1914 Now: Four Perspectives on Fashion Curation is a response to the brief set by Rem Koolhaas for the national pavilions in the Giardini of the Venice Architecture Biennale, Absorbing Modernity: 1914 – 2014. As the commissioners and curators of the pavilions in the parkland of Venice revealed multiple ideas surrounding the global impact of modernity on architecture, in exhibitions that have re-presented curatorial cues from art history, this project reveals multiple perspectives on the same brief but from a fashion viewpoint. The respondents are internationally acclaimed curators with entirely distinctive approaches to their discipline. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a curator is ‘a keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection’. Today it is generally accepted that the meaning of the term has broadened. It now embraces not only artefact-based curators who collect, care for and interpret the collections within their temporary guardianship, but also practitioners whose approach to exhibition display and object interpretation sits within an artistic framework, and those who describe themselves as ‘producers’ of cultural interventions and as ‘exhibition makers’. My own practice often involves commissioning new objects, rather than working with existing artefacts, and exploring new media outcomes. Multiple perspectives on the same brief have also long fascinated me, as new interpretations and conversations are revealed, and comparisons and juxtapositions generated.
1914 Now delves into various curatorial roles: an object-led curator; an exhibition maker; a designer and curator; and a museum director, operating an experimental space for the display of dress. Each has responded to the brief Fashion and Modernity 1914, and all, in their different ways, work with dress in three dimensions, be they historical or next season’s samples. This project invited them to work with film to realise their expressions.
Amy de la Haye is a curator and dress historian whose approach to curatorship involves examining and ‘reading’ objects, to create multiple narratives that are embedded in historical accuracy and involve didactic communication with audiences. The narrative for her film The Violet Hour is drawn from a surviving tea gown housed in the costume collection at Brighton Museum. This garment reflects the cusp of modernity as the onset of war and its aftermath impacted so profoundly upon women’s lives lived, their domestic (and public) spaces and the clothes they wore to negotiate them. Film director and animator Katerina Athanasopoulou filmed the tea gown and worked with contemporaneous advertising illustrations to capture the narrative behind de la Haye’s response. The film beautifully captures the foreboding moments of the onset of war and the transformative impact it was to have, through the narrative of the tea gown.
Judith Clark is an experimental exhibition maker who simultaneously designs and curates her exhibitions; the choice of object and its placement within an exhibition or installation are inextricably intertwined. The interior architecture of buildings informs her exhibition design, and it is an exhibition maker’s workshop that forms the backdrop to her film. The Futurist movement, and in particular the Manifesto of Antineutral Dress written by Giacomo Balla in 1914, inspires an exploration of contexts, display props and the Futurist elements of fashion. Working with film director James Norton, Clark applies the concepts of the manifesto to a hypothetical exhibition. The film’s stark monochrome aesthetic, with its unexpected blurring and distortions, references not only the Futurists’ own films but also the trials and errors, routes and returns, involved in the exhibition-making process. With its original Futurist music and optical trickery, the film is intended as a Futurist artefact from 1914, whilst looking to the future.
The avant-garde, Antwerp-based menswear fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck communicates political and social issues of the day through his clothes. His archive not only documents the sartorial style of the day, but also the political and socioeconomic climate when they were created. For his Autumn/Winter 2014–15 collection Crossed Crocodiles Growl, Van Beirendonck appropriates the provocative headgear of war – a helmet from 1914 – to form commentary on the political landscape of today. Through the helmet hat, Van Beirendonck creates a new narrative for an iconic object, reinterpreting a symbol of warfare as a peaceful statement on current political issues. Working with film director Bart Hess, he presents a striking revolutionary army.
Kaat Debo is Director of ModeMuseum, Antwerp, an experimental venue for the display of dress. Exhibitions often focus on contemporary fashion, and material innovation and its impact upon the discourse of fashion. Debo’s response to the brief was to commission a new object, informed by early twentieth- century Irish crochet from the collection at MoMu. The object is a dress designed by architect, artist and 3D-designer Tobias Klein and fashion designer Alexandra Verschueren, which has been 3D-printed by Materialise. This intriguing garment represents the tension between the desire for ornament and the search for the modern, as the decorative nature of the Irish lace is propelled into 2014. The natural chemical growth of crystals on this 3D-printed dress, with surface design adapted from the floral motifs of the crochet, is for Klein a ‘post-natural distortion that finds balance through technology and craftsmanship’.
The diverse, distinctive, incredibly powerful and altogether imaginative responses and voices that form part of this commission are united by the year 1914. They simultaneously reveal multiple fashion- and dress-related perspectives on one fateful year and multiple perspectives on fashion curation.
In keeping with the spirit of this project and its original inspiration, architectural historians, practitioners and critics of the avant-garde have been invited to respond to the fashion curators’ moment of modernity.
Architectural historian and writer Timothy Brittain-Catlin evocatively captures the Edwardian architectural landscape before its pending change, in response to de la Haye’s film The Violet Hour. Art historian and leading critic of the Futurist movement Giovanni Lista illuminates the history of the Manifesto of Antineutral Dress and Balla’s fascination with costume. Architect Tom Coward, inspired by Van Beirendonck’s object of focus, the felt helmet hat, draws on the parallels in the technological change in warfare in World War I and the materials revolution in architecture that took place around the same time. Kurt Vanhoutte, Associate Professor of Performance Studies and Visual Arts Criticism at the University of Antwerp, explores the contexts of the newly commissioned dress within the framework of modernity.
As the discipline of fashion curation has evolved, and being an advocate for cross- disciplinary work, this is an apt moment to present a fashion response as a fringe event within the wider Biennale context, and to mark a momentous year and its continued impact a century later.