Not So Tight: Adjusting the Seams of Art + Fashion
An essay for Exhibitions on the Cusp (Tremaine Foundation)
Art is an arena that grapples with but wholly embraces the role of the body in how we understand visual culture, art history, and theory through performance art, lens-based work and other practices. With that in mind, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to fashion as not just an extension of that bodywork, but as an important piece of the puzzle that raises a fresh set of questions. Fashion makes us talk formally about construction, space, functionality, and the architecture of the body. But then, too, it begs us to discuss the body beyond the surface of the formal qualities by bringing in the realities of protection/safety, sexual expression, identity expression, dis/ability, touch, pleasure, pain and an autonomy over how much (or how little) we want to reveal—the somatic, emotional, spiritual, and psychological parts of ourselves, and not just the physical. As Frédéric Bonnet states in the short essay Desire—at Skin-Depth when talking about how conceptual understandings of fashion began to change in the late 1980s, “fashion saw a new liberation of the skin—the last barrier before the flesh—as an epicenter of sensations and a receptacle of desire. At last, fashion was coming closer to sensitivity1.”
And with a move like that, it’s impossible to keep it clean, clear, and confined.
But still, clearly expressing the distinction between the two worlds was an important premise on which Skin Tight was able to stand, and a way to explain the motivations of each featured designer. This contrast between art and fashion—which both have their own variety of historical evolutions—made the separate paths of influence and examples of disruption, expansion, and necessary experimentation much easier to discern. Within the context of the exhibition, these lines allow us to better understand the social and environmental influences of the designers in the show—for instance, how the activist spirit of the duo BOUDICCA showed up in their collections starting in 1998 and what made that different from things we’ve seen in recent fashion trends.
But here we are, fourteen years after Skin Tight was first exhibited within the galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. We are now in a position where we can further consider how the conversation has changed while also reflecting on ways that the premise of Skin Tight can be expanded upon.
Read the full essay here…
Photo Credit (top to bottom):
 “Skin Tight: The Sensibility of the Flesh,” 2004, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Photo courtesy Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.
 Jae Jarrell examining her work at the Brooklyn Museum. By Heathart [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.
 Sky Cubacub, Rebirth Garments. Photo by Ireashia Monét for Sixty Inches From Center.
 Rational Dress Society. Photo by Lara Kastner.