12.8.17

Present Imperfect: Disorderly Apparel Reconfigured at Fashion Space Gallery

The delayed 'Part Two' of the Fashion Museum day trip review is focused on the current exhibition at the Fashion Space Gallery. 

This space is within the John Princes Street campus of London College of Fashion. Despite being a stone's throw away from Oxford Circus - it is situated kind of behind Zara, and near the huge H&M on the corner - I believe it is arguably one of the lesser known fashion exhibit spaces in London. Which is a shame, as it is free to visit, and strives to have innovative displays throughout the year. 

About four years ago I went to the Fashion Space Gallery to see "Coco Chanel: A New Portrait by Marion Pike" and shamefully I hadn't been back since. Not for lack of interest, as the exhibitions in the last four years sound amazing - from Simon Costing's Impossible Catwalk Shows, to Warpaint: Alexander McQueen and Make-up, and not forgetting Museum of Transology (which fortunately is now in Brighton and I will not miss it this time). I just simply forget that it is there. I've been to Oxford Street numerous times in the past four years. In fact, last summer I was interning in the H&M press office / showroom for 5 weeks, and didn't once pop in during a lunch break. 

However, the current exhibition, Present Imperfect: Disorderly Apparel Reconfigured, really caught my eye as a recent Fashion History Graduate about to embark on my post-grad studies in History of Design and Material Culture. 



Entering the space, visitors are faced with a definition reading the following:

Present1 Imperfect2
1. Disorderly apparel reconfigured
2. A playful project that tested the principal elements of exhibiting fashion: object, body, text, installation. A conversation between exhibition-maker Jeffrey Horsley and curator Amy de la Haye inspired by apparel which is damaged, worn-out or perished.
Object: fragile apparel framed by modular structures
Body: proposals that allude to the human form
Text: playing with format to express actual and associative narratives
Installation: configured as gallery and studio space to share working processes

Alongside this were some post cards, which I assumed were free to take - so I did. The postcards shows closeups of the garments, illustrations of the bespoke display cabinets and other fascinating images from around the exhibition space. 


The layout and structure of the exhibition was different to what I had expected, but ended up being what I loved most about it. I was aware that the pieces on display were going to be in a less-than-perfect condition. Horsley and de la Haye use 'Disorderly Apparel' to describe items that are badly damaged. Items that would usually be overlooked within a museum archive or collection, partly due to the costly and timely nature of restoration of garments, and equally in part to the fact that badly damaged garments do not take well to been mounted on a mannequin. This means that most museum costume and fashion collections have pieces that will never be shown to the public, and may lay dormant amongst acid-free tissue paper until they eventually perish beyond repair. 
This exhibition, however, took several fragile items and made them the focus of the exhibition. From a pair of burnt Victorian leather gloves, to a century old shattered silk evening dress by the once leading London Couture House Redfern, to the more contemporary leather jacket template by Alexander McQueen, each piece of display were in varying degrees of decay. 
What fascinated me the most was the backdrop of photocopied notes, annotated pages of books and ideas adorning the walls, each relevant to their nearest garment. Whilst this working process is usually kept behind the scenes, Horsley and de la Haye explain their decision in the following:
Text is a routine method for interpretation and engagement. Present Imperfect playfully subverted the conventions of text panel and label. Narratives – actual and associative – such as time, transience and trauma are suggested as possible themes for finding meaning.
In order to share working processes and reveal multiple alternative narratives, the installation was configured as gallery and studio space. An intention is to highlight that within the evolution of any exhibition numerous choices and ideas are explored, rejected and chosen.
In my opinion, the garments played a lesser role in this exhibition, and the process and planning displayed surrounding them took the forefront. Although I can appreciate the importance of the object in telling a narrative - I spent several months of my bachelors focused on, and learning about, object based theorists such as Lou Taylor -  I was far more interested in the behind the scenes processes that are involved in making an exhibition. Seeing the curators scribbles and ideas laid out in front of me was far more exhilarating than simply looking at a garment and reading a text panel. 
My only point of contention would be that, aside from those inherently interested in museology, fashion history or curation, it may not appeal to many others. For example, a group of teenage girls came into the, honestly, quite small space when Sarah and I were there and their confusion was palpable. After taking a few pictures, including some selfies, and not reading a single piece of paper on the walls, they left, turning the wrong way in what I can only assume was the search for more - of which there was not. Seconds later they walked past again, having realised that this room was the only part of the exhibition, and left, presumably to fulfil their sartorial needs on Oxford Circus. Although it is great that teenage girls are actively seeking out fashion museums, as I previously mentioned the Fashion Space Gallery is almost a 'if you know, you know' type venue, I felt this particular exhibition may not have appealed to the kind of Fashion Exhibition they were after, or used to.  
However, as Fashion Historians and aspiring curators of dress, Sarah and I loved it! I certainly left feeling inspired and more knowledgeable in the field of exhibition making. As much as you can read a textbook about how to put together an exhibition, seeing the scribbled notes and messy minds of Horsley and de la Haye ignited my desire to enter this field even more. 

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