Negative spaces and sad faces [so long Farhi well]

On Friday evening, I sauntered down to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace to attend a small talk entitled In Conversation with Colin McDowell and Gareth Pugh. I understood the content to surround the current exhibition [In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion] although the conversation did digress, which was actually to my benefit. I’m not going to try and pretend here that it wasn’t the two stellar names that drew me in, rather than the pomp and ruffage of the aforementioned period and in no way am I  discrediting those natty dressers, nor the idea of history and continuum in fashion, it’s just that jaunty attire doesn’t really get me going. A little awe-struck and enchanted by McDowell’s commanding presence, I sat for just over an hour and absorbed the influences and ideas of the magnificent Mr Pugh. The most notable takeaway was probably the mentions of sculptural influence and more specifically, the concern with negative spaces, although a bevy of great anecdotes also ensued.


Space, in the physical sense, was a key theme of the lecture with references to both human and sculptural forms of the matter. Pugh talked of his fascination with the contrast between the body and the negative spaces that surround it. The designer’s longstanding relationship with the sculptural medium is obviously no secret but I found this notion of body-scaped negativity intriguing. Looking to sculpture itself and the various ways in which this form of other-space could be conceived, Yasuaki Oishi’s Houston Installation from Summer 2012 jumps out as a relatively obvious point of genesis for this mission. This monumental mass of  hyper-real invisibility construction really does visually define the realisation of a negative space. My Modern Met aptly describes the installation which can be paraphrased as great spans of translucent plastic sheets rendered with superglue around a ghostly mass of  ceiling-suspended cardboard boxes. Forging a simultaneously haunting and cathartic space, this interpretation of anti-space is breath-taking, even when remediated through a lens and screen. I only wish I’d had the opportunity to see it first-hand.


While the dichotic relationship between sculpture and fashion weighed on my mind, an article from Saturday’s Telegraph review caught my attention. I got to thinking [queue Carrie Bradshaw] about the physical relationship between artists and designers in contrast to the natural dualism that exists conceptually and materially. With the very sad news about Nicole Farhi coming to light last week, reading her tributary article to Eduardo Paolozzi was both poignant and insightful. The mutual influence the pair of artists shared is clearly something she holds dear and a little look into his work leads back into another, quite contrasting interpretation of a negative body-sculptural space. Through sheer monumentality and direct focus on certain components of the human form, the eye is drawn to the area surrounding and to the way in which it manifests itself as part of the finished product. I am, of course, talking of about specific and works as one cannot generalise such a diverse oeuvre not limited to the medium in question. Works including The Head of Invention which sits before the Design Museum or The Manuscript of Monte Casino [The Big Foot] which I passed almost every day during my years studying in Edinburgh are key examples. In the former, a negativity of space is defined within the form of the human head, providing yet another interesting interpretation of this post’s motive inspired by Gareth Pugh’s quoted predilection. I guess the conclusion I am attempting to draw from these various sources is that the space around a body of mass, whether human or inanimate can create a separate entity in itself, which has the potential to be more inviting and visually profound and which forms a continuation of the powerful dialogue between art and fashion.





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