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at Centennial Square
Oakville galleries

15 August – 4 October 1998 
at Centennial Square
Curated by Robin Metcalfe




The practice of ‘dressing up’ connotes imaginative childhood play-acting, continued in adulthood through recognition of ceremony and tradition. Conversely, ‘dressing down’ suggests a refusal of those social conventions in an effort to invert relations of dominance.  Both phrases reveal that the use of costume is anything but neutral. Rather, clothing is an instrument for asserting and contesting social relations particularly as related to gender, sex, class and cultural community. For this group exhibition at Oakville Galleries, Guest Curator Robin Metcalfe has brought together a national selection of contemporary art that deals with clothing as social costume.

Artists in the exhibition engage the matter of costume both abstractly and physically. Ruth Scheuing develops a feminist critique of women’s work in Rosie the Riveter, a dress in pop-riveted aluminum flashing. Making use of industrial materials and fabrication techniques, Scheuing refers to an episode during World War II when Canadian women were hired in large numbers for well-paying factory jobs, and juxtaposes it against the domestic work of dressmaking. Naoko Furue pieces together and smocks fragments of used kimono linings dyed in a traditional “momi” technique (using fermented safflower blossoms). A former emblem of feminine power, the lush fabric is now hidden as undergarments, and by creating an ornamental surface Furue reverses its private, hidden position. Vancouver-based First Nations artist Teresa Marshall makes installations such as her Bering Strait Jacket by transforming business wear and delivering a ‘dressing down’ to the agents of colonialism. Also starting from an easily recognized wearable, Gillian Collyer introduces decorative smocking where it is not usually found – on men’s traditional white dress shirts – with the effect playfully changing the stark white ‘uniform’ to suggest a gayer, more ornamented masculinity.  Clothing’s role in the representation of gender is a concern in Hamish Buchanan’s photographs of veiled men, which work to subtly shift and soften the viewer’s reading of the male body, feminizing it through layers of sheer fabric. Similarly, Aaron Kimberly’s photographs of herself in men’s clothing foreground the socially constructed condition of gender. Neil MacInnis uses traditional weaving techniques to investigate suppressed customs of male ornamentation.  Glynis Humphrey investigates the fashioning of femininity by suspending a prom dress with a video screen under its skirts to display a disorienting image of female desire.

Although traditionally in the realm of crafts, issues addressed by fibre practice are relevant across disciplinary boundaries. By investigating clothing as social costume, this exhibition aims to extend the critical awareness of fibre practice and to foster interplay between the visual arts and crafts discourses.

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