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Monday, 28 September 2015
By Maud Lannen, Gallery Assistant

Fashion plays an enormously influential role in our lives, often involving and affecting our health physically, emotionally, psychologically and psycho-sexually. Fashion has been with us since earliest civilization, even before, because it serves a vital role by feeding two of human nature’s most powerful motivating forces: status and sex attraction.

Today no less than in primitive times, fashion enables to establish visible distinctions of class, rank, wealth and authority.

Its history is marked by a tradition or process of adding to/propping the body to architecturise it or taking away part of it, sometimes both.  That very process has/d the effect to not just transform but often permanently deform the natural human body and inherently shape its identity.

Of all the body’s parts the foot has long been perhaps the most commonly and consistently subjected to deliberate deformation. And our shoes, from very ancient times, have been the prime instrument of pedic deformation.

Pablo Bronstein and the Treasures of Chatsworth installation shot. Photo Andy Keate.

Some 10,000 years ago tribal chieftains wore stilts when addressing the tribal mass. The stilts allowed the wearer to ‘look down’ and the others to ‘look up’ to the leader with an instant affect of increasing physical stature and authority.

The platform shoe dates back to the sixth century BC, introduced by Aeschylus, the Greek dramatist, who used it for his actors on stage. The higher the platform the more important the actor and his role.

Pointed toe shoes date back 3,000 years to ancient Egypt: upper caste women wore them to make the foot look smaller and more slender to distinguish it from the wide splayed foot of common folk and slave women who toiled in the fields. Because the foot was required to adapt to the unnatural shape of the shoe, the deformed foot and shoe themselves became a mark of status.

The bound foot custom of China began 1,000 years ago and continued for a millennium. The process misshaped and shrunk the foot to doll size. The young boundfoot women achieved elitist status and were regarded as the sex goddesses of the culture. Even their fragile, precarious gait, known as the “willow walk” became a symbol of sensual status.

In Europe, The “chopine” fashion of the 14th century was the dominant mode of the upper caste women. This was an extremist platform-type shoe raging in height from six to 30 inches. A natural step on them was impossible. The wearer often required a maid on either side to ensure balance and security. The higher the chopine, the higher the status of the wearer.

One of the most used ways to both escape the common class and convey status is through impracticality. The upper classes have always relied on the impractical, the uncomfortable, even debilitating to announce their privileged status.

Psychologist J.C. Flugel states, “the final form of body decoration is body deformation. It is the crown jewel of personal status and sex attraction.”
He asserts that men and women tolerate very well any physical distress caused by revisions of body form if it is done within the framework of social approval and admiration. Such practices are not only tolerated but eagerly sought after demonstrating a merging of pleasure and pain.

Those practices are as contemporary as ever.
Everybody, everywhere, does something to their body to alter its shape or look.

Why? To communicate who they wish to appear to be, be recognised and be desired by the other.

The desire for individuality, status and sexual attraction has the effect ultimately to force the body into stillness – objectify it to fulfil the fantasy of another.

So, where does that insatiable desire to objectify self stem from?

Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist from 20th century, says that the wish to be the object of another’s desire is deeply rooted in our infantile experience of being utterly dependant on the Mother; and recognition is the prerequisite to having our needs and wishes met by the other.

Lacan locates the development of desire in the “mirror stage” of infancy; he argues that the discrepancy between the child’s self and his representation (the image reflected back on him by the mother) is the trigger for desire, and leaves him endlessly lacking. It sets him off in pursuit of what ultimately proves an elusive goal - to be rendered complete as one imagines having felt during infancy.

Here the marble foot looked upon as symbol of beauty, taste and culture, becomes the symbol for perpetual masochist practices leading to severe permanent body deformation. Here, the foot comes to encapsulate human’s contradictions: a craving for individuality and a desperate need to belong;a desire to be truly seen while making oneself fit within the tight objectifying frame of another’s aesthetic; a desire to know the self and know the other versus an inability to recognise, tolerate and value individuals’ innate differences.

Posted by btimmins at 11:31    COMMENTS
Friday, 31 July 2015
By David Newport, Gallery Assistant

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the young gentlemen of means completed their education with a grand tour of Europe. The tour was a mixture of shopping spree, architectural inspiration and opportunity to sow a few wild oats. The proportion of each depended upon the gentleman concerned. Certainly, Byron was more interested in the women of Seville than its architecture. Although, to be fair, the route he took was somewhat restricted by the various wars taking place at the time.

However, the result of most grand tours is evident through the stately homes of Britain and don’t we love them. These homes are stage sets which enable us all to fantasise about a golden age which never really existed. What happens then when these grand tour artefacts are taken out of their homes and placed in a white cube?

The effect is startling. Without taking away from the magnificent workmanship, they now raise questions which we would not normally ask. Why make a silver pilgrim flask which is far too large to be functional? Why would a craftsman spend months creating a wonderful cabinet and then leave the back of it unfinished? With many of these objects the spell cast by their usual environments is stripped away and leaves us with the conceit and deceit of the Baroque.

The artist suggests that we start in Gallery 3; a gallery which provides a surreal view of Chatsworth’s architecture. The building appears to be swirling around us. The blue walls sport huge CAD illustrations of the famous house, but look closer. The building has been cropped and corrected. This is a 17th century building which has been given a 21st century makeover. A building with a curved façade styled to cover its faults is now a perfectly symmetrical vision: an architect’s dream.

In the middle of all this, is a make-believe room; a room for show not for comfort. The furniture is beautifully made, but its shortcomings become apparent when viewed from this angle.

Photo by Andy Keate

Moving from the dark to the light, the next gallery shows the wealth of the Chatsworth collection through a spectacular display of silverware housed in a faux Grecian temple with mirrors which multiply their images and provide a trompe l’oeil effect which visitors to Chatsworth will recognise. The balance of conceit and deceit is also reflected in the showcase of delftware tulip vases near the window. Their blue oriental decoration on a white ground appear as if they were Chinese porcelain, but they are actually tin-glazed pottery from Holland and their design, while enabling expensive cut flowers to be displayed, also limit their life because of the small amount of water they can hold.

Photo by Andy Keate

The next gallery surrenders the idea of the white cube through the construction of a drawing room in its space. This is the aristocrat’s inner sanctum. These are drawings, paintings and scientific objects of true interest; valued and not just for show. However, even here Pablo Bronstein plays with our senses by exhibiting a detailed and rather beautiful drawing of a set of swaged and tailed curtains which, if you look carefully, are hung on the outside of the window.

Photo by Andy Keate

And finally, Gallery 1 reminds us that even the most powerful, deceitful, and conceited will eventually turn to dust with its references to Ancient Rome’s temples and mausoleums. The theme is echoed by the twice-used Coronation Chairs decaying slowly in the centre of the room. But most of all, this gallery displays Bronstein’s incredibly detailed drawings of the Via Apia re-imagined as a Baroque masterpiece. A journey around these 17 illustrations is surely a most suitable finale to an exhibition that shows our familiar heritage in a different and sometimes unsettling light.

Photo by Hugo Glendinning


Posted by btimmins at 12:06    COMMENTS


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