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Adam Arnold and "Madrina"

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ADAM ARNOLD has been behaving strangely. After years of hosting fashion shows for two collections annually, he seems to be becoming more and more indirectly involved with the proprieties of apparel design. He hasn't had a traditional show in over a year, but has been branching off in interesting directions instead, designing upholstery for Schoolhouse Electric and costumes for a performance by the Oregon Ballet Theater. So it's somewhat less than surprising to find him giving an artist lecture at the Portland Art Museum this week. For it, he chose a sculpture, Mark Calderon's 2001 "Madrina"—part of the museum's permanent collection—and crafted a response, which he will be presenting and discussing. As with everything he endeavors, the result will no doubt be thoroughly conceived and thought provoking. Artist Talks: Adam Arnold, Thursday January 10, Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park, 6 pm, $15

MERCURY—How did this project come about? Did the museum approach you?

ADAM ARNOLD—You know how I was planning the subversive fashion show [Arnold had previously planned to have a flashmob-esque fashion show during the Rothko exhibit]? My friend Natalie knew someone at the museum and they were like, "He could do an artist talk," and I was like, "No, I just want to do a fashion show!" Then I thought about what I could do for it, and they were totally excited about the concept.

How did you go about selecting "Madrina"?

It's actually in the sculpture court, and I really love the fact that it's accessible. It's outside, and anyone can see it at any time of the day. The weird thing is I have false memories about it. I almost remember seeing it as a kid, but it says "2001." It's a creepy sculpture, for lack of a better word. Menacing and haunting. Every time I go to the museum I think about it. It looks like a woman facing away from you, but as you walk around it she's always looking away from you. There's no face and there's no front. It's pretty figurative, and it's been abstracted and stylized, but I arrived at the conclusion that it's a woman because the title means "godmother" in Spanish, and it seems to have long hair. It could be something that isn't even human, but I've always thought of it as a woman.

What is your piece in response like?

I'm doing at least one response piece. It may be more than one. It's going to be wearable... I guess you could consider it clothing. I'm not thinking about arms, legs, and fit like I usually do with clothing because of the fact that the sculpture has no discernable front or back, and there are no arms. There is a repetitive quality to it that I'm inspired by, and by the color of its bronze with a patina. It's very troubling, and that comes through, I think, in the color choices and repetition. It makes you uneasy. I'm actually doing a collaboration with [makeup artist] Galen [Amussen] on creating something that doesn't have a face.

Will it be presented on a live model?

At this point I'm thinking that the model will be alive. I'm leaving that until the end, but whatever it is it's probably going to have a head. The whole process of this has kind of... when you're making something in response to a piece of artwork (I hate that word "piece") there's a lot of non-physical action. You're just sitting there receiving whatever the art is giving you. You'll find yourself in a place that is not necessarily very comfortable. It put me in this uneasy space, which is kind of interesting to have happen at the beginning of the year and the beginning of winter. But it's important to let myself feel that before I can create something.

Do you plan on returning to more conventional fashion shows this spring?

I purposely have taken a 365-day break from doing conventional fashion shows. I felt like the fashion show as I was presenting it was not in synch with how I wished it would be, and by giving myself a break it allows it to reform itself. I've never jived much with, like, the manufacturing and trend forecasting of fashion. It's always been more to me about expression and freedom. At the same time, I'm making clothing for people in Portland. I am the manufacturing. But it's less about going and buying a cute top at the store and more about purchasing a piece by the person who thought of it, and maybe lies more in the realm of art than in goods and services. That's at least what I hope for my own vision and life. I want what I do to be considered something that kind of transcends just clothing. However that manifests in how I present it, I'm still not sure.

As far as a spring show, I have a lot of ideas for what I would like to wear in the spring, and what I see people wear in the spring. I'm constantly drawing and getting new fabric in, but rather than people seeing finished clothing in a show and choosing, they see sketches and the possibility. There's a fashion show going on all the time, but it's not all in the same room with music pumping. I feel like it's evolving, and when it's time it will happen. You could consider this artist talk a "fashion show." There's something I'm creating that's new, and born of inspiration.

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