Addressing dress

Decked Out! explores culture through costume and adornment

By Susan Byrnes

Photo: Visitors to the Experiencenter look through a zoetrope, which produces the illusion of motion; photo: Alexis Brown

The Experiencenter at the Dayton Art Institute is a family-friendly exhibition space that encourages hands-on exploration and in-depth examination of art and the creative process for people of all ages. Decked Out!, a new exhibition about the art and culture of body adornment, highlights works in the DAI collection and features several community collaborations. The show, which runs through April 12, 2015, includes new work by regional artists Migiwa Orimo, Bridgette Bogle and Francis Schanberger; Dayton Early College Academy students; costumes from the Wright State University Theatre Department; and textiles, objects and portraits from the DAI permanent collection.

While the Experiencenter is curated with young arts audiences in mind, Decked Out! addresses diverse perspectives on the theme of adornment in ways that will surprise, puzzle and delight seasoned art viewers and children alike.

Personal adornment, expressed in the form of body modification, clothing, jewelry or other accessories exists in all cultures. It is important for both genders and its details, far from being arbitrary or frivolous, can reveal or conceal much about societal protocol and individual identity. In the DAI’s portion of the exhibit, this idea is expressed through examples from the museum’s strong textile and ring collections.

“I started to look for a variety of different fabric with surface decoration that could show the richness of traditional textile techniques from various cultures,” Decked Out! curator Diane Stemper said. “The rings on display are perfect for representing the basic reasons why people adorn themselves. There are four main categories the rings fall into: ceremonial, utilitarian, memorial and talisman. Many cultures give and gift textiles and jewelry as part of diplomacy between family clans or villages. The ‘currency’ represents another practical use of personal adornment in the form of barter and is not so far afield from people today selling or trading their gold jewelry or diamonds for cash.”

New art installations created specifically for the show feature unlikely objects such as mop heads and flags. These include the relationship of time and change to creating identity through the use of a zoetrope – an early motion picture technology – and incorporate new technologies such as a touch screen to invite viewers to interact. Artist Migiwa Orimo created an installation called “Adornments” which she envisioned as a kind of cabinet of curiosities. The artist cited as an influence the 1960s Fluxus movement, which embraced and refashioned everyday objects and rituals as art.

“Inverting one’s expectation of adornment, I wanted the installation to playfully and subversively examine what the act of adorning reveals, and attempts to conceal,” Orimo said. “Adornment does not simply dress our bodies and objects, but it defines them. I included some absurd, silly adorned objects. By adding adornment, the original objects lose their proper function, or they become inconvenient.”

Counter to what one might expect of adornment, Orimo’s installation is intentionally limited in palette to white, black and gray.

“By taking out one major aspect of decoration or adornment, color, I thought each object would communicate its meaning better.”

Artists Bridgette Bogle and Francis Schanberger collaborated to create the installation “Full Circle: Tales of Transformation.”

“When we first faced the idea of adornment, we began to think about costume, hairstyles and fashion,” Schanberger said. “We researched historical hairstyles like the high pouf popular in 18th century France. We also thought about the use of clothing in fairy tales and children’s stories to advance the plot, conceal or reveal identity or to highlight the ridiculous.”

The multi-media installation incorporates photography and painting, as well as several three dimensional, spinning constructions, called zoetropes, which give a sense of movement or animation to still images – somewhat similar to a flip book. In one zoetrope, viewers see different hats being stacked on a figure’s head, only to be blown away by the wind. In another, an elaborate hairstyle is endlessly wound and unwound. Bogle said the installation employs humor and absurdity, referencing fairy tales such as “The Musicians of Bremen” and “Cinderella,” as well as Dada pieces critiquing conformity like “The Hat Makes the Man” by Max Ernst.

“Sonia Delaunay, [an early 20th century abstract painter and textile designer] was a big influence, including her coats for poets,” Schanberger continued, “and the headpiece/hairstyle was influenced by [Russian Constructivist Vladimir] Tatlin’s Tower.”

Dayton Early College Academy students also make a contribution to the exhibition with their interactive touch screen project BodyMod, which depicts objects from the DAI collection to connect visitors to the history of makeup, tattooing and body shaping. Costumes from the Wright State University Theatre Department, designed by D. Bartlett Blair, professor of theatre and costume designer, will be also be on display.

“The theater costumes Ms. Blair designs add an element to Decked Out! that is not possible by displaying only objects represented in our permanent collection,” Stemper said. “The costumes enhance the cultures and time periods represented.”

In August, Wright State Theatre costumes will come down, and Croatian and Macedonia dance costumes will go on display.

In November, new objects will circulate through the exhibition, along with a new installation by Cincinnati artist Deb Brod and Dayton children.

“Adornment is for everyone, and visitors and children will be able to see that all people share this common desire to dress up and get decked out!” Stemper said.

Decked Out! is on display through April 12, 2015 in the Experiencenter of the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North. For more information, please call 937.223.5277 or visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Susan Byrnes at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Susan Byrnes at

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