The Third Triennial of Photography and Video
October 2, 2009 – January 17, 2010
Museum of the International Center Of Photography (New York)
Exhibition Review by David Godichaud
Is fashion only the expression of human vainglory? Reflecting the thoughtful mood in the US following the financial collapse, this year’s third Triennial of photography and video organized by New York’s International Center of Photography (ICP) set itself the task to show, through the works of 34 international artists, that fashion and dress have much more to reveal about our inner and social selves than we think.
Dress Codes concludes the ICPs Year or Fashion, which featured Weird Beauty and other exhibitions about Edward Steichen – a Vogue photographer in the 1920s – or fashion-photography icon Richard Avedon. It distances itself form the simple-mindedness and clichés surrounding fashion photography, an art often considered corrupt, and enslaved by an industry it is bound to prop up. “A woman doesn’t cry under her Dior hat”, was a remark made to Avedon when he dared to take this liberty. This year’s Dress Codes goes beyond all this and explores the meaning of dress in societies, and the place of the individual in them.
On the opening day of the triennial on the 1st of October, communist China celebrated the 60th anniversary of the foundation of its regime. International observers of the official celebrations were not so much impressed by the military paraphernalia on show, but by the thousands of uniformed men and women that marched on Tiananmen Square in Beijing under the watchful eyes of a black Mao suit-clad Hu Jintao: they created uniformity, expressed national belonging, and revealed the chilling power of the country and its state. Yet as China grows capitalist, Zhou Tao’s work presented this year in Manhattan, focused on the dress codes and rituals of Guangzhou’s armies of workers. His worked uncovered the deeper social significance of dress in a China in transition between post- totalitarian uniformity and a nascent individualism, explored for its part by Hu Yang in his work on Shanghai Living.
Another central theme of this triennial is, unsurprisingly, women. Stepping directly into the topic, Dutch artist Jacqueline Hassink’s videos and the New Yorker Mickalene Thomas stress the deep links between Fashion and the Feminine Condition. Woman-objects, feminine beauty, Black women. In a more photojournalistic style Russia’s Olga Cernysheva’s work goes to the heart of the Russia’s transition crisis. Pinar Yolacan for her part asked Afro-brazilian women to pose for her in odd garnments in the old Portuguese colonial style and assembled from a variety of materials, in particular animal skins, or placentas, to name a few. One is immediately reminded of the work of William Wegman: this throws the visitor into a sort of malaise, the weight of history becomes hard to bear. The glares, resigned or suspicious, of these women remind us that race has always been an underlying criterion to determine elegance. Pinar Yolacan’s portraits are truly powerful and dramatic.
In Dress codes fashion becomes a pretext for artistic creation, a means of political and social expression. It is an aesthetic dress-down experience, revealing humanity’s more intimate and true self beneath the smokes and mirrors of fashion’s glitz.