REVIEW: Wearable Art Mandurah Showcase 2017


Icarus Rising by Helen Coleman (photography by Stephen Heath Photography)

2017 Wearable Art Mandurah Showcase

Review by Nerida Dickinson

A meeting of the disciplines of visual art, craft skills, design principals and fashion, wearable art is an exciting and intriguing artform. Many creators express ecological awareness in their themes and in their use of upcycled materials, using items often considered disposable waste by mainstream society. Each piece needs to be able to be worn and displayed on the human form, a limitation that challenges designers to rise to interpret the challenge from many perspectives.

Attracting entrants from all over Western Australia, entries from across Australia and as far afield as Switzerland, the 2017 Wearable Art competition features 5 judging categories – Oceania, Architectural, Avante-Garde, Youth and Tertiary, with additional special awards across categories. While the awards ceremony introduces each category with a smoothly presented slide show including each finalist piece, the performance itself groups the works thematically, leading to beautiful tableaux and entertaining scenes featuring music, dance, drama and comedy to frame the presentation of the wearable artworks.

Aside from the judging of the competition pieces, this year’s showcase also features a special progressive work, “La Mariposa”. Beautifully presented in a dance sequence starting within a cocoon structure and darting around the stage, it echoes its theme in creation and presentation. This secret collaboration between 7 artists geographically spread between Western Australia, Northern Territory, New South Wales and Queensland, conceptualised by Anzara Clark, “La Mariposa” has passed from one artist to the next, each adding their own contribution in turn. Artists Deb Hiller, Sue Sacchero, Tanya da Silva, Philomena Hali, Larissa Murdock, Stephanie Powell and Louise Wells have created a delicately detailed fantasy loosely based on a butterfly, with sumptuous decorative details in a flurry of skilled creativity.

Within the showcase, entertainment is key, as demonstrated in an ecologically inspired scenario. Rising sea water temperatures are causing coral bleaching, inspiring two artists to make strikingly different pieces. The light-hearted display features two models animating the costumes in playful rivalry, literally grabbing the spotlight from each other. As the models pull faces, strike poses and bring their stylised representations of pieces to reef to life, displaying Val Hornibrook’s amazing shaped and textured felting of “Coral Bleaching” and the variety of materials, textures and techniques used by Paige Schokker to create “We’re Reefed”, they display how the same brief can be conceptualised in extremely different methods. “Coral Bleaching” is the winner of the Oceania category.

The graceful majesty of the boab tree is captured in intricate detail and grace, as Marie Gallin and Jude Tupman use materials sourced from nature as well as earthy fabric preparation techniques to establish the place of the boab as a key part of the living environment. The only piece to be displayed in the show without its own living human model, the lighting display from behind, within, spotlighting and an array of effects to dapple “Boab” emphasises the beautiful lines and execution of each detail in the bulbous trunk. The splendour of the work is emphasised further by other costumes and dancers celebrating its size and importance in the landscape. Awarded the Artist of the Year for “Boab”, the visual impact is underlined by the intense effort Gallin and Tupman put into sourcing appropriate materials, utilising resources such as zamia palm and gum nuts, as well as recycled cans, plastic bottles and furniture packing, despite the 560 kilometre distance between the two collaborating creators.  

Mysteriously appearing at the rear of the stage, avoiding the light, it is unclear whether this new arrival is an angel or a beast with great wings darting in and out of view as it appears to haunt, and then pay respect to, the relentless boab tree. With dancer Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson bringing legend to life in “Icarus Rising”, the highly engineered frame with albatross feathers achieves a grace beyond the hands of Helen Coleman, winning the Architectural Award.

The famed wildflower carpet of Western Australian springtime is captured in the long train of “Everlasting Love?” Louise Wells may have spent long hours stripping wires from cables to then create each individual everlasting daisy head with its own reclaimed button, but watching it in parade around the stage simply brings the annual glorious floral blooms to mind. Questioning whether this is the future of flowers in our world, her concept and execution win the Avant-Garde Award.

Humour abounds in the presentation, dancer Natalie Allen featuring in two slapstick presentations to lighten the mood. Her tongue in cheek presentation to Sex Bomb sees her arriving on stage costumed only in her underwear, all the better to model the hypersexualised “Body Manipulate”. Christopher Davis has had fun designing this detailed, avant-garde piece, the internal lighting only revealed as the model and supporting dancers dash from the stage. Allen brings the previously unsuspected grace of a cake on rollerskates to the stage with Melissa Walmsley’s “I’ll have my Cake and Eat it too!”, the massive cake and the matching head piece providing the pretext for themed audience involvement. Fellow performers bring two audience members on stage, providing “helping hands” for them and feeding them cake in a good natured display that ties in with Walmsley’s consideration of excess in modern society.

The youth entries impress with their creativity and quality, especially by holding their own in themed routines and themes featuring works by more experienced artists. Two young models capture the spirit of the 18 years and under category in a spirited mimed game of hide and seek. “More than Meets the Eye of the Beholder” by Xanthe Turner is a fun collection of images and the puntastically titled “To be or Knot to be” by the witty and knitty Azalia Turner both emphasise the light-hearted and inclusive nature of wearable art. Another youth design, “Kitchen Couture” by Sophie Lance, is presented with a live sung rendition of Dear Future Husband, in a hilarious matching of materials, style and design, as a mid-20th century dress is created with bright, overlapping kitchen gloves forming the skirt. Winning the Youth Award, this serves to demonstrate the range amongst the finalist pieces.

With strong community participation in the showcase, choreographers Laura Boynes and Scott Elstermann not only co-ordinate eye catching and humorous interludes, but utilise unique individual talents to bring the designs to life. A cowgirl strolls along the front of the stage as the auditorium fills up, her jaunty stride punctuating her casual control of illuminated poi, as she models “Life is a Rodeo” by Brita Stein. Inspired by “The Smashing Pumpkin(s)” by Elizabeth Morley, a fantasy of pumpkins and vines and flowers, an a cappella duet allows us to also consider another floral creation in “Spirit of Samoa” by Jo Ireland, as well as to enjoy a change of musical pace. Morley wins the TAFTA Inc Award for impressing with her use of traditional textiles in her vegetable study.

By Brisbane-based artist Svenja, “Anthozoa” celebrates living tropical reefs with intricate colours, textures and details that catch the light to shimmer and glint. The exuberant design takes out the First-Time Entrant Award, while Catherine Kelly’s “Take Flight” is recognised with the Highly
Commended Tertiary Student Award from WA Fibre and Textile Association for a fantastic concoction of flight and feathers.

A detailed ball gown with hidden meaning, “Covered Media” wins the Gillian Kaye Peebles Youth Award with its response to the saturation of our attention by advertising, hiding the news and truth that is also shared by broadcast. Gem Vassallo presents her message in a stylised way, the advertising pages creating the bodice of the garment that sits in traditional lines, reflecting the traditional modes of communicating by magazine and newspaper.

Pushing the boundaries of “wearable”, “Sands of Time” by Silver Chain (facilitated by Carol Hazel) is a show stopper on its movable pedestal, capturing a moment of emergence from the waves. Using Powertex in its sculptural base, it takes the Powertex Award for use of the versatile material.

Winning the Creative Reuse Award, using a minimum 80% recycled materials in upcycled creation, “A Fish Out of Water” is attractive as a depiction of a stylised anglerfish both from a distance and up close. Jacq Chorlton creates the impression of dense scales using plastic milk bottles to cut out the individual scales and then ironing the same plastic into larger panels to create fins and streamline the costume as a whole.

An eye catching design that sends ocean waves crashing down the model’s body, “Waving Goodbye” by Kirsten Springvloed captures a fleeting moment in rough seas. Winning the Tertiary Student Award, the piece is even more remarkable once its creation from recycled, soluble packing peanuts is revealed. A graceful work echoing powerful natural forces, created with eco-aware ingenuity, “Waving Goodbye” encapsulates the spirit of the whole artform. This piece won from 110 entries in this category, with various TAFE courses incorporating the brief in their curriculum.

The pieces from 2017 will be viewable in an exhibition from 4 August 2017 to 3 September 2017, at Alcoa Mandurah Art Gallery and Contemporary Art Spaces Mandurah.

Going from strength to strength, entries are already open for the 2018 competition. Once the judging and selection of finalists is confirmed, the colour, sound and movement that has marked Artistic Director Helen Duncan’s showcases will hopefully return in full force.

2017 Wearable Art Mandurah Showcase

Presented by City of Mandurah

Artistic Director: Helen Duncan

Choreographer (Community Cast): Laura Boynes and Scott Elstermann

Set Design: Carolyn Marks & Helen Coleman

Sound Composition and Lighting Design: Joe Lui

Costume Design: Julie Smith & Anne-Marie Piccoli

Live Musicians: Kieran Barnes, Francisco Munoz and Tim Voutas

Wearable Art Mandurah Team: Barb Thoms and Eliya Lucks

Professional Dance Performers: Natalie Allen, Charity Ng, Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson and Scott Elstermann

Community Performers: Kitty Boyd, Kaye Bramley, Monica Connelly, Alisha Francis, Hannah Leo, Tom Leo, Ruby Liddelow, Caitlin Magill, Shanai North, Isabella Pustkuchen, Tahlia Russell, Tarnee Rutherford, Bethany Scott, Kayla Steinbruckner, Taleisha Steinbruckner, Cassandra Van Lendt, Ilana Wetherill-White, Taylor Whitchurch, Jacinta White, Shannon White and Ashleigh Winter

Mandurah Performing Arts Centre

10-11 June 2017

1 thought on “REVIEW: Wearable Art Mandurah Showcase 2017

  1. This beautifully descriptive review brought the showcase back to life. It was a show full of surprises, hauntingly beautiful moments and lighthearted fun. And the wearable art garments were the stars of the show. Congratulations to Helen Duncan and her creative team on delivering another extraordinary event.

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