Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Review: The Concise Dictionary of Dress

The Concise Dictionary of Dress

As I wrote in my exhibition review earlier this week,  The Concise Dictionary of Dress at the Blythe House is a rare and extraordinary experience. The viewer must interpret the word clues to create their own meaning for the eleven site-specific installations which combine history, costume, language and artifacts. The accompanying book is an illustrated dictionary unmasking the subtext of the creators vision.
Title: The Concise Dictionary of Dress
Author: Judith Clark and Adam Phillips
Photography by: Norbert Schorener

Publisher: Violette Editions in association with Artangel 2010
Number of Pages: approximately 140 (pages not numbered)
Category: Non-fiction
Price: US $26.37 (Amazon)

What the book is about:
This exhibition catalogue consists of three parts:
1. an essay called Look it Up by Adam Phillips about the nature of dictionaries and the language of clothing
2. an alphabetical presentation of the words that are defined in the exhibition The Concise Dictionary of Dress along with a photographic presentation of the installations (included in this part are five words which were not installed at Blythe House)
3. a series of questions about the curation of the exhibition posed anonymously to Judith Clark

Favourite Passage:
Clothes, another of our languages, another of our codes, another of the forms our histories take, keep changing, like words, but faster; and, like words, everybody uses them, and, whether they are conscious of it or not, everyone has their own style, just as everyone has their own vocabulary. The reason that people are disdainful of fashion is that they fear that many of the things they value most in their lives may be more like fashion than anything else. In this sense, dictionaries are always fighting a rearguard action; not against fashion, but against its inevitable excesses (it has to keep changing; ithas to be something no one can keep track of). We have to imagine what a language would be like if it was like this. So there are no fashionable dictionaries (or indeed, fashionable definitions). And there can be no obvious dictionary for clothes, fashionable or otherwise, no straitforward reference book. The Concise Dictionary of Dress is, then, an unobvious dictionary; not a book, not made only out of words, but not without reference.  (Adam Phillips page 18)

Although I had access to a press kit, this book was essential to help me attain a deeper level of understanding to what I saw at the Blythe House. Written in a scholarly and dense manner, the book gives a voice to the creators vision, unlocking their insights and intentions which I craved to hear while on the tour.