Monthly Archives: January 2013

Hollywood Costume, V&A

Indiana Jones, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Donna from Mama Mia, Roxie from Chicago; the characters that we remember live with us far beyond the short time they flicker in front of us on a screen. We escape with them into their dramas, witness love, life, murder, adventure, and then carry a little bit of them forwards beyond the film. The power of storytelling is ancient and potent, human beings thrive on narrative, we learn and develop through words on a page and characterisations on stage, scripts are modern day folk tales told around a fire. Costume shapes the way people move, defines status and time, and helps to bring these stories to life in the most magical way.

This is one hell of a show, a tightly crafted production with universal appeal. Like the James Bond franchise and Kate Middleton’s with her knee length shifts, the V&A is most successful when it sticks to its tried and tested aesthetic formulas. Hollywood Costume takes the best of these, tying together the beautiful, exotic and recognisable screen clothing which visitors have paid to see with engaging interviews, soundtracks and film clips. All of this highlighted beautifully with excellent spot lighting in the opulent dark surroundings.

In the opening space were some of the most iconic pieces, my favourite were the dresses from Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love, gorgeous things that we will never get chance to wear. This is much more than static clothes on mannequins (head to the fashion department if you want that), these are lively pieces with their own stories. We learn little gems of information, like that Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones had ten of his trademark jackets, and that each was artfully dishevelled with wire wool and sandpaper to make it appear lived in. Tim Burton, further along, describes Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd jacket as a character itself, and I think this could be said of many of the costumes.

One of the best elements of the show were the table sets in the second room, the rotating design sketches, sections of film and the key figures in the costume decision making (designers, actors, directors) discussing their craft. These were all projected onto plain black tables and chairs, inviting a more intimate exploration of a small number of films and the key pieces of tailoring that defined an individual character. The presence of audio-visual has been a constant in V&A exhibitions for many years, gaining in sophistication and testing the creativity of curators and designers who must slot the elements in seamlessly and without detracting from the objects themselves.

The conversations and accompanying texts provide a lot of insight into the tiny and very considered decisions which are made in the creation of costumes, the way that small elements like the cut of a jacket, or the exact shade of a dress, can convey so much information about personality and mood. The last room seemed to heighten this, film outfits were topped off with TV screens showing the faces of the actors who had made them famous. This didn’t just show how these people had worn and worked these clothes, it showed how the clothes had worked them. In a way, the psychology behind the clothing choices we all make is being explored. Next time you choose what t-shirt or dress to put on in a morning, maybe stop and think about what this is wordlessly explaining to others about the person you are.

Hollywood Costume at the V&A.

Hollywood Costume at the V&A.

Hollywood Costume closes tomorrow (27th January 2013).


Nearly everybody in the Western world, particularly the United Kingdom, must be familiar with Gormley’s humanoid sculptures by now. His work has been fairly overexposed, the figures on the beach, the strangers, the Angel of the North. This might lead critics to mistakenly believe that there is nothing new to be seen in a Gormley exhibition, nothing new in his oeuvre. These critics should head to the White Cube if they want to be proved wrong.

The main rooms of the gallery have been taken over by Gormley’s benevolent subjects. They appear as friendly guardians, keepers of some secret, inherent knowledge. His figures, though pared down to the least number of shapes possible, are strangely more human than, say, a hyperrealist Chuck Close or Ron Mueck portrait. There is a different kind of intimacy here, an affinity with the interior silent parts of our self. Gormley’s figures are content to be isolated, they are self absorbed and inward looking. Yet we negotiate the space differently now they are around, this space clearly belongs to them, and we sense that they don’t wish to be disturbed.

South Gallery 1 contains rows of tables full of the artist’s experiments, test runs and sketches. This is evidence of his meticulous testing, plotting and recalculating, the remains of an ingenious mind at play. It’s a curious room full of stuff to feast the eyes on; a cross between Jenga and Transformers meets a school design lab. What Gormley does best is showcase the infinite representative potential of a few geometric shapes. The large central table delightfully illustrates this with its wooden orange and grey characters, starling in their simplicity.

The main attraction, though, is the show’s namesake Model (2012). Sat inside the main exhibition room of White Cube is a hulking metal carcass, a playground for the grown-up child in all of us. Once you’ve signed your life away on a waiver form (low ceilings + sheet metal + dark spaces = a potential health and safety quagmire) you can enter inside this huge body, passing through the feet into the shadowy interior spaces. You’ll pass through chasms of lights, where the just visible loftier parts of the body are begging to be climbed on and explored, and dark tunnels where you can barely see in front of your hand.

This space makes you greedy; you want it all to yourself, a giant den of a man, all of the reverberations, reflections, unyielding surfaces and dark holes to hide in. The interior creates a comforting presence, not male or female, just human and protective. If you venture as far as you can go you’ll find yourself at the end of the road, in the inner sanctum, the most secretive space of the body, the furtive womb (or perhaps gender-neutral stomach). It is DARK in here, so dark you can’t tell whether you are alone in there or not. Still, there is no room for fear in this darkness, this is no Miroslaw Balka work. Gormley crucially understands people, and their reactions to and negotiations with spaces and places.

I left with the regret of a child leaving a magical, newly discovered play space at the end of a holiday, and a persistent (still-lingering) headache from thwacking my head on one of the low hanging tunnel walls. Go, but don’t become so mesmerised that you forget to look where you’re going!

Antony Gormley, Model (2012). An interior view of the artwork.

Antony Gormley, Model (2012). An interior view of the artwork.

On display until 10th February 2013.

Tom Wood, Men and Women

Men and women, boys and girls, young, colourful, decaying, decrepit, all stages of life and varying degrees of poverty are on display until 6pm today at the Photographers’ Gallery, London. Tom Wood’s concise exhibition, which has been running since 12th October, closes today. If you’re in the area, you should definitely make a quick detour from your sales shopping for the chance to be immersed in other people’s lives, if but for a moment.

Irish-born Wood has been photographing members of the British working class across four decades of his life. His interest seems to have been piqued by those living in Liverpool and Merseyside, this exhibition focuses on this selection of his work. If you’ve been to the (fairly) new incantation of the Gallery over on Ramillies Street you’ll know the exhibition spaces are compact. There’s still a lot to see here.

Lining the walls are faces we all recognise, but aren’t called to notice very often: the worn face of a toilet attendant, the young self satisfied girl applying lipstick using a compact mirror on the train. There are also signs of hard times; young children dressed in oversized hand me down clothes, a scowling ginger girl carrying a baby across wasteland and a pregnant woman posing in a dilapidated room. Most prevalent, though, is the faint hint of pathos. It’s there in the face of the old woman staring critically at herself in a mirror, in the empty face of the lone man in the pub. You may feel pangs of pathos too, for your lost youth, as you survey the giggling girls on the brink of puberty enjoying themselves at the fairground, or the tiny blue and red figure ‘in a huff’ in the hallway.

It’s not only the stark ordinary faces that dazzle in these photographs, the tonal pallet might pull you right back into your childhood. Contained in this white cube room are the bright brashness of cheaply dyed clothes and the pastel hues of sunsets glowing off peroxide hair. Contrasting with which are the sludgey browns of the local pub and the flat strips of terrace housing against grey skies, there are no opulent, exotic shades here. This is pure 80’s nostalgia.

Real life is captured within these images, not the glossy world portrayed in fashion magazine spreads. Nobody is beautiful, nobody is out of reach. Elements of the stories told feel very northern, the proud elderly faces and the old man telling off a sheepish youngster on the bus. But for good and for bad, there are elements of all our lives that we’ll recognise here. The loyal families and Sunday trips to the market, as well as the pornographic posters stuck to the roadside and the lonely expressions in empty rooms; Wood’s camera lens is all seeing, all encompassing.

My companion noted that pictures from his family album wouldn’t look out of place on the walls, that nobody would notice if he slipped one in. Of course, that isn’t the case; Wood’s offerings are expertly and sensitively shot, fine tuned over years of perfecting his craft. My friend was onto something though, I should warn you to expect to feel pangs of remembrance of your own past. I certainly did, despite myself, think back to seaside arcades in those endless yellow summers, cheap cider in the park, my Nan’s cramped frilly front room on a Sunday, Woolworths pick and mix and socks from the market. Even if you had a more affluent upbringing, there’ll surely be some point of recall for you in this exhibition.


Tom Wood, Three Wise Women (1989)

On display until 6pm, 6th January 2013.