COPENHAGEN — Clothes come into season, clothes go out of season, our wardrobes evolve over the years. This cycle has been more or less accepted as a norm in much of the modern industrialized world. Today, pressures around climate change, labor, and the sustainability of materials are bringing this norm into question. Beautiful Repair: Mending in Art and Fashion at Copenhagen Contemporary explores the aesthetics of mending through the lens of two creative disciplines — art and fashion — as 17 artists from around the world play with the possibilities and affordances of repair.
Mending is a highly tactile process, and a sensory experience rarely brought into fine art spaces. Some of the show’s more exciting works invoke tactility as a reminder of the importance of texture and feel when it comes to fashion. Pia Camil’s “Bluejeneando” greets attendees at the entrance. A pile of stuffed jeans collected in Mexico City’s underground markets, viewers are invited to jump in, throw the jeans around the exhibition space, and relax in the pile (I did — it was great). The title can be roughly translated as “bluejeaning,” which, in Mexican slang, means “dry humping.” As Camil wrote about the wordplay informing her work, “That simulation for desire can quickly turn into a grim experience if we interpret the jeans as a pile of dismembered bodies.”
On the other end, Lee Mingwei’s “The Mending Project” invites attendees to drop off a piece of clothing to be mended during the show. These items become part of the piece, woven in with spools of thread by the volunteers who receive the clothes. “There’s an intimacy that comes with mending,” said Livia, the volunteer working during my visit, as each visitor is welcomed to share stories about the article of clothing. The pile of shirts, hats, and sweaters will no doubt continue to grow over the next few months, highlighting the literal and figurative common threads among the visitors who come to offer something for repair.
Interconnectedness plays out in Marie Sloth Rousing’s “Manner: The Way We Lead Our Hands,” as an overhead camera captures six people trying to have dinner together at the show’s opening. They wear white shirts that have been sewn together into the form of a tablecloth. Each movement they make shifts the tablecloth a little bit, and their attempts to consume inevitably spill the food and drink, creating a colorful array of stains.
Other artists engage with temporality, reminding us that the purpose and form of clothing change over time — often faster than they can be repurposed. Rottingdean Bazaar’s “Spring/Summer 2019” features runway models carrying “FOR RENT” signs while wearing clown, sorcerer, worm, and other costumes, while Minna Palmqvist’s “Intimately Social 4.09” is made of dressed balloons whose clothing will cease to fit as the balloons deflate.
Mannequins in the center of the exhibition feature works by artists like Beatrice Stenmark, who processed yarn to create hair-like textures on dresses, while Elina Heilanen’s “No Man’s Garden” imagines clothing in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau and the German concept of Wandervögel (wanderlust), with menswear for withdrawing from society and immersing in nature. I found myself particularly drawn to Idaliina Friman’s “Hetta,” which refashions her family’s history with the Finnish Civil War, redesigning Victorian dresses as survival gear.
One spectacular video work, “Phantom,” responds to artist Holly Blakey’s grief upon having a miscarriage. Models re-enact pagan fertility rites while dressed in colorful outfits by design duo Chopova Lowena that blend athleisure with Bulgarian folk wear by using dead-stock materials. Blakey originally had been commissioned to create a different piece for Fact Magazine but found herself unable to concentrate. What emerged is a gorgeous cacophony of dry humping, color, and ritual dance that, she said, called “for something that wasn’t ever going to come.”
While much contemporary art and fashion is surrounded by an aura of self-seriousness, the works in Beautiful Repair carry a sense of play, humor, and experimentation, the very values we’ll need if we want to reimagine a more sustainable relationship with the things we wear. Fashion is fun. Fashion helps us survive. Fashion makes us feel beautiful. Fashion heals. It’s also, in its current state, responsible for more carbon emissions than the combined effects of international travel and maritime shipping.
While lying in Pia Camil’s pile of jeans, I reflected more on the theme of the show. The scent of old denim surrounded me, as it does in shipping containers, markets, dumpsters, shops, and closets around the world. The installation, while playful, is indeed grim when we really examine the processes required to make these articles of clothing so common and so affordable, and the layers of waste that result. The beautiful repair that undergirds the exhibition is about clothing, yes, but it’s also about consumption itself.
Beautiful Repair: Mending in Art and Fashion continues at Copenhagen Contemporary (Refshalevej 173A, Copenhagen, Denmark) through September 3. The exhibition was curated by Marie Laurberg, in partnership with ALPHA director Ane Lynge-Jorlén.