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EXPOSED! Is my nipple showing?

by Deborah Turnbull on 12 SEP 2009

So my friend Grace FINALLY started her blog, called Cult of Clothes. If you knew how much our immediate circle of friends rely on Gracie as a fashion guru (and witty satirist, you should READ the emails she sends her estate agent, they are HILARIOUS!) you too would be heaving a sigh of relief.  Most of this centres around finding out what Grace might think of the latest trend BEFORE you've gone out and bought it, which in the case of legging jeans, has proved very useful. 

William ClaxtonAs such, she has inspired me to write about clothes...well, exhibitions about clothes anyways.  I know they aren't interactive or necessarily NEW media, but the more I work with digital, filmic, and computational work, the more interested I become in tangible objects, or the ephemera of exhibitions. And what 30-something professional isn't interested in fashion, right? I mean COME ON! I have to wear a UNIFORM to work...and it is comprised of a blue striped shirt not dissimilar to Bananas in Pajamas....sigh.  You can see why when Alison Gwilt, Course Director for Fashion & Textiles @ UTS, asked me to participate as project manager for UTS Gallery's recent exhibition Fashioning Now, I nodded enthusiastically while grinning.  Who wouldn't want to be inspired by new ideas on sustainable fashion, or meet Anna and Luke from Romance was Born?  In truth though, I'd also had my eye on visiting the Maritime Museum exhibition on swimwear for a while. How can one really stay away from and exhibition titled: EXPOSED! and featuring a topless model from the 60s, Peggy Moffit no less, as their siren call.  Oooooh, the intrigue! Ooooh the fun with censoring said topless model wearing a Rudi Gernriech design for a topless swimsuit...scandal scandal!

When you imagine me going to the exhibition, you might think me very reserved with my glasses and a notepad.  In fact, I went on a work excursion <field trip for my North American readers> to suss out how other museums run their customer service departments. After a free trip on the monorail [whoo hoo!] and a quick briefing about the way the Maritime FOH Manager runs things {I swear I looked VERY interested}, we were let loose on the museum.  When I say let loose, I mean that myself and newbie Alice Gage tore off through the museum, she with the eye of an editor and designer, and myself with the eye of a curator.  Now Alice, nicknamed by me as Gage-y, is a sheer force of nature.  She's funky and sarcastic, incredibly bright, and listens to what you're saying in such a way that you truly believe you're affecting her. As such, when we approached the exhibition, she already has all sorts of information on it and I knew it would be more animated due to her company. "Haven't you heard of Burkini's Deb?" <insert dramatic eye roll when I grinned and said, "nope!"> "God, look at these costumes, Deb!" when we were confronted with Annette Kellerman's film and performance costumes...think glittering mermaid "Which swimming cap would you wear? <my answer was the sea urchin pink spikey one>; "I'd wear THOSE pajamas to the beach FOR SURE" when we discovered Coco Chanel's silk beach pajamas, and finally, "I don't have much hope for these swimsuits of the future, they kinda suck". 

Where I wouldn't have the courage (and they didn't have the underwire) to support some of the swimsuits of the future, I was certainly intrigued.  It turns out they were a project by the Queensland University of Technology's 2nd year design students and there's a blog and everything.  The blog is a good deal more interesting than the finished designs, which are a cross between evening and swim wear, but then I've always been a bit of a process gal. I like a good journey.  I have to say though, one of my favourite parts of the exhibition were the tactile squares of fabrics I could touch.  I didn't know swim-wear could be made of silk or cotton or wool, but now I knew how it would feel against my skin.  I was also reminded that many Aussies have as many swimsuits as I have shoes due to the lovely weather here. Perhaps I should rethink my one sturdy black tankini and pepper my wardrobe with more variety and colour when it comes to swimwear.  Gracie would certainly be proud, she hates it when I wear black!

Aside from inspiring consumerist notions in me, the curators made good use of the long thin space they were allotted for the exhibition (think hallway).  Clever case designs and tactile elements mixed up what might have otherwise felt like a bit of a peep show.  Indeed one could watch riske films clips from the 20s and 30s and see examples of naughty miniatures imported from Europe, which went along with, and in some cases inspired, Australia's beach culture.  There were magazines, posters, scientific information on the materials used, and even a fashion video which was displayed on a vertically hung plasma to mirror the mirrored catwalk of said future swimwear. When I first came to Australia from Canada, I was a little shocked by how naked the culture was. My blue-white skin tone attests to the fact that we largely cover up in rainy Vancouver, and I was a little shocked at the bronzed and topless women that dotted the same beaches where I was wrapped in shawls, swathed in sunscreen, and perched under my trusty umbrella.  Here I was though, 5 short years later, grinning at the cheeky nature of the exhibition which also presented a somewhat feminist notion of these same garments which so shocked society in their time.  And to think, these costumes aren't even really required anymore. 

Where I was quite certain I wasn't ready for a topless swimsuit, I rest-assured knew where to purchase a Burkini or how to have an outfit designed for a cocktail party in the sand.  Regarding the Maritime Museum, where else can you take in a history of the swimsuit AND get a tour of a submarine in the same place? As for young Gage-y, she argued with a young tour guide on the ethics of submarine evacuation and was called weird by an elderly submarine volunteer to which she grinned, and true to form, sarcastically replied "Thanks Ken!".  Don't worry, by the end of the tour they were hugging like old friends.  And as for my friend Grace, I'd love to hear her opinons on the swimsuits of the future...

Visit EXPOSED! at the Maritime Museum until the 25 October 2009.

Photograph by William Claxton and property of Demont Photo Management (borrowed from the Martime Museum website...thanks!)

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by Grace on 20 SEP 2009 at 08:50

Thanks for the plug my beautiful friend! I'll be returning the favour soon : )

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