JW Anderson, the fashion designer, has curated the first in a series of collaborations between The Hepworth Wakefield and individuals in other disciplines outside of traditional visual art. Anderson has taken a number of items from The Hepworth’s permanent collection; in this way he has given 1920s sculpture new, very modern interpretations by placing them in relation to clothing from designers such as Christian Dior, Issey Miyake and Jean Paul Gaultier, along with items from craft and design from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Disobedient Bodies is a prime example of an exhibition which demonstrates that a holistic exploration of visual art can be extremely rewarding. JW Anderson has made a deliberate point of curating more than just a discussion on fashion and art, also drawing new meanings and interpretations from all of the items in this exhibition in relationship with each other. As a result, you will see sculpture and design rubbing shoulders with bondage, pleated dresses with paper lanterns, and see-through outerwear with neon-lit art. Unusual links are made between the different materials and forms in this exhibition, the pieces rebelling against structured and single tracked interpretations.
The title Disobedient Bodies frames the flexible form of the exhibition, displaying how our perception of “body” can shift, contort, and rebel against the confines of the literal form. Every work in this exhibition stretches the human space to abstraction. Disobedient Bodies reveals the platonic idealism to which we so often hold the human form. I saw people looking at Isamu Noguchi’s paper lanterns, paired with Issey Miyake’s landern-esque dresses, trying to decide which shapes were curves of the breast, the hips, the thighs. Perhaps this is in part due to the title over this collection, but it draws attention to the essentialism in so much fashion, showing through these explorations that the norm can be restrictive to artistic practise. These disobedient bodies explore what it is to be “Human And…”, rather than “Human But…”.
Central to this is the interactive installation 28 Jumpers by Anderson; a forest of oversized jumpers which visitors are encouraged to engage with physically. Here you can touch, wrap up in and respond to the very haptic exhibition, and it’s quite enchanting to see visitors walk into the room cautious, before relaxing into it and knotting up sleeves. This complements the textile works particularly, highlighting the importance of touch in engaging with objects, understanding our world through movement and texture. This installation, as with all items in this exhibition, forms new meanings in association with the multidisciplinary works on display. One example of this is Transformer: The Bridegroom Stripped Bare (2002), a collaborative work by photographer Nick Knight and fashion designer Alexander Mcqueen.. In the video of this collaboration, a male model has their traditional wedding suit ripped, sliced, and strapped by McQueen into a more gender neutral, abstracted formal dress. Similarly, inside 28 Jumpers visitors can manipulate these oversized gender neutral garments (in an albeit more controlled environment than McQueen depicts) and feel how the movement of an individual in a space can make a big difference to the aesthetic of a physical space being occupied.
As I have previously written about for culturised, in order for fashion to be fully appreciated as a medium for artistic exploration, the art world must start engaging with the world of fashion in the same domain as “traditional” visual art. Disobedient Bodies, through displaying both modern sculpture and contemporary fashion in the same sphere, facilitates this critical discourse between the two art forms, and the relationships between the two that this exhibition highlights makes Disobedient Bodies well worth seeing. This exhibition would appeal to anyone with an interest in the engagement fashion has with art. It is particularly interesting to see how the work of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore can shift in interpretation when paired in new ways with modern design and clothing. Reclining Figure (1936), the frontispiece for this exhibition and the first item you see upon entrance, is shown with a series of photographs by Jamie Hawkesworth from 2015-2017, where models are enveloped in fabric; the folds both hiding their features and emphasising new bodily forms in a distinctly sculptural way. In this way we see the body underneath the Elmwood of Moore’s work expand from its historical place in modern sculpture, into something altogether more subversive.
There is also a distinct openness to this exhibition, with the names and artists of the works to be found only in a leaflet you can pick up at the entrance. On approaching an artwork in a regular exhibition, how often do you find your eyes drifting to the little card rectangle to the side, before even really looking at the work itself? Here, unobtrusive numbers decorate the floor, which you have to look up in the catalogue yourself for names and further information; this leaves the rooms heavily open to interpretation. My advice would be to wander around the rooms in whatever order you please, and take your own personal meanings from this curatorship. This approach is especially well suited to Disobedient Bodies, which draws attention to the restrictive way both fashion and bodies are often represented, and asks the viewer to open their mind to new explorations of both.
Disobedient Bodies is open until 18th June, and the gallery and this exhibition are free entry. Wakefield is easily accessible from Leeds. For more information, see here.