Out of Fashion highlights a vanishing art form

by Keith Barber

Upon entering the Out of Fashion exhibit currently on display at the Southeastern Center for Contem- porary Art, the first set of objects that catches the viewer’s eye is Gabrielle Duggan’s “Spectrum,” a commentary on “the ideals and values embedded in one’s sense of fashion,” according to exhibit curator Steven Matijcio.

Duggan, a Buffalo native who now resides in Raleigh, pays homage to her experience growing up in the Rust Belt of upstate New York by arranging mannequins wearing garments comprised of various combinations of alpaca, wool, cotton, hemp, and Tussah silk.

The eight garments reflect degrees of protection and vulnerability and challenge the viewer to decide if Duggan’s arrangement reflects progress or regress.

“Playing upon our inherent tendency to rank the individual components of a line-up, Duggan creates a multi-dimensional spectrum of materials, techniques and utility that remains open to interpretation,” Matijcio states. “Which direction represents upgrade is left for the viewer to decide.”

The title “Spectrum” is appropriate as Duggan interweaves a variety of fabrics to create a debate between form versus function, manual versus machine, raw versus refined and repulsive versus attractive. Out of Fashion stands as a fitting tribute to the textile industry by gathering artists and

designers from across the state who simultane- ously reflect on the industry’s eternal imprint on North Carolina and to re-imagine the possibilities of textiles in a 21 st century global economy.

Another notable work in the Out of Fashion exhibit is Jan Ru-Wan’s “The Coercion,” an elevated collection of non-woven fabrics suspended by metal hooks and rings. A native of Taipei, Tiawan, Wan now lives and works in Raleigh. The Far East influence in Wan’s work is evident as her piece “navigates physical, cultural, and political notions of balance by suspending material in space.”

The metal hooks and rings are from airplane cargo holds, the geometric formation of red shirts speaks to a strict ordering in the work. From the tunics to their printing to the tailoring and arrangement, the work speaks to the concept of Asian conformity, Matijcio states, and the mass production of both people and goods.

“This is the impending ‘red scare,’ hanging hooks like lures as the monolithic entity swells like a looming storm cloud,” he adds.

Around the corner from Wan’s “The Coercion” is Stephanie Liner’s “Moments of a Doomed Construct: Carriage Dress.” The contrast between the works creates a shift in the viewer’s mind from an uneasy feeling to one of playfulness and poking fun at ideas about the female body.

A native of Charlotte, Liner pays tribute’  to two of North Carolina’s legacy industries, textiles and furniture, in a single work of art. Matijcio states that the dress extends a sexualized part of the female body — the posterior — to “amplify gender as a contested site of conflict, negotiation and power.”

Liner fuses furniture, fashion and femininity by depicting a woman standing with hands on hips as her rear end morphs into a rounded carriage set atop Cabriole legs. In one work, Liner has creatively commented on the ancient gender struggle that “plays out beneath the costume of civility.”

Other notable works in the exhibit include Pilot Mountain native Precious Lovell’s “Blood, Sweat & Tears” series. Lovell mines a rich source of material, African fiber-making traditions that are quickly becoming obsolete.

“I endeavor to write new stories expressed through the medium of cloth,” Lovell writes in an artist statement. “One story at a time. One person at a time. I am my work.”