Art on show in Brighton and Hove & East and West Sussex
The Subversive Design exhibition at Brighton and Hove Museum is a stimulating sampling of design which challenges the status quo. The show spans the homo-eroticism of early punk T shirts, contemporary views of homelessness and guns, and gender issues as represented by a clay model of a woman with a penis. Catch it before it closes on 9th March 2014. Scarlett Pares Landells reviewed the show for us.
Lovers of fashion and design will be entertained and inspired by this exhibition exploring re-appropriation, satire and sexual taboo. Icons of British fashion such as Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Giles Deacon are set alongside cool contemporary designers from all over the world, creating an exhibition which is aesthetically slick and light-heartedly challenging. ‘Subversive Design’ at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery aims to demonstrate how artists and designers can “play with words, construction and appearance to challenge our relationship with things we use on a daily basis”. This is done successfully using all kinds of items- from wellington boots designed for Asda to furniture by the internationally acclaimed Campana brothers- all of which have been exquisitely designed and meticulously engineered, twisted by dark or satirical components which subtly enrich an otherwise ordinary object with meaning. It is not an exhibition that can be wandered around aimlessly. Every object has undeniable visual appeal, but add to that some sort of clever design feature or shocking detail and it is hard not to become totally drawn in. One of the highlights of the exhibition is the Who Killed Bambi? dress by Giles Deacon, worn by Lily Allen in 2008. The silk dress features the Disney fawn beheaded and bleeding, turning a popular children’s character into a gory carcass, and challenging our perception of fashion and beauty.
Designers from the Netherlands dominate the interior design portion of the exhibition. A duvet set by SNURK design studio, printed to look like a homeless person’s makeshift cardboard bed, makes a bold statement and forces us to confront a very real and uncomfortable issue. The most provocative content of the exhibition are the pieces that deal with the human body. The ‘Naked Dress’ by Alba D’Urbano, which displays the artists own naked body unashamedly printed on to the fabric, and the ‘Bra and Bustle’ set by Vivienne Westwood which grossly exaggerates a woman’s frame, challenge current perceptions of female body shape, reminding us of how transitory our ideals of beauty are, and how over time they can, and will, radically change. The two pieces also demonstrate how the role of clothing as concealment can be subverted; outerwear becomes nakedness, underwear becomes unavoidably visible. Through the medium of fashion, gender appropriation is called in to question.
Mr Pearl’s men’s corset re-imagines an item of women’s clothing, which is historically associated with female oppression and objectification. Corsets are mostly commonly associated with the 1800s, when the height of fashion was for women to have tiny cinched-in waists, achieved by squeezing their torsos into bone-lined, tight-laced corsets. This was an era during which fashionable ladies’ behaviour and movement was very restricted, they were subject to men’s control, and this is reflected in the corset fashion. A man wearing a corset alludes to this history by reversing the gender roles; men can have their bodies manipulated too. The male corset also touches on the taboo of cross-dressing, a subject which continues to be uncomfortable for both men and women, asking us to question conventional dichotomous ideas of identity and sexuality. Does wearing a piece of women’s clothing make a man less ‘male’?
The exhibition comes to an end with a little piece of true punk history. The most subversive of all the sub-cultures; Punk, fits right in to all the exhibition’s themes. The mid 70s youth movement in fashion and music was arguably born in the UK at Sex Pistol Malcolm McLaren’s boutique called ‘SEX’, on the King’s Road in London between 1974 and 1976. The boutique sold bondage and fetish wear, along with some designs by McLaren’s girlfriend Vivienne Westwood. Among Westwood’s designs that were sold at SEX were the pornographic printed t-shirts that appear in this collection. Aside from the graphic nature of the prints- which include men performing explicit sex acts combined with graffiti-style expletives- the t-shirts are authentic souvenirs from the punk movement, which was in itself extremely subversive. The basis of the Punk movement was fundamentally anti-establishment and concerned with individual freedom. In terms of fashion and aesthetics, there were no rules, except to be shocking and to break out of the contemporary norms of style and appearance. The inclusion of Westwood’s t-shirts adds a distinctively British touch to the exhibition, and draws together the concepts of subversion, statement fashion and sexual taboo neatly together. The capacity of ‘Subversive Design’ to captivate and engage visitors through its playful juxtaposition of humour and obscurity is what gives it a real edge. It is both delightfully accessible and socially conscious, making it well worth a visit.