Canadian Art

Feature

Fashionality: Challenging the Dress Code

A feature from the Summer 2012 issue of Canadian Art
Spread for &quot;Fashionality&quot; by Gabrielle Moser, <em>Canadian Art</em>, Summer 2012, pp 56–7 / photo Christopher Dew Spread for "Fashionality" by Gabrielle Moser, Canadian Art, Summer 2012, pp 56–7 / photo Christopher Dew

Spread for &quot;Fashionality&quot; by Gabrielle Moser, <em>Canadian Art</em>, Summer 2012, pp 56–7 / photo Christopher Dew

KLEINBURG, ON From Camille Turner’s beauty-queen alter ego, Miss Canadiana, to Kent Monkman’s flamboyant First Nations drag character, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, larger-than-life personae animate “Fashionality: Dress and Identity in Contemporary Canadian Art” at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. The exhibition, on view to September 3, plays on a term that describes the way that personality, identity and nationality are expressed through dress, as seen in works by 23 Canadian artists.

Curated by Julia Pine, who worked with Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum for eight years, “Fashionality” is the result of six months of intensive study at the National Gallery of Canada, where Pine was a research fellow. “A number of recent exhibitions about artists’ use of fashion have focused on empty clothing, especially on dress as a surrogate for the body,” she explains. “I wanted to expand that to look at artists who work with clothing in a number of ways, including design, sculpture and performance. Identity rose to the surface as a key theme in my research, and it became clear that it should be the focus of the show.”

The exhibition brims with personalities. There are tongue-in-cheek takes on stereotypical Canadian garb, such as Janet Morton’s monumental knitted acrylic toque and Aganetha Dyck’s hockey gear, decorated with the delicate honeycomb of live bees. Turner’s fictional beauty-contest winner, Miss Canadiana, appears on plates and mugs commemorating her “homecoming” tour through Hamilton, Ontario. Her evening gown, sash and tiara look more than a little incongruous against the city’s imposing industrial landscape. As a satire on Canadian multiculturalism, the work picks up social resonance with every image.

Other projects also use dress as a form of social critique, contesting, for instance, the way that Canada’s Aboriginal peoples have traditionally been represented: photographs from KC Adams’s Cyborg Hybrids series (2009–ongoing) picture a futuristic First Nations snowboarder as a counterpoint responding to clichés of “the dying race.” In contrast, there are quiet and unexpected uses of clothing, including Cathy Daley’s expressive pastel drawings of skirts, heels and little black dresses, Natalie Purschwitz’s year-long experiment in making her own daily wardrobe and Nicole Dextras’s haunting photographs of clothes frozen in the northern landscape.

For Pine, the sensibility at play is often distinctly Canadian: “One thing that surprised me was how many artists focus on nature, both in their choice of materials and setting. The theme of survival is also present, which seems to point to Margaret Atwood’s idea about how survival informs Canadian culture.”

Seen in the rough-hewn log rooms of the McMichael, “Fashionality” is a rich reminder of the ways that a sense of national self is always a work in progress: a process that, in this case, is marked with characteristic humour and creative ingenuity.

This article was first published online on August 30, 2012.

RELATED STORIES

  • TH&B2: Post-Industrial Strength

    TH&B, a collective named after the defunct Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway, mounted its second large group show this spring. As Caitlin Sutherland observes, the exhibition evoked Steeltown’s struggle to redefine itself as a cultural hub.

  • Oh, Canada: National Dreams

    The survey “Oh, Canada,” billed as the largest-ever exhibition of contemporary Canadian art abroad, opened last week in Massachusetts. Nancy Tousley reviews the show and its nation-sized ambitions.

  • Oh, Canada: An Interview with Denise Markonish

    Opening on May 27 at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, “Oh, Canada” will be the largest survey of Canadian contemporary art ever held on American soil. In this interview from our Spring 2012 magazine, critic Sarah Milroy talks about the show's development with MASS MoCA curator Denise Markonish.

 

FOUNDATION NEWS

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

ONLINE

  • Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Black Birds

    New York critic Joseph R. Wolin heads to the Park Avenue Armory where Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are creating a buzz (and other sounds) at the US premiere of a dark, nightmarish installation originally created for the 2008 Biennale of Sydney.

  • Grange Prize 2012: Hot Shots

    One of Canada’s largest cash-value art prizes—$65,000 in total with $50,000 going to the winner, $5,000 to three runners-up—announced its finalists this week. Take in their wide-ranging works in this slideshow.

  • Wanda Koop: Into the Woods

    A visit to Wanda Koop’s cabin near Riding Mountain National Park in southern Manitoba proves intriguing for Vancouver critic Robin Laurence. There, Laurence writes, Koop bridges old Grey Owl myths with a new series of paintings on our increasingly digital culture.

  • Brad Tinmouth: Survival Strategies

    The basement of an art gallery may seem an unlikely place to create an emergency shelter. However, Xpace's lower gallery is an ideal setting for Brad Tinmouth's “If Times Get Tough or Even If They Don't,” which evokes a cold-war bunker.

  • Wim Delvoye: Blame it on Paris

    Silk-covered pigs, lattice-cut car tires and a tattooed man are just a few of the works that Belgian artist Wim Delvoye has shuttled into the old, Gothic wing of the Louvre this summer. Jill Glessing reviews, finding a terrific amalgam of high and low.

More Online

Report a problem