When we see a human body, we not only see a familiar visual form, we also see a physical organism with survival needs—and, we see a life rooted in a history, a culture, a relationship to the world, as well as a series of individual preferences, desires and beliefs. All on fashion design.
The human form is the constant in South Korean artist and scholar KeeSook Geum’s electrifyingly ethereal and endlessly inventive show of handmade (and unwearable) apparel. The meanings layered upon these garments come from Geum’ s understanding of human potential within the cultural complexity of the 21st century. With each dress, vest or jacket, Geum communicates more intentionally than most people do with their daily dresses, vests and jackets, mainly because she has chosen not to be burdened with the requirements of functionality. For her, a shirt is not just a shirt.
While this show may appear at first glance to be elitist, courtly and aristocratic, it is in reality a very subtle and absolutely exquisite form of consciousness raising.
Geum groups her fine-arts clothing into poetic categories that relate to globalism, environmental concerns, culture and pure aesthetics: “The Body and Lotus,” “The Body and Light,” “Trembling and Swinging,” “Spider Web and Internet,” “Circle and Endless Episodes,” and “Pieces and Interactive.”
As a pure artist Geum plays with visual and tactile elements. The garments, suspended and bathed in light, shed intricate shadows as the air gently moves them. Some of the dresses are of an unusually luminous, gray, shimmering silk. There is no green, blue or brown cast to this gray, and the light on this sheer gray is especially gorgeous. It is so clear, it could be called pale black. The gallery attendant explained that “Geum is working with light as a principal element of fashion design.”
Thin wires, twisted into lace-y filligrees and decorated with beads, form other stunning transparent creations. Many sport delicate, swaying “antennae,” like wiggling “fingers,” that reach out to make contact or to “feel their way” through cultural
Concerned about wasting resources Geum re-uses florist wire. She also adorns silk garments using every scrap of fabric that’s left after cutting them out. She says, “The state of our environment is one of the most critical issues of today. Still, many of us do not pay any attention to this matter. The issue of environment is even more important in the fashion arena as the piles of fabric pieces are thrown away without any concern or care.” The adornments are tufts of tied cloth, trailing cloth flower shapes or circles and circles of cloth overlapping one another and decorated with beads. The haphazard shapes of the scraps suggest their own destinies, but sometimes Geum creates new shapes to suggest ideas about communication and relationships.
Rest assured that no matter how conceptual Geum gets, her bottom line is aesthetic appeal.
Mind Over Matter, Body Under Design is on display through Jan. 8 at the Goldstein Museum of Design, U of M–St. Paul Campus, Room 241 McNeal Hall in the College of Human Ecology Bldg., 1985 Buford Ave., St. Paul, 612-624-7434. Hours are Mon, Wed. and Fri. 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; Thu. 10 a.m.–8 p.m. & Sat.–Sun. 1:30–4:30 p.m.