Welcome to the first UKRG Culture Club! Every month we will be looking at how Registrars, and the issues we face, influence and are portrayed in popular culture. A registrar’s role, as we all know, has many different guises – the issues we face are commonly reported in the news and media, and find their way into popular culture. This blog will be reviewing exhibitions that catch our eye and reporting on how registration issues are highlighted in pop culture, through literature, film, music and beyond…
Fingers crossed the next Indiana Jones revolves around the documentation issues surrounding the booty he brought back from the Middle East on his adventures…
UKRG Committee would love to hear from you! Please send your own UKRG Culture Club reviews to Becca England, Supporting Officer [email protected]
To kick things off, Marie Rose, UKRG Events Officer and Project Co-ordinator at the Natural History Museum went and had a look at the V&A’s recent retrospective of Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty.
As ever a quick nip over the road from The Natural History Museum to the V&A transports me from a world of taxidermy and glass jars to ornate couture fabulousness. My pilgrimage from the church of natural science to the church of the aesthetic is for the very God-like figure himself: Alexander McQueen and the ‘Savage Beauty’ retrospective exhibition which had previously been on display in New York at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I must admit my knowledge of fashion may be limited – my interests have always sat more within the alt-world having spent much of my youth trawling the markets of Camden in search of baggy jeans and faux-Westwood tartan skirts. However, I have always followed McQueen in awe and fascination for the disturbing and often cruel elements that are so characteristic of his craft.
This exhibition doesn’t disappoint: room after room of collections spanning his career are showcased thematically to give a sense of how his imagination evolved. His gothic influences from Edgar Allen Poe to the Highland Clearances which dominated the Highland Rape collection of 1995 are clear. The Romantic Nationalism room is complete with wooden panels and elaborate chandeliers to create a magical sense of atmosphere. The exhibition therefore makes for a decadent boutique rather than a traditional retrospective, shunning the typical chronological or biographical narrative (the facts we learn about McQueen are confusingly minimal) to bring us back to the superficial; the objects themselves.
This mode of display can be problematic, particularly when showcased in the central dramatic room ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ with Phillip Treacy headpieces and my particular favourite, the Shaun Leane body armour pieces, crammed from wall to ceiling. This room highlights the tension between the need to showcase his work versus the practicality of the visitor’s viewing experience, you can’t help but feel disassociated from these objects when raised so high you have to crane your neck to see them. This layout, borrowed from the Bowie exhibition, serves to create a physical pedestal for the artist on display – albeit a slightly frustrating experience for the audience. This is echoed again in the minimal interpretation with labels deliberately sparse and tucked away.
Overall this exhibition posits itself as the ultimate decadent couture showroom, highlighting the sheer skill of McQueen’s technique: in always designing from the side, the form’s most awkward angle to make his pieces flattering to all possibilities of the female form and not the a-typical model frame. His work also signifies the female form as haunting, dangerous and romantic with many items embracing natural materials such as feathers and razor clam shells to symbolise woman’s role in nature.
As an exhibition this is nothing short of a success of a summer blockbuster, minimal interpretation and excessive staging aside this does not detract from the focus; the clothes and savage beauty of Alexander McQueen.
How did they do that?
This bemusement goes to the wonderfully hypnotic ghostly apparition of Kate Moss. Her ethereal image is suspended in a glass pyramid using the wonderfully inventive ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ technique – pioneered in the 19thcentury. This highlights McQueen’s appreciation for the avant-garde. I did wonder how the registrar for the exhibition arranged to borrow this – was the image loaned or the entire technical prop. I also wondered if there were issues with copyright when using Kate Moss’s famous image and if this was leased rather than a straightforward loan given that it comprises of the object, the film and the projection. Overall, I’m amazed at the capabilities of the registrars who brought this wealth of objects together within the exhibition’s highly decorative and engaging set design. For me, the staging was just as important as the objects themselves in presenting the absolute tour de force that was Alexander McQueen.