than ever, it is now not just a sign of class, profession and status but of identity. This is more than just about the money – it is a question about taste. The taste for high-end fashion and for corruption and blood are obviously linked but almost never discussed. Who wants to dress like the wife of a dictator, or like a dictator? Why are their politics but not their taste in clothes questioned?

It is horrible to think of Bashar al-Assad dancing around to “I’m too sexy for my shirt” by Right Said Fred (leaked information reveals that he downloaded it from Itunes this year). He must be ignorant of how camp the song is, simply a vain and brutal criminal in an expensive shirt.


LMFF Culture Part 2 – or is it?

Wandered around the city on Saturday looking at elements in the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF) Culture Program. As I was near RMIT Gallery I went there and found textiles exhibitions that are not part of the LMFF Cultural Program. The LMFF Cultural Program is so large that you would think that every fashion/ textile / jewellery related exhibition in Melbourne would be in it but you would be wrong. Just as if you imagined that every good window display in Melbourne was part of the LMFF’s “Windows by Design” but more on that later.

“1st Tamworth Textile Triennial
- Sensorial Loop” at RMIT gallery is an impressive exhibition. Most impressive is the relationship that two of the pieces make of video and performance and textiles. Martha McDonald’s “The Weeping Dress” is seen in a video of a performance and in the washed out relic from the performances of a once black Victorian style mourning dress stained with a fugitive dye. (It was part of last year’s LMFF – see Vetti’s post about it.) Carly Scoufos’s “Panels from the Interlaced Manuscript” also has a video and some of the panels, part of a wall from a shed, containing two doors, onto which Scoufos has embroided with woollen thread and nails. Amongst the exhibition there are also two impressive works of post minimalist sculpture Tania Spencer’s wire donut, “Would you like some cake”, and Lucy Ivine’s black, groovy and curvy, “Continuos Interruptions” made from irrigation pipe and cable ties.

“Joyaviva: Live Jewellery from across the Pacific” and “Double Happiness: Portrait of a Chinese Wedding” were also at RMIT Gallery. “Joyaviva” captured something of the personal, magical and interconnecting aspects of jewellery with its pin board style of exhibiting. “Double Happiness” is a set of contemporary Chinese wedding fashion for the whole family.

Nicholas Bastin’s “The Sleepless Hero” at Craft Victoria is part of the LMFF Cultural Program. Bastin’s funky mixed media jewellery is beautifully installed on diagrammatic depictions of partial figures. But Bastin’s jewellery is too “hyper-real”, too much in the realm of art for the magic of jewellery to be credible. Craft Victoria’s three exhibitions are typical of its avant-garde approach to craft; the other two are more contemporary art than craft.

The NGV at Federation Square has a fashion exhibition of the work of Australian designer, Linda Jackson that is part of the LMFF Cultural Program. Jackson’s designs are from a very foolhardy era of Australian fashion – the 1980s. Some might be kinder and say that these are ‘brave and bold’ designs but the kind of bravado seen in Jackson’s 80s fashion lacked any good sense.

Detail of Zambesi's window

In the windows of Zambesi we saw one of the LMFF “Windows by Design” by Marcos Davidson. The windows are full of a variety of pillars of readymade objects carefully arranged and curated. Between these pillars you can just make out some mannequins in fluorescent clothes. Shop window displays are an interesting aspect of culture. Almost every time I go past Aesop I have to remind myself that I’m not passing a contemporary art gallery but an up-market cosmetics shop. The design is so elegant and minimalist. What is the difference between a shop window display, especially those in the windows of Aesop or Alphaville, and an art installation? I always think about Walter Benjamin wrote about shop windows. For more about Walter Benjamin and shop window displays see “Speculative Windows text” by m-a-u-s-e-r (Mona Mahall and Asli Serbest). http://www.m-a-u-s-e-r.net/?p=4


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