Met Gala 2018: An Art Historical Orgasm

Something thrilling is happening to fashion. We are re-discovering it.

The Met Gala 2018 demonstrates the same coordinated feminist uprising as the black wash of the #metoo Oscar party, only this time the word was ‘icon’.

The nod to the holy iconoclastic figures of the European Renaissance period echoes a historic tendency to reach for the heights of beauty and godliness when the world around you is becoming more and more ungodly by the minute. It is in keeping with the Pre-Raphaelite repatriation of medieval costume and harks further back still to the Renaissance appropriation of wealthy patrons into religious paintings.

The Pre-Raphaelites unlike their Renaissance counterparts spoke with a moral reference point, during a time, like now, of change, uncertainty and an aching romantic re-telling of a moment in history when man moved beyond himself.

During their uprising, the depiction of medieval costume by the Pre-Raphaelites was anachronistic. Similarly, the met gala throws all historical accuracy to the winds of time and embraces the spectacle of divinity, through flesh, beauty and a certain Napoleonic lavishness.

Historically when all hell breaks loose we look to the stars and indulge in our human folly rather than face the challenges at hand. What the Pre-Raphaelites remembered that the French Bourgeoisie forgot were the lessons from the past. William Burges whose ‘dream was the dream of a generation which thought it could redeem the evils of industrialism by re-living the art of the Middle Ages’ (J.M Crook, 1981, p. 16) was a key figure at this time. For Morris the medieval revival was ‘a comparison of the arts in medieval and in modern times as a mirror of the state of the societies that produced them’ (J. Harris, 1984, p. 4).

What then does our current calling back to the icon say about the current state of our society? And what role does feminism play in this resurgence of the female icon in modern culture?
Vittore Carpaccio’s Saint Ursula Cycle was one of the first commissioned iconic works to reflect contemporary culture through dress. John Ruskin (1819-1900) hailed the St Ursula Cycle; ‘perhaps more in this than any other series… he represents the beauty of religion always in animating the present world’ (Ruskin, ‘St Mark’s Rest’, in Cook and Wedderburn, 1906, vXXIV 369). This period was a time when the wealthy were placing themselves in religious narratives and the lines between the divine and human (although a particular type of human) were being blurred. During this period dress was regulated by sumptuary law which governed the dress worn by citizens (Kivesi-Killerby, 2002, 115) and was key in identifying ones class. The cycle tells of the sacrifice of 1000 virgins. It was a moralistic symbol of chastity for young women (see Dominic, Regola del governo di cura familiare, cited in Burke 1999, 128.

This image of David Maitland Armstrong and Helen Neilson Armstrong in 15th-century Style Fancy Dress in Rome, held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, tells similar story of embodied history at a time of need. (see footnote).

Much as Elizabeth I reclaimed her virginity at her inauguration, the images of movie stars with halos, monuments to the saintly status born on the red carpet are offering a re-birthing of the very fragile, very human female figures that are now rising from the ashes of the Weinstein inferno as beyond human. The only risk in this celebration is that of losing touch with what makes us swoon at the movie stars in the first place. Their human-ness. The ability to be vulnerable at a moments notice when the cameras are rolling.

What the Pre-Raphaelites warn us however, is at all times to know the cost and to know our motive. Feminism has become the common driving force for fashion and it is long overdue. The risk now is that the progress made will be hampered by the speed and violence with which the roar has erupted from the core of all people who have felt victims. What the Met Gala offers is a means of exorcising that extremity. Like the fool at the ball, a place must be made for the artists to shine a light in the darkness. As a society, our role is to understand, to remember the references, to draw the wisdom of the past into the present along with the blinding beauty of artists and saints long past.

Side note: Amal Clooney once again was the true embodiment of a Goddess. Enjoy the fashion porn and search #metgala18

Image 1: Coronation of the Virgin

Artist:Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Siena 1398–1482 Siena)
Date:ca. 1455Medium:Tempera on wood, gold groundDimensions:Shaped top, 70 5/8 x 51 3/4 in. (179.4 x 131.4 cm)Classification:PaintingsCredit Line:Robert Lehman Collection, 1975Accession Number:1975.1.38

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 956

Image 2: ‘The Love Song’, Sir Edward Burne-Jones (British, Birmingham 1833–1898 Fulham)
Date:1868–77Medium:Oil on canvasDimensions:45 x 61 3/8 in. (114.3 x 155.9 cm)

Image 3: David Maitland Armstrong and Helen Neilson Armstrong in 15th-century Style Fancy Dress in Rome

Artist:Anonymous, Italian
Sitter:D. Maitland Armstrong (American, Newburgh, New York 1836–1918 New York)
Sitter:Helen Neilson Armstrong (American, 1845–1926)
Date:1871Medium:PhotographDimensions:Sheet: 5 1/4 x 3 3/4 in. (13.4 x 9.5 cm)

Mount: 6 9/16 x 4 in. (16.6 x 10.2 cm)Classification:PhotographsCredit Line:Gift of Helena Bienstock, Cynthia MacKay Keegan and Frank E. Johnson, 2012

This image was made while the couple lived in Rome, where Maitland Armstrong had been sent in 1869 as American Consul to the Papal States, Mrs. Armstrong wears a 15th century style gown and her husband a doublet jacket and hose, costumes reputedly inspired by a painting by Carpaccio. The occasion was a ball held to raise funds to relieve victims of a devasting flood of the Tiber that took place December 26, 1870. Armstrong and two artist friends, Frederic Crowninshield and Charles Caryl Coleman, both of whom lived in Rome at the time, formed the organizing committee.

Images Care of the Met online collection


Solo Exhibition


Montsalvat, Eltham

Residents Gallery, 1 November – 26 November

I am a hoarder.
I have a house that does not look like your typical hoarders. I hoard stories and inner experiences. Over a period of two years, I have asked people to provide me with an object that represents them or a moment in their life. In today’s digital age where the object has become superseded, the hoarding of images through interfaces such as Pinterest, Instagram and facebook has become a global obsession. However, the power of the object remains potent to our human experience and expression.
The Duchampian tradition of object as narrative is as relevant today as it was when he scrawled R Mutt in 1917. Duchamp first coined the question of authenticity when he brought the everyday object into the cathedral of art and it begs to be asked over and over again as we struggle to keep up with the torrents of images and information which hit out senses at an overwhelming pace.
The world of scrolling and clicking for our information has formed the necessary habit of quick judgment and split second discarding of information. What is worthy of my time? Will I click on an article based on its tag line? Our minds are being shaped and trained by technology now like never before and it is without a doubt dumbing us down. By painting an object, I aim to slow the conversation down.
Recently I have taken to reading the newspaper to digest, in my own time, the horrors and hopes of the world, without the noise, comments, likes and hashtags to distract. Similarly, the art gallery, the theatres and the cinema provide a refuge and a place to focus. To be quiet and to contemplate. To be still.
I seek to depict the simplicity of an object, to sit with the reality we are living in and to, simultaneously, sculpt a space and extract a possibility for our true essence to be expressed and championed above the white noise of the digital age.
I hoard images, I hoard stories and I hoard the human experience.

Residents Gallery, 1 November – 26 November

Artist Floor Talk: Friday 17 November, 11am
All welcome

Little Deaths

I have recently been using short prose to unlock the unspoken experiences that accompany death. The healing power of words, poetry and stories seem to release a holding from within and on the page, the moment is framed and given some space to breath. Translating these prose into abstract expression, has helped me to acknowledge that beyond physical form there is an elemental experience, where life is not distinguished between object and form and where continuity is an absolute truth. Strangely and unintentionally, these three people knew each other and they sit as a series of little death, they were great forces of love in my life and remain so.







The Ethical Creative

The creative act, when coupled with a commitment to ethics and the development of consciousness, is expressed as a bi product, an outflowing of a moment brought to fruition from a built-up force. It is harnessed by a deep commitment to something greater than your personal identity. The expression may take physical form, or be a moment experienced and left undocumented. In our capitalist environment that craves tangible and marketable outputs, the path of the ethical creative is a balancing act of checks and balances. It is ultimately a way of living and in the living the expression becomes an inevitable companion.

I’d like to share my experiences of living from this approach. It is a story that is only at its beginning, and it is one that I hope will end where it begins, in a place of unknowing and constant discovery and passion for the mystery of life and what lies beyond it.

What then is the driving force and aim of ethical creativity?

Ultimately, I believe that this is a deeply personal question and an individual quest. The purpose and driving force ebbs and flows, but at the centre, I have found it to be driven by a desire for healing and a dance with the great mystery of life with the ultimate step bringing one (and anyone who is willing to come along for the journey) into a point of transformation.

This weekend I headed to the hills, with paint and camera in hand. Being at a high altitude has a strong effect on the atmosphere, both inner and outer. This work was my attempt at capturing the atmosphere through feeling tones and the internal experience of a sacred place.

The art work came tumbling out of me perhaps because I have spent so many days and nights on this mountain. The relationship is always at the centre of the creative process for me. The importance of observation is not only in the seeing, but the sheer act of being and communing with something, someone or somewhere.

Although seemingly esoteric, this approach is about chasing the importance and value of simplicity, ultimately it is about stripping oneself back to the very bones of what it means to just be. The value is ultimately not in the selling price, but in the contribution that is made to the artist’s well-being, the viewer’s well-being or perhaps in the more subtle form, the well-being of the space in which the exchange of observation and relationship took place.

What I enjoy most about this process is the surprise that occurs when, after the moment of expression, I step back and can see something at work in me that I don’t identify as myself and it gives me a sense of hope that when these hands stop working, these eyes stop seeing and this mind stops working as I have known them always to do so, there is more.

Winter Rituals – evoking a sense of belonging


This year, as the days grew shorter and the nights longer for the third winter spent living in Gippsland, I found myself craving my home made Chai Tea. As I got the recipe out I realised that it had become a seasonal ritual since having moved to my new town. This yearly touchstone gave me comfort, not just from the tea, but from the gesture of continuity within a period of great change and upheaval. Traditions and rituals are so often lacking from our culture and daily lives as a way to mark and embrace phases of transition; they allow us to move into change rather than resist it and form an import part in creating a sense of inner and outer belonging.

There was both a sense of adventure and also a frustration when I first arrived in my new town. Everything that I had taken for granted over years of making connections in Melbourne, suddenly took effort through trial and error. This journey has been acutely mirrored in my art practice which was my main motivation for leaving the daily commute and the pollution of noise, light and traffic.

Since moving, my art practice has shifted from the internal world of still life to the outer world of landscape, offering a way to communicate the internal atmosphere of mood. Although having grown up in the city when I sit with the scope of my experience, Gippsland has felt like home long before I came here to live. It is not the streets, or the houses, or the shop fronts and streetscapes. Those come and go – for me, the big skies, the birds’ flight home at dusk, the smell of smoke in fresh air and watching the seasons paint the landscape at their whim are where I have discovered a new and deeply inspiring source of creativity and belonging.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe journey to belonging is not marked by outward recognition or unspoken rules of initiation, it is an internal strength born from a sincere commitment to something of deep significance to you. It might be a favourite recipe, a craft that comes out the cupboard when the season beckons or even a daily ritual of driving the long way home because the view is better … these simple acts of conscious living can help strengthen and deepen our everyday, particularly at this time year when we are asked to dance with the dark.

This article was written for the upcoming June issue of:

Gippsland Women’s Health

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