‘Daddy, look it’s a superhero!’- exclaimed the little boy visibly mesmerized as he pointed his finger towards a photograph of a figure clad in purple hanging on the white wall of the modernist gallery. He must have been roughly around eight years old. ‘ A superhero, is that what you see?’- asked the detectably amused father, as his gaze navigated the photographs of varying sizes, casting a glance or two towards the boy. The chatter of the gallery soon quenched the rest of the conversation, as visitors of Hepworth Wakefield made their way around the gallery; The boy and his father disappeared in the crowd. Indeed, The Thinleys – a photo series captured by highly admired photographer Jamie Hawkesworth could have been a depiction of superheroes – yet something uncanny about the photos: parts added, bodies twisted or engulfed in garments suggested otherwise. A theme almost resemblant to that of a superhero’s tale suggesting a struggle and triumph – and yet that which triumphantly arose were the bodies, defiant of imparted standards – their insolence celebrated in an exhibition curated by the designer Jonathan Anderson and aptly dubbed – The Disobedient Bodies.
That boy could well have been Mr. Anderson himself some 10-15 years prior – visiting Anna Piaggi show and as the designer himself recollects, the one that planted a seed in his creative career. It was Hepworth Wakefield that initiated the dialogue and Jonathan Anderson was too reluctant to decline, despite the dizzyingly mad schedule that has stipulated his everyday as a designer of two highly in-demand brands and an abundance of artistic projects aside.
If one has ever been in proximity of the Irish born prodigy one is well-acquainted with the vehemence of his character, the fast-paced manner of speaking, words trying to echo the velocity of Anderson’s thoughts as one can’t help but be absorbed by the the intensity of his creative persona or the sizzling energy surrounding him.
Thus acting upon his penchant for art and modernism and fearless in his desire to experiment, Anderson certainly didn’t lack the energy for the task ahead, one might even add – he was cut out for it. It comes as no surprise that the designer, notoriously known for celebrating otherness and for challenging postulates on all matters gender and cut was the one to curate such an exhibition.
Acting upon his penchant for art and modernism and fearless in his desire to experiment, Anderson certainly didn’t lack the energy for the task ahead, one might even add – he was cut out for it.
In one way or the other the apparent unwillingness to constrict to a postulated rendering of the body was the theme of the exhibition, as it simultaneously celebrates the visionaries who have taken a stance for a more diverse perspective
Conformism has never interested Anderson, who’s intentionally awkward approach to the construction has from the beginning rejected the primary function of clothes – the one that merely seeks to fulfill the protective or concealing purpose. A testament to that are the collections he stands behind every season, as often thought-provoking as they are exceptional. Anderson is a well-known art lover with propensity for modernism and mid-century British craft and these references are often remarked in his shows, so the case of the designer come curator is not the most curious one to observe, especially when Anderson frequently refers to himself as the latter. Thus a creative undertaking of this sort was inevitable sooner or later, so perhaps sooner was something the Anderson’s devotee could to rejoice over. The exhibition is a seamless alliance of fashion and art, albeit differing from the prevailingly average of your stereotypical fashion exhibition – it is less ‘shopping window’ more ‘cocktail party’ in the designer’s own words.
And the cocktail party was evidently a themed one.
As the name of the exhibition suggests – all the attendees had in one way or the other something in common – the deliberate rebellion against the conservative portrayal of the human body and gender. It seems to have been a heck of a conversation starter, as the exhibition really can boast about both the diversity of the subjects but also about its fluidity.
Jonathan Anderson has from the start been very clear that he isn’t in a position to answer the questions – he rather took the liberty of proposing them instead. While one might suspect that The Thinleys and reclining figure had a certain bulbousness in common (other than the obvious notion of not representing a ‘normal’ body) the more discernable example of conversation between different spheres of the exhibition was Moore’s reclining figure juxtapositioned against a Jean Paul Gaultier jersey dress with a pointy bustier stretched over wire so as to mimic Moore’s work. The black mini dress appeared uncanny to the point of deadpan bizarre, lying still on the table, the stretch emphasizing not only the apparent absence of a body within it, but an overtly sexual undertone one usually associates with LBD.
Another magnificent example of such an alluring pairing was that of Giacometti’s figures and Helmut Lang’s fetishezed harness, both forms reduced to a single line, yet none loosing their purpose and intent.
Contrasting the starkness of Lang and Giacometti was the charmingly delightful screening of ‘Scenario’ a piece directed by Merce Cunningham for dancers clad in nothing less than Commes Des Garcons – again – bodies twisted to unnatural bulbousness contradictory to the lightness of the movement. Perhaps the most satisfactory to observe was the colourful commute of pieces by Issey Miyake, Noguchi and Brancusi hanging behind allusive white curtains, subdued lightning coming from traditional Chinese lanterns, adding a touch of Eastern mystique to the corner.
And while it would be a tremendous task to go deeply into each and every one of over 1000 pairings that are to be found in the exhibition space – would it be ceramics of British masters or parts with feminist subtext or the joyful exhibit of Commes des Garcons ‘2D’ collection against Franz Erhard Walther’s Three Columns YELLOW – enticing treats were to be found everywhere.
all the attendees had in one way or the other something in common – the deliberate rebellion against the conservative portrayal of the human body and gender
Perhaps the most unforeseen piece was the bronze corset layered over a black dress – a collaboration between YSL and Claude Lalanne, which was an undeniable gem in terms of the sparse opportunities one has to see it exhibited frequently. The element of surprise was introduced in the room where jumbo versions of knitwear Anderson has previously presented at either Loewe or JWA, hung from the ceiling – available to touch and connect, challenging the notion of how an audience usually interacts with art without the opportunity of employing all senses.
And yet the most amusing part of the exhibition was perhaps the conversation between objects of art and objects of fashion, surprisingly coexisting alongside one another – none inferior or above. Anderson who curated the exhibition admitted that he has previously had trouble perceiving fashion as art, the latter always seemingly superior, perchance because of the lacking consumption and/or commercial aspect that the fashion industry was (deliberately or not) forced to embrace to a certain extent.
And yet the ‘chat’ all the objects had was with disregard for the man-made hierarchy – here the body – or in some cases the absence of it – was the protagonist of the story. In one way or the other the apparent unwillingness to constrict to a postulated rendering of the body was the theme of the exhibition,as it simultaneously celebrates the visionaries who have taken a stance for a more diverse perspective (either by an abstract approach or a more representational) of how the body in the state of undress or not should be represented.
All subjects included explored this idea, each in their own respective way either by means of styling, proportion or the material employed. The human body has been a pivotal instrument in the cultural appropriation and a signifier, something which Anderson through the isolation, emphasizes and re-contextualisation of pieces and artistic works has showed in a very much tangible way. Another element that came through was the lack of disturbance, even in the case of McQueen’s screening of ‘Transformer The Bridegroom stripped bare’, which was only proving the point that what was once considered radical is due to the frequent and long-term exposure to ‘radicalism’ has become accepted and now bears the mark of the classic. But that doesn’t diminish the appeal of the exhibition in any manner, which in today’s society where the ownership of the body, appearances and hyperreality are highly inflamed subjects, the exhibition which questions and exposes disclination to conform is a very much important one.
‘Disobedient bodies’ on view at Hepworth Wakefield until 18th June