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Betty Huen Reviews World of Wearable Art

Infusing daily life into the work of art, with fashion as an example

- World of Wearable Art (5-2-2012 3pm/Star Hall)

I was unprepared for the spectacle that I was about to see before my eyes were finally dazzled by the lights, colors and sound of the performance. I was told previously that the show had let some audience down; obviously it didn’t happen to me.

It had been full of ‘wow factors’ throughout the whole show. We were bewildered by unimaginable wardrobes that literally expanded one’s understanding of garment: the native Mauri costumes in the South Pacific Collection that incorporated elements of nature and ethnic culture, the magical, playful works in the Children’s Section, the futuristic, fascinating Illumination Illusion Section that brought us into the secret garden of creative minds, the extravagant Creative Excellence Section that exhibited the power of a mind free from any boundaries. Following this is the Open Section, which was set with no thematic restrictions; and again, it amazed us with the wonder of nature – of the human creativity. At the end of the show it presented the Avant Garde Section, characterized by fine craftsmanship and intricate detail.

Needless to say, the last part of the show was considerably different from the rest. If one were to say that it is a matter of talent, I would have to disagree. I say, it is the dissimilar attitude towards the process of creation and its relation to daily life. Over a hundred pieces of garments were included and they all share a common feature: to draw inspiration from exciting things in life and express it in the form of clothes. What they try to emphasize is the source of inspiration and the technique of expression. I was attending along with a friend, a Textile student. She told me afterwards that she was wondering what kind of materials the contestants used and how was the execution like. These challenging questions explain the allure of the show, where audience are left wondering what the trick was, and kept asking, how did he (the magician) do it?

I argue that it was really the origin of idea that makes a work successful. Notable examples from the show includes ‘Figurehead’ in the South Pacific Collection, which personifies waves with colors and shape and is designed with a piece of sail, ‘Metalmorphic Mantis’ of the Creative Excellence Section that comes with a man dressed in metallic blue suit riding a car shaped like a pair of insect wings, ‘Hermecera’ in the Open Section, which presents a standing lobster lady, and ‘La Topiarina’, a moving shrub ballerina sculpture. These works, together with others shown in the runway, exemplifies how fascination can be found in the most mundane objects around us, be it grass, food, insects of ships. Creation is not always about coming up with something from nothing, which is in fact impossible for every ‘new’ work is destined to refer to some pre-existing concepts; instead, it is to introduce a new way of seeing and perceiving what we have always known and designers can choose whatever manners they like in doing so. Only in this way can the work have influence and develop a connection with the audience by the fact they share similar experience and thoughts in life. Examples of this are readily available in movies as well as literature. One prominent example of this is fairy tales. Whether or not you are a fan of the Harry Potter series, you must have heard the fame of the curious platform 9 and three quarters. If you have actually been to King’s Cross Station in London, there is no way you would not be overwhelmed by the ingenious idea. Similarly, Alice’s Adventure in the Wonderland literally begins with a nap and a rabbit hole. The fact that readers are bewitched by the absurdity of the book is precisely because we are all so familiar with the daily objects and environment, which are turned upside down in the book. Who would not be baffled by the talking and moving playing cards or the wonderful chess game in Through the Looking Glass? Similar examples can also be founded in poetry. When T.S. Eliot compared the evening to “a patient etherized upon a table” (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock), readers are taken with the sensual attraction embedded in the famous imagery. The examples listed above exemplify the way readers, viewers and audience are always moved by the way familiar objects and things are given or interpreted with new meanings, with magic.

Another delightful touch of the show is the way the clothes were ‘performed’. It was through the carefully textured moved that the essence of each garment and the inspirations from which they were created could be expressed wholly. For example, when one of the actors was showcasing Turban Shell of the South Pacific Section, he/she had to move or even run with a certain speed so that the garment floated and the shape of organism it was supposed to imitate could be shown. With another garment, Superminx of the Creative Excellence Section, the two performers actually had to bend their backs by 90 degrees and imitate the four legs of the chair-shaped garment with their four limbs. This showed not only the hardship of the performers but also the detailed thinking of the designers. If you can break through the usual framework you can create new, inspiring works that transcends the norms. Apart from movement, light is another way that highlights the show - I am referring specifically to the Illumination Illusion Section. This part successfully blends fashion, art and theatre into one. One may say that the completely dark stage is designed to be of service to the clothes. However, it is also true the other way round and we can say that luminous clothes are used as sparkling jewels on stage. Prioritizing and being faithful their design, the designers and performers stretched their mind and bodies in order to put forward an idea and make it real. To an audience like me, this is admirable and truly enjoyable experience.

That day after the show, my friends and I sat down and flipped through the brochure that very thoughtfully included shots of all the clothes that went sent down the runway. It was by that time that we learnt the pieces at finished the show were produced by graduates of Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI). My friend (who was in her last year of the Bachelor’s Degree in Textile) said that ‘those clothes’ were what her professors wanted. There was a troubled tone in her voice for her design aesthetics was different. I do not plan to draw any comparison between the local and the non-local works, for it would not be useful or fair. Still, I suppose many people, like me, would be delighted to see local artistic production to learn from what we have seen in the World of Wearable Art. Perhaps the word ‘learn’ here is not appropriate for it connotes some sort of hierarchy. We can imagine this kind of show as an opportunity of communication of arts – so that more varieties and diversity of designs (in whatever realm) would be possible in future.

All in all, WOW made a joyous feast for audience around the world. You may say that it is not ‘fashion’, not something one would expect in Milan or Paris fashion week – of course it is not. It is art, perhaps a new form of art, like fusion cuisines. Free from the limits of the commercial world, these works please audience with fresh techniques and an adventurous heart. In this show, fashion is not reduced, but elevated as a vehicle for a burst of imagination of creative minds.


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