Disobedient Bodies, curated by Northern Irish fashion designer Jonathan Anderson, is a richly imagined world of sculptural forms and bodily objects. Three galleries in The Hepworth Wakefield’s David Chipperfield designed building have been transformed in this project, developed by Anderson alongside The Hepworth Wakefield, and in collaboration with Tom Emerson and Stephanie Macdonald of 6a architects. Creating a unique staging within the gallery, fabric from Anderson’s archives are suspended, draped with even curtain-like folds, to section off and bisect its spaces. This creates an atmosphere that is at once soft but structural, the different fabrics offering a new sensory effect with each new curtained-off section.
Leave the billowing gauze and you pass into a space encircled by oatmeal corduroy. The sound changes; it even feels warmer. Here a plush nylon duvet coat by Rick Owens – all amazingly fleshy lumps and awkward bumps – stands facing Louise Bourgeois’ ‘Untitled’ (1998). Bourgeois’ sculpture is lumps and bumps too, but wrought out of fine, fleshly coloured nylon tights held taught over a wire frame so that you can almost see through them.
Men’s and women’s bodies are represented in almost equal numbers, but none of them do so through a straightforward iteration of gender. Masculinity and femininity are not necessarily done away with but used at their disobedient best. Even a magnificent emerald green Christian Dior dress (1952), the nearest hint at the feminine glamour we are so used to from fashion houses, become wonderfully androgynous in the space.
This is an exhibition that invites you to step closer to things. The objects and materials, and their positioning in relation to each other, provoke a very tactile response. Beautifully textured materials and objects are everywhere. As is to be expected from an art gallery, visitors are not permitted to touch most of the objects; instead, as your eyes roam you are touched visually by the smooth, sharp, furry and supple surfaces.
In his introduction to the exhibition, Anderson reflects on being struck by Barbara Hepworth’s instructions fro how her sculptures should be approached. She wanted them be touched and felt, he recalls. In response to this, Anderson has dedicated a whole room these effects. ’28 Jumpers’ is an installation of elongated and oversized knitted jumpers in a number of patterns suspended from the ceiling. Like a forest of wooly trees visitors can walk among the jumpers, feel them and even try to put them on.
If the exhibition invites you to get close, it doesn’t allow you to get cosy. Many of the art and fashion objects harbour an uncanny quality. Sculptures by Sarah Lucas, Maria Bartuszová and Bourgeois lead the charge, in this respect, but many sculptures such as those by Henry Moore or Lynn Chadwick from The Hepworth Wakefield collection are enlivened with the unheimlich, set next to angular dresses or wide brimmed leather hats that reflect or mimic what the sculpture does itself. The minimal signage and wealth of fascinating objects allow you to almost lose yourself in the intimate spaces. This is an exhibition to spend time with. Which is to say, go and see the bodies, the Disobedient Bodies, and feel them come alive.
Disobedient Bodies, The Hepworth Wakefield, 18 March – 18 June 2017.
Elspeth Mitchell is a writer and researcher based in Leeds.
Image: JW Anderson, ’28 Jumpers’. Photo: Lewis Ronald. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield.