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Beyond Costume Orthodoxies
Dr. Rachel Hann
I write this brief statement in the spirit of going beyond the orthodoxies of costume practice and analysis. I invite you to consider the practices presented in this exhibition beyond questions of form, identity and its strictly ‘visual’ qualities. In Beyond Scenography1, I plot how scenographic practices have undertaken a similar trajectory that transgress vision as the principal sensory modality. Yet, costume has long been rendered ‘invisible’ within theatre and film practices. The labour of costume designers and design is often claimed by essentialist notions of ‘the body’, which flatten gesture, costume and biology into one entity. To counteract these established ‘ways of seeing’, I encourage you to consider the costumes featured in this exhibition as provocations on how bodies are assembled and felt within a broader ecology of orientation.
I employ the term ‘orientation’ in relationship the work of critical theorist Sara Ahmed and her approach to ‘queer phenomenology’2. One of Ahmed’s provocations is that spaces, objects and people are encountered through a dual state of orientation that embraces proxemics (near-far) and otherness (familiar-strange). In terms of costume, these orientations become apparent through the simple actions of putting on a new garment and it feeling new, estranged, or ‘other’. Along with ‘reading’ the learnt connotations of identity and gesture, orientation also embraces how spectators recall their own experiences of wearing clothes to empathize or connect with the performance.
A similar line of enquiry is captured within cognitive studies on ‘kinaesthetic empathy’3, which consider how in watching others perform this triggers embodied experiences/memories of our own. Ahmed’s dual focus of orientation invites spectators to embrace the intangible affects of costume (how things ‘feel’) alongside a semiotic analysis of form and structure (what things ‘mean’). Importantly, forms, identities and symbols feel differently for different people, in different places, and at different moments in time. A costume of orientation is a costume of feeling.
My proposal that costume practices sustain moments of feeling echoes broader shifts in arts practice. Since the 1990s, the art philosopher Gernot Böhme4 has argued that contemporary art and architecture is an exercise in crafting ‘atmospheres’. Böhme’s approach focuses on how physical things (such as sculpture, paintings, stage sets, etc.) assist in the evocation of the intangible qualities of an atmosphere. Atmospheres in this model are temporary moments in time that evoke a distinctive feeling. These feelings coalesce and combine from a range of practices that are inclusive of the zeitgeist of an era (the atmosphere of our time) or when the house lights come up at the end of a club night. These shifts in atmospheric states are evoked through a combination of materiality and emotional states of being. Crucially, Böhme argues that most new work within contemporary art can be understood as enacting atmospheres that are neither wholly physical nor intangible and exist between notions of ‘subject’ and ‘object’, ‘human’ and ‘world’.
Within theatre and film practice, the idea of creating a distinctive atmosphere or atmospheric state is a common part of the lexicon. Practitioners in these fields will be familiar with processes that ask designers to evoke the feeling of a period, emotion, or place. The combination of scenographic techniques (lighting, sound, costume and stage terrain) are employed to enact these atmospheric moments. Yet, the orthodoxies in which practitioners work within typically align lighting, sound and terrain as the principal methods for installing a sense of atmosphere. Nevertheless, I argue that costumes are also atmospheric. I invite you to consider the costumes in this exhibition through their ability to evoke atmospheric moments that go beyond strict orthodoxies of vision, form and identity.
Costume as a visual language
Nic Ularu, PhD
Scenographer / Professor of Design
“Pure, intense emotions.
It is not about design.
It is about feelings.”
I think this quote from one of the famous fashion designers is the best way to describe the exhibition generously hosted by The Bakhrushin Museum. This international event is beyond exhibiting costumes. It represents the contemporary costume design as a wearing art, as a complex state of mind that reveals the creativity beyond the limitations of dramatic texts, screenplays or fashion trends.
The exhibition shows where we are now, in the second decade of the 21st century, facing the new paradigm of technology, environmental disasters, gender challenges and all of our society's values and beliefs communicated through our specific art that covers the bodies, with or without a preexisting scenario.
In the last almost two years, I was blessed to be a part of a curatorial team that explored a fascinating aspect of the art of contemporary costume: THE INNOVATION.
I will shortly address below, one of the main components of that international exhibition: the costume, fashion and clothing as a means of communication; in other words, the costume as a visual language.
As far as both costume design and fashion design are forms of art whose products are related to the social, cultural and individual identities, their visual languages are different by the message they transmit to the spectator. In both branches of design, even if they have different meanings and interpretations, and different ways of expressions and identities, they are happily co-existing, influencing each other and being equally valid. The merit of this exhibition is to put together the creations of the young a generation of designers interested in the art of costume, having “innovation” as the unifying concept behind it.
If on the daily life the fashion design and the clothing we wear, represent forms of individual communication related to the socio-political context of nowadays society, the “costume“ design has an essential manipulative type of visual communication that enhance the understanding of the character’s drama. However, all the costumes for performing arts, film, television and the fashion/clothing are forms of nonverbal communication with connotational meanings different from other types of communication.
Since the apparition of the first costume designers, Adam and Eve, who after had eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, experienced their nakedness and created the first costumes by sewing fig leaves together to cover what they suddenly realized as being indecent, the humanity decided for centuries that body’s nakedness is a shameful condition. At least this was the visual message of the Judeo-Christian philosophy of clothing that revolved around the notion that certain body parts must be hidden. That concept took over and spread all around the world, due to the expansion of Christianity, especially after the disappearance of the Egyptian or Greek-Roman cultures.
As far as the Christianity considered the attention to the body as being "prejudicial to the salvation of the soul," the best way of avoiding the sin and shame was to hide the body associated with the desire, by employing clothes. More than this, the Europeans judged over the time new civilizations and cultures as “savages” based on whether they wore clothes, or if their clothes were similar with their religious concept of hiding the body.
In nowadays complex strata of society, covering the body by religion reasons (see burka) coexist with the minimal clothing (see the still existing tribes in Amazon or Africa) and with the western and eastern concepts of fashion/costuming that attract attention to the body rather than deter that consciousness.
The complex and sophisticated aspects of the costume language are evident in the selection presented in this international exhibition. The young creators used all the meanings to express and communicate their ideas: from new and unexpected materials and textures, to unusual shapes and forms that alter, enhance or distort the human silhouette.
If one considers costumes as nonverbal forms of communication and makes a parallel between the costume and the written language, the costume as an ensemble of components would be the correspondent of words assembled in a sentence.
All the “sentences and phrases” assembled in this international event represent by extension an epic “novel” that perfectly describes the contemporary art of costume at its best.
INNOVATIVE COSTUME, 21 st CENTURY. THE NEXT GENERATION
The first fifth of the XXI century
Lasts of Firsts / Firsts of Firsts
The first fifth of the XXI century
The first fifth of the XXI century, the first fifth after the last fifth of the XX
The first fifth of the XXI century in its first and second decades after the XX last’s ten
The first fifth of the XXI century and perhaps the eleventh been the last one of the XX
The first fifth of the XXI century about the XX’s firsts, mid and lasts firsts
The first fifth of the XXI century, as the XXI beginning firsts envisioning the after firsts
The first fifth of the XXI century of the second millennium after the first after
The first fifth of the XXI century after the first millennium after many been last before
The first fifth of the XXI century in the XXI millennium blowing the unknown after
The first fifth of the XXI century in the XXI millennium after and even before after
The first fifth of the XXI century known envisioning the unknown XXII
The first fifth of the XXI century, second millennium, searching the before from the before
The first fifth of the XXI century searching the after, after the after, been the after on and on
The first fifth of the XXI century searching further back and further forth
The first fifth of the XXI century, already finding some radically and brilliant new achievements that will totally change the art of the costume as known until now
The first fifth of the XXI century. Innovative Costume, the next generation in the XXI in its way to an XXI going to the XXII
Innovative Costume. The next generation in the first fifth of the XXI century
Innovative Costume. The next generation in the first XXI’s fifth, after the five fifths of the XX century
Innovative Costume. The next generation in the first fifth, after every XX century’s tenth
Innovative Costume The next generation of the first fifth of the XXI century, In its promising birth
The next generation of the first fifth of the XXI century, is behaving as dynamic decided millennials, living in a fast present travelling to the future, building their own language in unified solo and collective action, setting the costume as a very important artistic piece and solid element designed to be performing in any field or wished action to be, becoming an evolving art in in non -stop.
In the first fifth of the XXI century, no more limits, neither frontiers are wished to be in the talk by the creators. Today, the costume solo and shared actions, succeed in a search to hunt and capture the self, becoming a powerful manifest related to the individual of any gender, at any time, in any society, space, culture, situation… putting on it and for that aim, any emotion, concept, thought, idea, material,etc.
Anything can be in the costume. The Costume to be seen as an infinite human container.
The global behaviour of this generation has a new way of communicating and achieve information, mixing cultures, classes, races in a very fast time. Performs as a today achievement in a wide large universe of diversity of diversities, where individuals perform free, proud and shameless, what they are, want to be and tell to the society. The after and the before XX, could maybe be erased in the future, in a total new way of conceiving pieces in own drama or expressions. The XX’s parents must be killed to go on.
What matters now is to impulse the new and brave talk, exposed rather loudly or silently, exploring the inside and the outside to all, to feel it and make it be felt through the costume and final aim: Own character as a piece of art and living being. The concept in shape and content in motion comes from the body and soul to the body and soul. But mainly is not only a personal identity in here what is seen. There are even hidden or masked faces in most of them. The content of the element, flows through the discovered materials and new technical properties performing within the interpreter and space, allowing to make it behave as a powerful unique creature, sometimes anonymous transmitting in empathy to others it’s message. Once there, the costume-character as the human element that it is, talks by itself. It Is a sacred piece of art. Even can be that it doesn’t need a performer to exist.
We are at last in an expected XXI, after the after and before the before.
The Bakhrushin Museum extraordinary continuous action for the costume art in Russia as an ever culture enlightening the global contemporary arts since the beginning of the XX, brings it to today with its new exhibits. Has to be celebrated as a must, determinant, to make the costume art be valued and known all around the world, becoming a very important window and a great achievement for the creators and society.
To go on, in XXI, and reveal the new costume, the artists must have trans-disciplinary revolutionary educational programs in the academies, strong financial support for the innovative to be interacting in courageous commands for the own language to be alive anywhere with productions in no fear for the sake of one of the greatest human being best expression’s in body and soul. Innovative Costume XXI. The next generation talks .