Androgynous States

Entering a chiffon-lined room filled with Issey Miyake’s illuminated concertinaed dresses, the viewer is instantly met by a distinctly stylish aesthetic. Reminiscent of draped fashion booths, the layout of the Hepworth’s latest exhibition transports audiences into a white labyrinth where the body and its attire revel in a refreshingly androgynous state. Curated by Irish fashion designer Jonathan Anderson and devised with 6a architects, Disobedient Bodies playfully collects a total of 96 works spanning the disciplines of video, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, fashion, dance, painting and photography into a cohesive display. The show cleverly separates the potentially overwhelming number of works into digestible pockets, where the viewer can compare pieces in a contained environment before moving onto the next compartment.

Drawing on Yorkshire-born Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore’s radical interpretations of the human form, Disobedient Bodies proposes a comprehensive survey of how the body has been redefined over the last century. Through a process of “disregarding the obvious characteristics of these objects and asking how things communicate with each other in 2017,” Anderson proposes new dialogues between items that have rarely stood side by side. Sara Flynn’s asymmetric porcelain Camber Vessels (2015) are accompanied by Anderson’s SS/14 menswear collection comprised of tunic tops folded with origami-like accuracy. The jet black and angular nature of both the garments and porcelain objects speak to one another, presenting a common representation of the body across two disparate design fields. Likewise, the abstract and angular lines of Lynn Chadwick’s bronze sculpture, Teddy Boy and Girl (1979) resonate with the aluminium lattice clasped around the waist of Junya Watanabe’s Architectural dress. This interweaving of fashion and contemporary sculpture highlights the collaborative nature of art and design and their shared interest in the natural world and the human body.

Popular as always is the show’s immersive component – many visitors can be found entwined in Anderson’s 28 Jumpers. Produced for the exhibition, the series of oversized and brightly coloured jumpers invite the viewer to engage with the tactile nature of textiles, reminding us of the familiar experience of pulling on our clothes. Behind this forest of knitted pattern is Jamie Hawkesworth The Thinleys, a series of photographs examining how garments can be used to change the body’s silhouette. Challenging the human figure further is Scenario by Merce Cunningham which, along with Rei Kawakubo’s padded costumes, investigates the ambiguity of bodily distortion and the potential for alternative movement. Franz Erhard Walther’s Three Columns YELLOW (1985) that appears slightly dismissed behind an enlarged version of Naum Gabo’s steel sculpture Head No.2, (1916) proposes an exercise on how the body and its actions can be animated through felt apparatus.

A prominent talking point in contemporary art is dance and the instantaneous exploration of the body that it provides. Martha Graham’s video performance Lamentation (1935) tests the perimeters of grief through a single garment that stresses the torment that obsesses the body. Of course, there is an abundant list of ‘celebrity’ artists including Louise Bourgeois and Sarah Lucas, both of whom distort the female form in-line with the male gaze, as well as five-star designers including Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood, who challenge stylistic preconceptions of the fashion world. These icons place the exhibition on the verge of blockbuster status – a condition not necessary for the enjoyment of works that intuitively hint at the human condition. Still, their inclusion does not overshadow accompanying artists due to the show’s aversion of traditional wall text, opting instead to aid the viewer with a comprehensive catalogue.

Selina Oakes

Disobedient Bodies: JW Anderson Curates the Hepworth Wakefield runs until 18 June. For more information:

1. The Thinleys (2015). Courtesy Jamie Hawkesworth.