Fabric a dress
Haute Couture and Feminine Desire?
Rosa JH Berland, Art Historian, NYC.
In the last year, I have spent countless hours looking at art, and more so than any other year, at photography. I have come to see fashion photography as a richly diverse and imaginative field, and a genre that enchants. This enchantment may appear effortless but is in fact a complex undertaking.
In the most imaginative and iconic fashion photographs the protagonist, more often than not, a model, is transformed through costume, makeup, and unearthly postures, strange or evocative scenes. Much of the unflinching beauty, and power of dreamlike scenes, and as for the images of womanhood, the industry owes a great deal to tradition of Surrealism and to the “King of Kink” Helmut Newton’s whose provocative photos of women, often Amazonian heroines, would transform the world of fashion photography.
In many ways, there is namelessness in these epic portraits, however captivating. As an art form with very few exceptions, experimental fashion photography seems unsurpassed by other contemporary mediums. As a whole it is a deeply intricate production process paired with the problematic element of narrative fantasy, an idiom that if not presented well, threatens to enter the realm of the absurd if not pedestrian. Overall, experimental fashion photography reminds me of the eerie achievements of filmmakers like the American artist Matthew Barney or the imaginative dreamscapes of Canadian installation artist and sculptor Shary Boyle. Theatre, glamour, mythology, role reversal, intensity, and incredibility rule.
In the minimalist composed series Fabric a Dress, we see that as far as theatrical enchantments, Rueda is no different; his work is clearly artistic, and this particular series responds to the role of costume in the idiom of fashion. Yet, in Fabric a Dress, there is a reversal of authorship. His models are invited to dress themselves from fabric, to create their own version of haute couture. Formally, we see the repetition of negative space, graphic ornamentation, and colour and patterning reminiscent of the Jugendstil aesthetic, imprinted with a contemporary sensibility. The women themselves are diverse, from the slender swan-like beauty adorned in the white gauze of a bridal veil, while others possess a harder and more direct sense of feminine sexuality, some looking straight into the camera. All are in a state of undress, their bodies different shapes, sizes and colors, a display of womanhood that seems autobiographical, recorded with precision and celebration, as well as a sense of respect for the power of women.
Some may find the presence of feminine nudity or exposed genitalia pornographic or in the very least, erotica, but rather it seems to me something else, perhaps an acknowledgement of the oft-hidden world of feminine sexuality.
Rather than understanding the images as intended for the consumption of others, we might remind ourselves that the women have collaborated in the creation of these images. And in these pictures, Rueda has captured the power of feminine procreation, female sexual longing, and imagination.
In our patriarchal society, this feminine world is obscured from our collective imagination. Let us consider for a moment, the famous neurologist Erich Kandel who in the book Age of Insight expresses a similar view in his discussion of Klimt’s honest if not beautiful pictures of female sexual pleasure. In a 2012 interview in Der Spiegel, Kandel points to the fact that while Freud had very little insight into the sexuality of women, the great painter Gustav Klimt had a deep sense of feminine desire: “To begin with, he realized that women have the capacity for a rich and independent sexual life.”
And so, equally, we see here in Rueda’s creative series, real women with complete if not imaginative concepts of themselves, who are powerfully observed ornamented with pattern and design, enjoying and having ownership over their sexuality.
…we see here in Rueda’s creative series, real women with complete if not imaginative concepts of themselves, are powerfully observed ornamented with pattern and design, enjoying and having ownership over their sexuality.
This gallery represents interactions of visitors with the work during the exhibition Miami Mix 2012.