Creative Process Journal: Curation and Judith Clark

Pretentious from The Concise Dictionary of Dress
Photo by Julian Abrams 2010
Judith Clark is a curator of fashion exhibitions that are often unconventional and thought provoking, including The Concise Dictionary of Dress in 2010. In this exhibition, fashionable objects or works of art relating to the clothed body were juxtaposed alongside singular words addressing the psychology of the fashioned body, such as "armoured, conformist, fashionable, plain, pretentious, provocative, tight". The setting of this exhibition was within the confines of the storage facility of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which added a degree of theatrically and exclusivity. This was a show that required advance booking. If your name was not on the security list, you were left standing at the locked gate. All belongings had to be left behind before entry and small groups of visitors were accompanied through the exhibition by a guide. Talking was not permitted and signage was virtually non-existent. In absence of a history the object or explanation of what was being presented, the dialogue was internal, challenging the viewer to create connections and links between the words and the objects. This was a show that haunts me still.

Conformed from The Concise Dictionary of Dress
Photo by Julian Abrams 2010
In the exhibition catalogue, there is a section towards the end in which questions were posed to Judith by an anonymous panel. The fifteen questions include:

Does one need a body to bring a garment to life and why?

There seem to be two categories of embodiment implied by the commission. The ghost-like presence of clothing once inhabited and the absent body of the archivist. What sort of relationship between curator and curated do these shadows and voids suggest?

What is most interesting: finding, collection, drawing or making the exhibition?

What does the desirability of historic/vintage dress say about a particular period in time?

Her answers reveal a fierce intellect, one that is capable of bringing coherence to a divergent array of items of dress. She suggests that the absence of the living body is at the heart of curating dress, and she sees that the priority for her is not the re-enactment of history but to use dress to "talk about other things". In specific reference to The Concise Dictionary of Dress she says: "In this particular series of installations, there is a double loss of life, if you like: that of the garment without its body, and the garment out of sight, embedded within an archive. The archive is a very important ingredient here, as visitors do not expect garments to have been brought to life, but instead stored, classified and protected, and it is here that I am free to wonder: what are we storing when we are storing dress?"

For me, in storing a dress, the garment changes context when it is separated from its owner and placed in an archive for study purposes. It becomes an object with a number and is divorced from its former owner, except within the records. Yet the traces of the wearer might live on in the folds, embedded in the marks and stains of the living body. There is a story, whether it is known or not, whether it is recorded or not. When a garment is accepted into a collection, it signifies the end stage of the garment's biography because it will never again adorn a living body.

Clark, Judith and Adam Phillips. The Concise Dictionary of Dress. London: Violette Limited, 2010. Print.

Mida, Ingrid. "Exhibition Review: The Concise Dictionary of Dress." June 7, 2010. Available online at
Accessed September 9, 2012.

Mida, Ingrid. "Book Review: The Concise Dictionary of Dress." June 9, 2010. Available online at
Accessed September 9, 2012.

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