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Objects of Desire

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"Clothing is the most intimate of art forms," says Zoë Ryan, the Art Institute of Chicago chair and curator of architecture and design, discussing her latest exhibit, "Fashioning the Object." She adds, "I think now we're recognizing that fashion is this tremendous forum for exploring our place in the world." It is this idea of fashion's ability to reflect current issues -- whether social, political or environmental -- that prompted Ryan to produce a show highlighting the work of three innovative fashion lines: Bless, Boudicca and Sandra Backlund.

Of her decision to feature these three in particular, Ryan explains that each of the designers "see fashion as a legitimate platform for serious inquiry." Moreover, the three brands are united in their goal to create fashion as art, "by doing installations and re-thinking traditional forms of presentation," Ryan says. "They're trying to break with tradition to elevate their work, because theywant it to be taken seriously."

As such, the exhibit is a multimedia and multi-sensory experience. Guests can walk through a chain mail curtain designed by Bless, triggering the sound of wind chimes and bells embedded within the mesh; marvel at the sculptural garments by Swedish designer Sandra Backlund; and spray Boudicca's Wode perfume from a graffiti can, which emits what looks like Yves Klein's blue paint before the liquid evaporates just as the aroma hits your nostrils. Accompanying the bespoke scent is the 2008 film by Boudicca designers Brian Kirkby and Zowie Broach that shows a woman lying in bed in a white shirt. There's a sound as if she's been shot and a blue substance streams down her neck. Watching the liquid disappear as she rubs it into her skin, sensations of violence transform into pleasure and fashion's ability to provoke critical thinking is nowhere more apparent.

"Fashioning the Object," is open through September 13th at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Above (clockwise): Dress by Boudicca; "Hairbrush," 1999 by Bless; "Pool Position," Spring/Summer 2009 by Sandra Backlund.

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