XXY Reviews: Disobedient Bodies

XXY Reviews: Disobedient Bodies

Jonathan Anderson’s ‘Disobedient Bodies’ showcases the work of forty artists and designers exploring the shared experience of being human; demonstrating how each of our bodies are disobedient in some way. The starting point for Anderson’s exhibition at Wakefield’s Hepworth Gallery, was Henry Moore’s 1936 Reclining Figure sculpture. Its contorted form rejects the perfect representation of the body in classical art. It is a disobedient body.

At first, Wakefield may seem like an odd choice of venue, given that fashion is very firmly centred in London. However, Wakefield has a cultural history that runs deeper than its coal mining past. Famous sculptor, and friend and contemporary of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth was from the Yorkshire town. The gallery owns several of her works, some of which are featured in the ‘Disobedient Bodies’ exhibition.

Wakefield Kids. Photography Jamie Hawkesworth, courtesy of JW Anderson.

Anderson wants to encourage people to explore culture outside London. The Wakefield location hammers home the importance of community, evoking a homely and unpretentious feeling, which can be felt throughout the exhibition. Several portraits of local school children wearing JW Anderson clothes appear on the wall. Jamie Hawkesworth made sure to photograph all 123 children who applied, so that no one was left out.

No one is left out at ‘Disobedient Bodies.’ The interactive nature of the exhibition is evident, as even the JW Anderson sweaters hanging from the ceiling have been tied together by the public, giving the appearance of hand holding. This tactile room invites immersion, creating the feeling that we are not separate from the artwork. After all, it is our bodies that it is representing.

The sculptures of Henry Moore at first seem a far cry from contemporary fashion, but ‘Disobedient Bodies’ makes the comparisons clear. Celebrating imitation as innovation, Anderson has arranged a classic Jean Paul Gaultier cone dress so that it reclines in the same pose as Moore’s sculpture. Anderson also worked with photographer Jamie Hawkesworth to create a series of photographs inspired by the work of Henry Moore. Using Anderson’s own designs, the photos explore how clothing can alter the body’s silhouette, turning it into a sculpture that disobeys the natural form.

Gender is an important theme woven through the exhibition. The inclusion of a 1950s Dior dress suggests that even conservative fashion disobeys the body’s natural form to create a symbol of classic femininity that does not accurately reflect the shape of a woman’s body. A TV set shows a SHOWStudio video from 2002 where Alexander McQueen turns a bridegroom’s suit into a wedding dress, showing how easily notions of gender can be disrupted through what we put on our bodies.

Juxtaposing furniture and fashion, ‘Disobedient Bodies’ not only blurs the line between art and fashion, but defies preconception altogether. If fashion is something functional and art is just to be looked at, then the sculptural chairs and vases would be closer to fashion than art. In contrast, Rei Kawakubo’s clothes are so conceptual that they work as stand alone works of art, rather than wardrobe staples. Kawakubo’s MONSTER collection raises questions about deformity and how we define monster. The clothes suggest that the idea of something being visually monstrous is reductive. If bodily disobedience is joyful, then how can it turn us into monsters? There is beauty in monstrosity. The success of Moore’s sculptures proves this.

It is time to expand our definitions of beauty. ‘Disobedient Bodies’ creates an environment where all that is different or subversive is beautiful. Even from a remote northern town like Wakefield, comes powerful, collaborative creativity. Our bodies do not always look perfect and if that makes them disobedient then we should celebrate that.

Written by Sophie Wilson

Junior Editor

Jonathan Anderson, “Disobedient Bodies” runs at the Hepworth Gallery until 18th June, 2017

Visuals courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield