Sunday, October 16, 2011

Report from the Costume Society of America Mid-west Conference in Iowa

It was a whirlwind weekend in Iowa and I'm happy to report that my speech went well. Although I've given talks and presentations before, I felt a different level of expectation as the keynote speaker and I  was nervous. Luckily the hours before were so busy that I hardly had time to think about it. My presentation on When does Fashion Become Art? went very well. There was a lively discussion about the issues I raised in my speech and I had many people come up to me afterwards to say how much they enjoyed my talk. I also had several profs suggest that I have my paper published. And one of the CSA organizers thought that it would be a topical choice of theme for a conference. Unfortunately, the talk was not taped and nor did anyone take photos....

But it was a wonderful experience for me for many reasons. I made some new contacts and hopefully some new friends, I learned about some new directions in research, and I also had a good time. The organizers of the event - Annette Lynch, Carol Colburn, Amy Rohrburg, Darrell Taylor, and Linda Grimm of the University of Northern Iowa - thought of everything. We were enlightened with 8 research papers and 3 invited speakers, entertained with dance and theatre performances, catered to with far too much good food and made to feel welcome in their community. It made me wish that I didn't live quite so far away.

Although all the presentations were first rate, some of the research talks that I particularly enjoyed included:

Dressing for Love, War and Suicide by Linda Pisano of Indiana University. This asssociate professor of Costume Design talked about her experiences in delivering three interpretations of costumes for the play Romeo and Juliet to give it a contemporary edge. These three modern interpretations were radically different from traditional period dress giving a new edge and life to the play.

In their talk about A Woman of Considerable Influence, Ann Braeten and Jacqueline Wayne Guite of the North Dakota State University talked about the suffragist movement in North Dakota. The movement was led by Kate Selby Wilder and her clothing was examined in context to her work for that movement. What was particularly interesting about this talk was their examination of cartoons from the period as a way of understanding how people viewed the suffragist movement at the time.

Barbara Trout of the University of Nebraska gave a talk on Transparency: Space, Dress and the Female Form. Transparent fabrics reveal and transmit light but they also elevate, seduce, and elude. Barbara reviewed the history of transparent fabrics which goes back as far as the early 17th century. She also discussed the use of transparency by designers like Vionnet, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace and others. I found her reflections on transparency as an aesthetic tool particularly relevant to my work with mesh as it has an element of transparency making the articulation of seaming an important consideration during construction.

Petra Slinkard from the Indianapolis Museum of Art talked about a Seattle based performance troupe called Friends of the Rag. This group which formed in 1972 combined elements of wearable art with performance. Their name was a pun on the trend towards groups naming themselves "Friends of" - "everyone was friends of something - friends of the earth, friends of the whale". Their surrealist like costumes were on display in the UNI Gallery and were not only funny but thought provoking.

I am on my way home today. As much as I enjoyed my time here, truly there is no place like home!

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