Rei Kawakubo’s art fills part of the second floor of the Metropolitan Art Museum this summer. The show is titled “Art of the In-Between.” The Japanese designer works with what is loosely categorized “textiles” to create stitched, wrapped, and layered cocoons and coverings, human scale, best interpreted on humanesque models. The work includes designs from 1983 to the present.
|cover art "The Handmaid's Tale"|
This exhibit is a collaboration between Kawakubo and the staff at the Met; the result is breathtaking. Manikins cluster in windowed, pure white pods that look like sleeper cylinders scattered around the room. Viewers may wander in, around and behind. The lighting is perfect.
But it’s the manikins themselves that extend the story. Human-female sized, they are without facial features and are as white as the shells where they stand. Any measure of “ugly” or “beautiful” is erased in favor of a more relevant descriptor, wabi-sabi, the Buddhist aesthetic principle that rejects the idea of perfection.
It’s the hair on these beings that break the Third Dimension and sends us into Neverland! The hair is coned, braided, fluffed, and dyed into exaggerated versions of both real and alien styles; the styles “match” the story begun as “clothing.”
In the guide that accompanies the exhibit, short quotes from the artist reside alongside rather lengthy academic explanations of Kawaskubo’s clothing-non-clothing. Sprinkled with words like “Zen koans or riddles,” mu (emptiness) and ma (space), we viewers are supposed to grasp the idea of in-between-ness, clothes-that-aren’t, wearables that mostly ignore human shapes and needs. We get it already! No need to work so hard on the explanations!
This fashion owes a nod to “cosplay” - a hugely popular hobby that originated in Japan where participants dress in complicated fantasy costumes apart from legitimate stage acting; streets, clubs and festivals are venues for these performers who, incidentally, call themselves reiya (layers).
|A Quaker dress from 1700s|
All wearable art stands on shoulders of a very long lineage of seamstresses-tailors-designers and clearly, Kawakubo borrows liberally. Tracing possible inspirations sends you spiraling down a rabbit hole. I know because I’m barely coming out myself and I’ve hardly scratched the research surface.
Because this is such a rich visual story, I’ve assembled photographs of clothing that might have inspired the Comme des Garcons (like some boys) collection. I’ll try to twin them with Kawakubo’s work and you can judge for yourself.
|toulouse-latrec poster (1800's)|
|Past/Present/Future (3 stages of separation: birth, marriage, death)|
|cosplay - Tokyo|