By Michael Eilers
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Fashion and the act of dressing up has remained one of the most persistent influences on the whole of Western culture, and clothes remain a potent medium for both self-expression and socialization. "Dress Up Tonight," a show by UA alumnus Sarah Allen, considers the personal side of fashion, where clothes reflect the personality of the wearer.
Allen is a recent graduate of the University of Arizona's New Genres program, an area of concentration within the Arts Department that focuses on the expressive potential of video and performance art.
Allen's installation, on display at the Bero Gallery, features six dresses suspended from the ceiling by fishing line, each complemented by a series of black-and-white photographs. Collected from used and vintage clothing stores, or made by the artist from vintage patterns, each dress represents a mood or character, evoking an emotional response reflected in the photographs.
"Glam Dress" features a richly patterned silver-metallic dress, cut in a '70s style that looks extremely current in light of recent "retro" fashions. The accompanying photographs include severely cropped scenes of Allen on an escalator and walking with a stylized, posed set of gestures. A triptych, or series of three photos, features Allen cropped into a headless, armless torso, reduced to a clothes dummy.
Made by Allen from a vintage pattern, "1968 Slip Dress" is a dark green creation with a ragged hemline. This dress evokes the most personal series of photographs, in which Allen is captured in atmospheric, introspective moments that create a melancholy mood. Perhaps the most personal of the series, these photographs have a fragile, transparent quality created entirely by Allen's expressive body positions.
The photographs themselves were taken by fibers graduate student Polly Giragosian, based on scenes composed by Allen. All are close-cropped portraits with a narrow focus and little depth, unframed and untitled. Rather than standing as separate pieces, the pho-
tos work to illustrate the temper of each dress. Placing each dress in a societal context, the poses, angles, and background scenery composed by Allen reflect a tension between the prescriptive element of fashion and the personal expression of the wearer.
Saturday night March 4, Allen and Giragosian presented a collaborative performance based on the installation. Using two table-mounted sewing machines and two dozen dresses as props, the performers changed costume constantly, taking on different moods and attitudes with each clothing change and speaking about memories and anecdotes inspired by the dresses. The performance culminated in a flurry of activity as both pulled on one dress after another, layering the clothing until they were literally suffocating.
Underlying this installation is the tension created by the artist's ambivalence. Fashion is alternately presented as oppression, as in "Glam Dress," and as a vehicle for self-expression, as in "1968 Slip Dress." The Bero exhibit is an interesting cross between mediums and messages, taking a simple subject and revealing the underlying complexity. As each dress evokes a different response, corresponding and conflicting aspects of Allen's personality are revealed.
"Dress Up Tonight" is showing at the Bero Gallery, 41 S. 6th Ave. through March 25th. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Thursday Art Walk, and Downtown Saturday Night. Call 792-0313 for more information.
Read Next Article