Off the Wall

Off the Wall

World of Wearable Art Up Close

The Special Exhibitions Gallery of the Otago Museum is filled with colour, textiles, and ultraviolet light. It is being inhabited by the World of Wearable Art exhibition, otherwise known as “WOW”.

WOW is a breathtaking demonstration of the imagination, originality, and ingenuity of the designers who took part in the internationally renowned World of Wearable Art Awards Show, held in Wellington each year. Organised over 18 months, the exhibition showcases a diverse range of full costumes, as well as a line of “bizarre bras” which were handpicked by Dame Suzie and Sir Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop. Many different styles, eras and influences come together in this eclectic collection.

When you enter the exhibition you are immediately immersed in a heaven-like passageway of sheer fabrics and classical portraiture. Moving through the display you enter the “world” of wearable arts, which is organised according to the awards each ensemble received. The opening pieces are bright and colourful, and incorporate background paintings as part of their display. This makes for great variety, and adds a layer of interest beyond the artistry of the fabric itself.
The pieces incorporate dozens of different mediums, including wool sacks, sterling silver, corrugated iron, old suitcases, and roofing materials. Even dead budgies make their debut in the “Budgerigar Brassiere” — artist Emily Valentine Bullock fashioned her pet budgies into this bra when they passed away. Further into the exhibition is a UV-lit room, which showcases the nuances of these UV-specific designs.

The highlight of the collection is “Lady Curiosity” by Fifi Colston, which weaves Victoriana into an old-time circus theme. Full of gothic imagery, Colston’s costume gives the impression of a tattooed lady, complete with nipple piercings. The sight of the outfit is intoxicating, and is complemented by the functional shelf built into the lady’s backside. Other noteworthy, albeit disturbing, outfits include one that was modelled on the praying mantis, and one that was influenced by the reptilian process of shedding skin. The most mind-blowing element of the entire exhibition is not the composition of the art itself, but the imagination that went into the creation of it.

The exhibition also incorporates video screens with snippets of the WOW awards as well as interviews with the designers of the pieces, which allow for some audience interaction as you move through each section of the show.
The variety of pieces is so broad that there is something to interest everyone. The kids will love the ultraviolet room with its floating head, as well as “Horridus” who resembles a medieval knight in full armour, and “Persephone’s Descent”, which I could swear is a costume from Lord of The Rings. For those interested in pop culture, there are pieces that would put Lady Gaga’s stylist to shame, masks that look as though they were worn by the killers in Scream, and fascinators that would rival those worn at the royal wedding. The exhibition also pays tribute to New Zealand culture in the pieces “Harakeke”, “Rattle Your Dags”, and “Into the Blue”, all of which showcase Kiwi culture in wearable form.

The exhibition runs until October 28.
This article first appeared in Issue 17, 2012.
Posted 10:46am Sunday 22nd July 2012 by Taryn Dryfhout.