If the last years of fashion have been about the challenge of outdated beauty ideals, whether it be about race, size or gender diversity, the “Mirror Mirror” exhibition could be the artistic answer to continue this challenge and investigate how we feel. to about.
A joint exhibition between the MoMu fashion museum in Antwerp and the Dr. Guislain Museum in Ghent, hosting exhibits on the history of psychiatry in what was once Belgium’s first asylum, “Mirror Mirror”, which opened in the beginning this month, examines how fashion, psychology, self-image and identity are intertwined.
It’s an unexpected fusion designed to bring out dialogue about something fairly common: people’s personal experience of their bodies and the impact of adorning them.
“For me it was a great opportunity to look at how psychology is connected to the body and the experience of our body and self-image,” says Elisa De Wyngaert, one of the MoMu curators who worked on the exhibition. . “We usually have the body as a placeholder on display, it’s like a mannequin or a mannequin but it’s not really there, it’s just a support, a support for clothing. And for me it was really special to focus on the body for the first time, in three different ways during the exhibition, and to really consider the impact that clothing has on our society, but also the different bodies we encounter as human beings, surrogates of the bodies like mannequins and dolls, but also virtual bodies of these times, avatars, therefore the bodies of different parts “.
The first of the three parts of the exhibition concerns self-reflection in which, as De Wyngaert explains, “the visitor’s body itself becomes part of the experience”.
There, mirrors and glass walls place visitors among avant-garde garments from labels such as Comme des Garçons and Molly Goddard who, with their unexpected shapes, proportions and volumes, “really challenge the contours of the body and almost create a new body” , De says Wyngaert.
“As a visitor, you see yourself reflected in these creations and become a part of them,” he adds. “And for that part, we also have these Cyndia Harvey wigs to make these bespoke mannequins on which we show the garments come to life in an unexpected way.”
It is also about considering the ways that clothes protect people mentally and can provide power and protection in one way or another.
“We need them, one, to play a certain role in society, help us,” says De Wyngaert. “But also, if you like to experiment creatively with your clothes, it can also protect you and give you strength as a sort of layer between you and the real world.”
The second part of “Mirror Mirror” takes visitors into the world of the doll.
It is “a sort of gigantic dollhouse in which the visitor becomes a kind of doll, a miniature [themselves]”Says De Wyngaert. Inside the oversized dollhouse, mannequins and dolls from the world of art and fashion – from the elegant fashion dolls of the Théâtre de la Mode that saved French haute couture to the macabre ones of Hans Bellmer – meet and they mix, but they also send a message.
“We look at the layered meanings attached to these dolls and mannequins, but also at the psychological effect they have on us, because we encounter them everywhere but they are not always very representative of people’s appearance. Or they have a certain specific image that is very old-fashioned, “he says.” It’s also a self-reflection for me as a curator: how you use these bodies, how you present them in an exhibition space, and what messages do you send to your visitors when these dolls appear in a certain way? ”
In the book accompanying the exhibition, “Mirror, Mirror: Fashion & the Psyche”, published by Hannibal and already available for purchase in Belgium (and for pre-order in the United States), of which De Wyngaert is co-author, we read: “The tall, thin, white mannequin with Caucasian facial features has become a standard in museums. This seems increasingly out of date, also due to its denial of race.
Many museums, De Wyngaert admits, have long been guilty of relying on their existing stock of “standard” mannequins (read: almost always devoid of diversity, particularly when it comes to body shapes and sizes), partly because of costs and partly because that is what has been commercially available.
“It’s a standardized body that is questionable in itself,” says De Wyngaert.
And he tries to address it in two ways through the exhibition.
One, with a mannequin in the likeness of Michelle Elie, fashion icon, editor of Trouble Mag and ferocious collector of Comme des Garçons, who has lent some of his pieces to “Mirror Mirror”.
“When he exhibited his archive in Frankfurt [for the 2020 exhibit, ‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me: Michelle Elie Wears Comme des Garçons’ at the Angewandte Kunst Museum], together with the curator there, they decided to do it on mannequins that look like her. She then she had the mannequins scanned in 3D, they look like her skin color more or less exact, her facial features, they have a really nice bun in her hair that is the same. So the leaders fit exactly as they seem, “says De Wyngaert.” It was an important political message because these bodies, bodies of color, bodies black, felt – and it is true – often excluded in these great white institutions. brought into the exhibition space, not only as an object but as an active subject of a story. She is there as a black woman telling her story, so she is not objectified, she is really guiding the narrative and telling her story.
“It was a beautiful way of doing it and a very relevant way of doing it and I wish all museums always had a budget to do things like that,” he says. “But this should be the future”.
The other example of diversity in the exhibit is a mannequin with different proportions created by Japanese artist and illustrator Ed Tsuwaki, who favored drawing women with exaggerated swan necks and who, at one point, created a matching mannequin for his now fashion defunct branded nude deck.
“I thought it was great to play with these unrealistic proportions to make it more of an art object and see how it lingers a bit between being an art object and a commercial object,” says De Wyngaert. “I think if you can create this spark, this tension, this energy, then [the manikins] they become not only placeholders for the body, but also something more interesting. I really hope, in my next treatments, to always question the body we use and to always have an idea behind why we use a certain body and not just the mannequins we have here. “
The third and final section of “Mirror Mirror” deals with the virtual world we are entering.
“We leave the physical body behind and there we explore avatars and cyborgs both within an artistic context, because the art world has been experimenting with CGI technologies for much longer, but fashion is also exploring this territory a lot and is doing more and more with the metaverse and NFT and avatar that you can dress up. Prada and Balenciaga [are] do it, “he says.
Video artist Ed Atkins concludes the exhibition with an installation destined to arouse both sentiment and fuel for discussions about the future.
“It’s a video of a lonely male avatar sitting in a bar and it’s kind of a message of melancholy and loneliness from this avatar in this virtual world that’s just drinking and singing songs,” says De Wyngaert. “Let’s leave a little open what the future will be for the virtual body and how we relate to those bodies.”
More and more, fashion is becoming less and less about selling excluded fantasies to a few and more and more about selling something real, something responsible, something that considers any being with a body to dress.
Some designers challenge old ideals better than others.
Issey Miyake was one of the first examples of using garments, some of which are part of the “Mirror Mirror” exhibition, to create new shapes around the body. Molly Goddard’s voluminous pieces are also part of the curation for their ability to “explore some kind of space beyond the body through their clothing,” according to De Wyngaert.
“This is why she also has a feminist point of view, she hopes that women will reclaim space in society through their clothes,” she says.
Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo is famous for bringing new shapes to runways and streets, and Simone Rocha has done so since her debut in 2010.
“Simone Rocha has a beautiful dress in the show with an unexpected bump on one side. He is a long way from what you would expect from classic symmetry or hourglass silhouette. O Comme des Garçons, [Kawakubo’s 2017] The ‘The Future of Silhouette’ collection is truly conceptual, a plaster case almost around the body that shows how the body is contained in classic beauty ideals “, says De Wyngaert.” We do not, per se, show a solution. [to challenging beauty ideals]but the way they question it and the way they propose new bodies, almost like a harness that protects the wearer and a kind of body neutrality, like creating a new body ”.
“Mirror Mirror” intends to combine play and provocation as it alters the way visitors think about things they may not think often.
“We show a new way of bringing art and fashion together. And they are not illustrations of each other, but they come together to tell a new story and account for the same problems. I hope that people leave the exhibition allowing these worlds to meet, these disciplines to merge, “says De Wyngaert.” I also hope they look at the body and its different forms in a different way.
“I’m aware that we haven’t told a full story about fashion and psychology, but I hope people ask new questions after the show or open a conversation between people about what clothing can mean for you mentally, but also what effect dolls might have on you personally. And I hope this becomes a new conversation among visitors and doesn’t just leave them hanging. I think it will move them. ”
The “Mirror Mirror” exhibition is now open and will run until February 26th.