Herbarium of Dresses

Forord til Annette Meyers katalog i forbindelse med vandreudstillingen Icon Dressed

The Icon Dressed installation has been shown in several museums, each time tailored to the specific space. The installation consists of 14 handmade paper dresses made from historical patterns and displayed on 14 handpicked mannequins. The floral designs printed on the industrial paper were taken from Flora Danica, a classic botanical work that also served as reference for an exclusive Danish china set of the same name. The fusion of high culture and low industry, already seen to be taking place in the material itself, creates a free space for new possibilities across time and space that is fundamental to the entire project. Music composed especially for the installation and human sized lenticular photos comprise a frame around the installation.

The catalogue can be seen as a kind of herbarium or flora. A herbarium is a personal collection, a flora is systematic science. Icon Dressed lies exactly in between the highly passionate and the systematic. The catalogue, then, becomes a supplement to the installation, a kind of reference work presenting collected material for free use, personal decoding and comparison. The photos in the catalogue are not from any particular installation setting but were taken in the studio, where an impartial white backdrop helps underscore the separation from time and space, autonomizing the different shapes and sculptural lines of the dresses.

Mapping details of the dresses is part of the agreement, metaphorically, between the way a botanist works, going into the field to collect wild flowers, and the way these dresses are chosen, copied and remade: after the fieldwork is done, you can start counting the folds in the dress the same way one counts petals and stamens. How many plaits, ruffles, tucks, frills and buttons – how do they branch out and how are they related? “Botanized dresses” organized by sex, folds and antennae, dissected and put under a magnifying glass. This is a passionate collection that pays attention to every odd bow and strange button.The printed designs on the paper likewise show the smallest parts of chicory, poppy, snowdrop, water lily, crocus and manna – no garden variety blooms here – seeds, husks, stems, fruits and flowers. Roots combed like hair, counted and recorded.

Did you hear that dress? Paper isn’t fabric: it’s noisy. It’s fragile and cracks like china. This rather stiff paper enhances the mutual connections between the forms and their sequences. Every crack and gap is unfolded. Making the dresses in paper instead of fabric and using the same material for every dress in a sense liberates the dresses from being dresses, underscoring their objectness. Sure, they document the history of form but only to show the contemporaneity of history.

Did I hear music? Like the dresses, the music accompanying the exhibition makes you want to start over. This autonomous composition by Torben Snekkerstad employs elements from different ages to create its own a simple and poetic universe. Again, every possibility is open. The not quite traditional constellation of clarinet, double bass and accordion connotes jazz, folk and classical music. The music loops, start and finish running together, while alternating between muted, barely audible and very loud.

Did that figure just move? 3D photos we used to call them, but the technical term is lenticular pictures. These enlarged postcards of butterflies from childhood, in their rudimentary way, mimic the essence of film – the magic of image upon image suddenly becoming movement. Moving past these person-sized pictures, you bring them to life. Girls wandering through history are glimpsed suddenly, in a split second: Did that figure just move?

Are we attending the same ball? Models are always exemplary: a type, ideal, blindingly perfect. But perfection contains the germ of disaster – it takes so very little for everything to fall apart: a rip, a coffee stain, and everything is ruined. The mannequins in Icon Dressed are perfect, though such details as their identical hair color, unpainted nails and similar dress fabric, make them appear as what they are, dolls. Trapped in a hesitant motion, they seem fragile, their faces introverted, torn out of any context, as if they were standing in separate rooms. Are these dolls attending the same ball or are they all at separate balls? Every age has its kind of ball, a crucial stage for aspirations for future happiness, and one’s appearance can seem critical.

Camilla Luise Dahl’s catalogue text relevantly and competently walks us through history, while the quotes at the back of the catalogue echo the general atmosphere and the women who wore the dresses.

Enjoy.

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