Sometimes life is awful and other times the gods take your blessing bucket, fill it up, press it down and then put a bit more in. This is the case for me with what is often a deeply boring part of an academic’s job: external examining. This is the way in which universities ensure comparability of standards across the sector and it involves looking at student work from another university and agreeing that it is equivalent to that done on your degrees. So it’s basically yet more marking. But, fortune has seen fit to give me two lovely programmes to audit, one at Ashridge in the UK and one in Copenhagen. All of which is a long-winded introduction to today’s post in which I want to write about Rokoko Mania, an exhibition at the Danish Design Museum in Copenhagen.
Although I have been to Copenhagen a few times, I had never been to this museum which is in the swankiest part of town just up the road from the Royal Palace. I just went on spec, but when I got there I found an exhibition which could have been made for me, looking at the links between excess and the Rococo and design. It had some fantastic costume installations, samplers, paisley, sketchbooks and extensive examples of Yinka Shonibare MBE, one of my favourite textile artists.
Shonibare reimagines conventional imagery such as statues of Britannia using African fabrics to comment on colonialism and imperialism. This show included screenings of a ballet he costumed, A Masked Ball, which I don’t think I would have had access to otherwise. The above photo is of costumes from the film. His work usually deals with headless mannequins so it was a delight to see the costumes in movement.
But the show also included the work of Nikoline Liv Andersen ,whose work I didn’t know. Now, I don’t normally like work which seems a bit gimmicky such as this which is made from plastic drinking straws, but these three dolls, as she calls them, were absolute showstoppers:
The exquisitely crafted costumes were topped off with eighteenth-century style wigs which morphed into monkeys:
These photos are very dark because the show had a number of very old textiles on display which you can’t expose to bright light, but they give a sense of the drama of the piece. There was also a video of the artist talking about developing the work in which she showed the working process in her sketchbook. I would kill for one of the books. They were artworks in their own right.
Another textile artist, Laura Baruel, took a very different approach using only white to symbolise air, water, wind and so on in more monumental figures:
So, the whole thing was a delight and as it might turn into an article about excess and luxury it might even be considered fieldwork!
One final thought. On the way to the exhibition I went past a cafe which was full of the most beautiful men I think I have ever seen in my life. They looked like an aftershave commercial. I was rather taken aback by seeing so much beauty. It is rare to see beauty so striking that it seems unreal. Being interested in aesthetics I am interested in beauty and this is something I might return to in subsequent work. Plus, I have never understood how some people get so far with so little obvious talent besides being pretty. Seeing these preternaturally handsome men suddenly made me realise the power that the very beautiful can have over the not so fortunate, it is mesmerising, hypnotic and strange, like stepping into another reality or dimension.
These two aesthetic experiences one after the other left me really quite energised and exhausted at the same time. I couldn’t wait to get back to the sketchbook and the work table, which must be the sign of a creative day!