Above: The Dusty Feet Dance Collective provided the night’s opening entertainment with “Masquerade Ball”.
Story by KIERAN FINNANE. Photos and video by ERWIN CHLANDA
It was the year of the male model – there were six of them when sometimes there have been none. It was also the year of the child – for the first time that I can remember children took out first prize against adults in a main category, a very well contested one at that. These were among the features of this year’s Wearable Art Awards that signalled its ongoing vitality as one of Alice Springs’s best-loved creative events.
Cut loose from the Alice Desert Festival, the awards might have faded from view if Central Craft hadn’t picked them up, with its executive officer, Jen Standish-White, taking the lead. Sponsors came on board, including naming rights sponsor Central Ten, as did an able producer – Anneke Rose – and plenty of production, artistic and other support rallied round.
Right: Desert Cossack.
They treated the full house (one performance only) to a joyful performance of inventively arrayed and choreographed bodies. ‘Clothed’ is almost never the right word at Wearable Art and ‘fashion’ is definitely out, although not ‘couture’. ‘Costume’ comes close in many instances, with its theatrical connotation, and performance for some years now has been key to the full appreciation of the work. ‘Sculpture’ is hard to use as a standalone but it can be the most apt term for often the most thrilling work.
Such a work, as the lights went up on it, won on the gasp meter last night although it missed out on an award. It was Philomena Hali’s Black Fleur, entered in the Natural Fibre category. Hundreds of hand-pleated sheets of black tissue transformed dark-haired Kura Stowers into a kind of evil chrysanthemum, dense petals rising and falling on the wind of her intent. Perhaps though the initial impact of Black Fleur was its greatest. Given the performance element, works that have an evolution, that keep a surprise in store create a more enduring impression.
This is probably relevant for Hali’s other equally, if not more sculptural entry. This was the all-white Ventrical, in the Fantasia category, and why it didn’t earn full-house gasps I don’t know. It got mine for the front view of wonderfully elaborated organic forms – reminiscent of scrolled shells, curling tentacles – while remaining within the haute couture realm. The rear view, however, was a little disappointing, at least above the waistline, where the cross-over straps looked like a hasty functional solution to keeping the wonderful bodice of Ventrical on model Caela Zeneth’s body.
Left: Elastic Fantastic.
Hali for the history of the awards has set the bar high for sheer artistry and invention: the ideas just seem to keep flowing. So who took it up to her last night? In the Natural Fibre category the judges – Alice Buscombe, Brian Tucker, Damien Ryan – gave it to Desert Cossack by Jen Standish-White. A long time sponsor of the awards, she has only recently revealed her hand as a deft couturier with a love of natural materials. The latter was on full display last night – wool, silk, natural dyes, fleece, feathers, bone and more – but those who have admired her construction skills – in last year’s awards and this year’s Sustainable Couture show – had to let that go for Desert Cossack. It worked on a free-flowing assemblage principle rather than creating a well-defined form or forms. It did however generate plenty of atmosphere – with Spyda Monkey, we moved into convincing mythic territory.
In the Fantasia category, against ten other entries, the prize, sponsored by Brian Tucker, went to child designers of Elastic Fantastic, Evie Brash and Rose Murphy, who must be around eleven years old. They owe some of their success to a sparkling performance by Xenia Hackett – who is perhaps a little younger, more diminutive anyway – but they designed the perfect costume for her. Their basic material was the colourful elastic hair tie, delightfully apt in itself for a work by young girls. But, as noted by Carmel Ryan (not a contestant this year), who would have thought of it? They joined hundreds of fully-stretched hair ties to make a colourful lacy fabric which they then stretched over a wire frame in the form of a dress – a wonderfully bouncy dress keeping beat with Xenia’s prancing. There were accessories to match – a parasol and a hat, each given their time in the sun during a very well choreographed performance, with young Rose, simply clad in black, on stage as a kind of wardrobe assistant.
Above right: Black Fleur.
It wasn’t hard to see that they would take the encouragement award, offered by the Sustainable Couture group, and the youth award, offered by Jen Standish-White. When they also got the category award, their faces, particularly Evie’s, were something to behold (both Rose and Xenia told me it was mostly her design).
A very sexy work offering a humorous critique of the clichés of sexiness – how did she manage it? But Genevieve Murray’s The Bra-bie was sharply clever in concept, immaculate in execution and more than ably supported by model Ilse Pickerd, who has refined shaking booty to an art form. The “bra” in question was made of bald Barbie heads, looking at a distance like an outbreak of nipples. It came with a “trophy belt” which seemed to be made from Barbie’s mostly blond tresses, and a “body bag” bristling with Barbie legs. Murray described the entry as “re-objectifying the female form for the education of impressionable young girls”. It deservedly won her the Recycled and/or Found Object category award, sponsored by Territory Loans, as well as, for her and Pickerd, the Performance award, sponsored by Plumbtec Taps Tubs & Tiles. This was tied with Desert Cossack, and instead of splitting the prize money of $1000, Brian Tucker generously donated on the spot a further $1000.
Left: The Bra-bie.
The big one, the Acquisition Award, sponsored by Central Craft, went to Georgie Yovanovic. It means his grand costume, Elemental – a Homage to the Desert Goddess, will go into the public collection on rotational display at Araluen. Elemental, in many hues of red, was in the Recycled category, while his equally striking concoction all in black, titled Celestial – a Homage to the Goddess of the Night, was in the Fantasia category. He modelled both with a clear relish for performance and nobody could have been more pleased by the acknowledgement inherent in his win.
None of this though was the way ‘The People’ would have it. Their favourite (by vote, with a prize sponsored by NT Link) was Clothes Horse – Alice Cup Carnival. This too was entered in the Recycled category and was another feat of folded paper. Ranks of narrow-pleated paper were structured into ruffed skirt and bodice, each rank trimmed with red. There was a matching coquettish hat and red rosette trims and all in all model Kelsey Holman looked astonishingly smart. Marge Coogan and Laurel Clegg were the designers and they had also contributed a nicely pointed entry in the Fantasia category – Graffiti – Curse or Couture? Doug Souter removed his street art jacket to reveal the slogan on his back – “Support community arts” – while his partner in ‘crime’ Phoebe Nicholson strutted her stuff with spraycan menacingly in hand.
Right: Clothes Horse – Alice Cup Carnival, triumphant model and designers.
Finally, The Nigel, for the most improved performance in the course of rehearsals, awarded by Araluen’s theatrical staff. It went to Desert Rocker, performed by Dacqmar Guascoine and designed by her mother Simone Guascoine, by now a veteran of the awards. As to be expected from the latter, there were fine couture skills on show, especially in the coat with its full swinging skirt and imaginative trims. Dacqmar gave a convincing ‘bad girl’ performance that quite transformed the feel of the entry.
The date for next year’s awards is already settled – October 4. As Standish-White said, put it in your diaries.
SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE PHOTOS.
Below: Elemental by Georgie Yovanovic (also modeling).
Below: Triple prize-winning youngsters for Elastic Fantastic, Xenia Hackett in foreground, and behind her Rose Murphy and Evie Brash (unfortunately obscured).
Below: Ventrical by Philomena Hali, modeled by Caela Zeneth.
Below: Desert Rocker by Simone Guascoine, modeled by Dacqmar Guascoine.
Below: Fur & Bone & Feather & Stone by Aly de Groot, modeled by Petal (right) and Cy.
Below: Wanting for the Weather by Katelnd Griffin (also modeling).
Below: The Reversible Geisha by Adriana & Fleur Van Den Berg, modeled by Courtney Summers.
Below: Graffiti – Curse or Couture? by Marge Coogan & Laurel Clegg, modeled by Doug Suter & Phoebe Nicholson.
Below: Peacock Delight by Hannah Trindorfer, modeled by Nicole Inkamala.
Below: Head Space by Paula Moggs, modeled by Amy Victoria.
Below: Highly Strung by Franca Frederiksen and Sue Maitland, modeled by Letetia Polychronopoulos.
Below: The winners line up with their awards.