Skin + Bones: Fashion and Architecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Happy opening night crowds hovering around Greg Lynn’s bubble wall for the Slavin House.
When a colleague mentioned the title of the “Skin + Bones” exhibition to me a few months ago, I had to repress the impulse to vomit. It’s rare that I have such episodes without a heavy night of drinking, but the thought of pinning such an obvious title to such a tired topic evokes turmoil in even the most solid of stomachs.
Had I known that the exhibition would be so well produced, so perfectly in sync with the thesis of mixing fashion with architecture, I might have saved myself the gastronomic discontent. In fact, I think that even the most cynical of mind will find this show a delight to the eye, and a moderate mental work out to the mind. It’s certainly “theory-lite”, but it fulfills the need to simultaneously educate the public about something they tend to take for granted: Fashion + Architecture.
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I visited the show three times- once at the opening night, once on my own during the week, and once after hours in the company of some friends when the museum was closed. With each visit I was more convinced of the show’s natural ability to engage both the general public and the cultural intelligencia. Not to confuse the issue however, populism alone does not make for a pleasant museum experience. Critical exhibitions not only question their contents, but draw out questions about larger cultural issues as well. This last topic has been missing from many contemporary exhibitions and it’s nice to see a show that at least discusses where we are as a culture and does not try to take a stand about societal ills which inevitably cannot be solved within the space of the museum. Perhaps to read this correctly though, one might want to adhere to the notion that by not talking about larger global inequities, you can at least get people thinking about why they are not more in the forefront.
To clarify, this discussion is somewhere between the cold affectations of Hans Ibelings Super Modernism and that nebulous world of the “post-critical” so in vogue these days with cultural theorists. Don’t expect utopian solutions to the global disparities between rich and poor or the ruthless capacity of Capitalist forces to crush those localities that do not conform to the flexible standards of the marketplace. Instead you’ll find a smoothing; a celebration of the post-critical age. In a society that flagellates itself over the continuing crises of class, religion, and race, this show is blissfully unaware that such things exist for the most part. Instead, what the viewer is dealt is a fair hand of what a beautiful and complex organism man really is.
Brooke Hodge, the show's curator, has spent her time immersed in the culture of both fashion and architecture. She has a knack for selecting work for the show that balances beauty with criticality, affect with effect, and most importantly theory with practice. There is as much information about process in the show as there is about product, and that’s exciting. All too often, architecture exhibitions simply show the final product- the baby without the taboo of the placenta.
“Bad Press: Dissident Housework Series, 1998” by Diller + Scofido welcomes the museum visitor as the first piece of architectural content in the show- a fitting mix of architecture, fashion and form, where the process negates the article. It is perhaps one of the more clever mixings of the exhibition and certainly the most literal of connections, and certainly evokes more applause than the firms’ recent work, The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. This project which is currently under construction only distracts from Diller + Scofidio’s (who have added a partner Renfro) portfolio, which is ripe with work that is hyper-critical, yet does not need architecture to validate itself.
Diller + Scofido, “Bad Press: Dissident Housework Series, 1998”
J. Meejin Yoon takes prize for the most playful work in the show. Her “Mobius” and “Defensible” dresses aim at balancing the sobriety of craft with the casual referentiality to how clothing can emulate technology and vice-versa. The Mobius dress is of course a continual strip of felt, which unzips to form different configurations. Like the Mobius Strip itself infinite possibilities lay within the dresses folds. The Defensible dress is much more two the point. It looks like a spiked apparatus embedded with electronic sensors that are meant to be worn like a modern-day bustle; A bustle that deploys itself when another person gets too close. It critiques both the notions of personal space, and how despite innovations in social equality, the female sex is still searching for balance in how they interact with their male counterparts.
J. Meejin Yoon, Mobius dress.
As one moves through the show, the volume of work is both mesmerizing and suffocating. Multiple passes are required to absorb the clothes, the architectural models, the drawings, and the footage of fashion shows gone by. In short, this impressive exhibition is an immersive journey into some of the elements that have made the contemporary environment- architecture of the body, and an architecture of socio-spatial content. It seeks to remind us that beyond the decay of social inequity, the rot of religious extremism, and the dogmatic rhetoric of the socio-political strife is a lightness. This lightness revels in the glamour of the overtly stylized object, the sublime complexity of the environments we make as a culture, and most importantly a blind optimism in beauty that has the capacity to rise above all malcontent.
You can see the exhibition in Los Angeles till February 2007.
Contributed by John Southern.
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