The Art of Fashion and the Sound of Fashion

I’ve had the opportunity to have a good browse (while the kids are at school) of an exhibition of some interesting works of wearable art. Fashion isn’t one of my major interests, so I’m not sure just how new or original the idea of fashion garments as works of art might be. I’m guessing that the extreme fashion which the pop music icon Lady Gaga has become famous for could be considered wearable art, and I’ve also got to wonder whether this singer-songwriter’s engagement with such extreme originality in an area of visual art is in some way connected with her coloured music synaesthesia. Some synaesthesia researchers believe there is a link between creativity and synaesthesia, a theory that must surely be difficult to test, and they never seem to explain exactly how this connection might work. Living in Perth, Western Australia I doubt that I’ll ever get to view items from Gaga’s wardrobe,  but I did get to see the Art of Fashion exhibition at Lakeside Joondalup Shopping Centre, which is a part of the annual Joondalup Festival, which is organized by the City of Joondalup and is happening this weekend.

Does a synaesthete create differently, and does a synaesthete perceive works of artistic creation in ways that non-synaesthetes do not? I doubt that a clear-cut answer to that question is possible, but I suspect that a synaesthete might experience a more conscious awareness of cross-sensory effects. The unusual coloured asymmetric frill at one hip of a predominantly black dress designed by Kasia Kolikow in the Joondalup exhibition has a full and contrasting appearance which evokes the idea of expansion or air blowing, a movement which would seem odd to me if it were not accompanied by a sound. What type of sound? The transparent, airy frill with its day-glow yellows and salmon pinks (contrasting against the black of the dress titled “Never Sleep Again”) has colours that I have always associated with falsetto singing and other high-pitched musical sounds. This dress whistles. There is another outfit in the exhibition which has a title that brings to mind the notion of sound “Summer Pop Fizz” by Cynthia Chong, but my visual perception of the work  evokes extra-modal motion more than sound. A translation of sound and touch and temperature into a visual expressive art form must have been the origin of this whimsical brightly coloured top and shorts, inspired by ice-cold bubbling lemonade, but it doesn’t give me a chill. When I look at the squiggly shapes on the surface of these garments I see motion typical of the surface of turbulent liquid.

It doesn’t take much thought to figure out why the dress named after the species of fish Chelmonops truncatus designed by April Richards evokes a rhythmic sound, as the scalloped edges in contrasting colours spiralling around the dress are visually striking and highly rhythmic, but it’s less clear to me why this rhythmic sound should be an electronic keyboard sound like something out of a 1970’s pop tune by a girl singer. The idea of a dress that looks a bit like a fish or even a mermaid is perhaps an idea typical of pop culture from a more innocent age, and maybe this is why my unconscious mind makes this association. It’s surprising how noisy an exhibition of fashion garments and jewellery can be, so it is some respite that the one outfit in the group of Celene Bridge’s works on display which makes a noise only whispers. I believe Bridge should have thought twice about naming one of her outfits Leap of the Rabbit, because whenever I looked at it I could not help thinking of the French word “lapin” spoken in the softest whisper, repeated over and over. Everything about this amazing outfit has a soft quality – the fabric looks soft and lustrous, the outlines of the dress are feminine and gentle curves, the gorgeous rabbit-shaped sculptural details at the back of the skirt of the dress are soft curved shapes, the shoulder-hugging limpness of the fabric in the short cape and even the headpiece though grim in theme has curving lines. I think an outfit like this demands to have a name with sound symbolism that sounds as soft as the outfit looks, but sadly the English-language word “rabbit” is all wrong. It is a jagged, hard-sounding word, not appropriate as a name for an animal with a soft pelt. The French have more of a clue. I can think of no animal in the world softer to touch than a rabbit, so I’d say a rabbit deserves to be called a lapin.

I’m a little bit surprised that my unconscious mind has spontaneously offered up a French word to my conscious mind as a comment on the fashion outfit, because I don’t consider myself in any way proficient in the French language. I dropped out of French classes early in year 8 of high school, and year 8 was the extent of my formal teaching in that language, but I suspect that most people have a broader vocabulary in foreign languages than they realise.

The Art of Fashion exhibition will be on display up to the 31st of March 2012 (tomorrow) at Lakeside Joondalup Shopping City. It’s worth a look (and a listen) so don’t wait till it’s too late.

Urban Couture. City of Joondalup. http://www.joondalup.wa.gov.au/Explore/artsandevents/JoondalupFestival/UrbanCouture.aspx

Urban Couture Gallery.  http://www.joondalup.wa.gov.au/Explore/artsandevents/JoondalupFestival/UrbanCouture/UrbanCoutureGallery.aspx

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