London-based artist and designer Kathy Dalwood has arranged a soirée like no other. Her collection of plaster busts, set as a bizarre banquet for a mysterious gathering of characters, is now on display at Pitzhanger Manor / PM Gallery & House in London (Walpole Park, â¨Mattock Laneâ¨, â¨W5 5EQ, London, UK), and it will be open through June 9th, 2013.
Inspired by the lushness and debauchery of Baroque feasts, the exhibition is more like a well-thought art installation: where Dalwood’s busts stand among candelabra and an assembly of everyday items and junk, all covered in plaster, put together like towers of food and luxurious decoration. Through this all-white extravaganza of everyday cheap things like plastic flowers and fruit, beer cans, paper coffee cups, cheap glasses from junk/charity shops and cigarette packets, Kathy Dalwood creates an ironic illusion of opulence, as if the horn of Amalthea is flowing out of Tesco bags. As a result, her installation becomes a humorous comment on both today’s definitions of value, quality and luxury, and how these concepts can be seen as relative and debatable. And part of the installation’s success is of course its dramatic Baroque saturation effect, especially when seen from a distance.
The connection with Pitzhanger Manor and Dalwood’s work is actually very deep. The former owner of the building, the 18th-century architect Sir John Soane, was an admirer and avid collector of classical sculpture and had a huge influence on the introduction of classical architectural styles in London at that time. In fact, Kathy Dalwood, an architecture enthusiast herself, had the idea to start working with busts when she visited the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London a couple of years ago. To celebrate this symbolic homecoming, the curators of PM Gallery & House commissioned Dalwood to create a new bust inspired by John Soane and his work, also on display at the exhibition.
Kathy Dalwood is known mostly for her tasteful combination of Modernist and Baroque elements in designing objects for the home, such as concrete planters inspired by industrial architecture, and decorative friezes indented with the shapes of real objects. Her current project however is her most artistic yet, with a refreshing and joyful blend of old and new. Her busts are inspired by 18th- and 19th-century portrait busts, combined with her very own style of three-dimensional collage. She dresses her models in almost haphazard costumes and daringly cantilevered headpieces by using an unexpected palette of materials, from miniature cars to plastic tubes and tourist souvenirs. One of them even has an F14-Tomcat landing on her hat!
Dalwood achieves a trompe-l’oeil of luxury by discovering the overlooked qualities of common materials and using them without discrimination. In fact, she seems unimpressed by luxury cults. She explains: ''I have boxes and boxes of materials to work from – I collect stuff all the time, looking for interesting and unusual textures and patterns. […] Recently I’ve begun using materials not intrinsically interesting in themselves but which still have idiosyncratic qualities which I like to explore – particularly paper, […] polystyrene, bubble wrap, small cardboard boxes, textured padding and vacuum-formed plastic. I like the fact that these materials are far from precious but have certain qualities which when used to build my costumes and then transformed into plaster appear beautiful and fascinating in their detail. […] It is a kind of anti-luxe, and an important part of my message is – low-key is the new luxe! I do rather despise luxe for its own sake.''
Structure, sculpture and architecture seem to meet gracefully in Dalwood’s busts. Indeed, she frequently uses miniatures of iconic buildings to decorate her figures:
''In the choice of objects, my huge interest in architecture is a factor and the reason why I use model buildings. There’s something about a model which is hard for me to define but perhaps it has to do with Constantin BrâncuÈi’s revelatory comment that ‘architecture is inhabited sculpture’ – this is exactly how I see it. And in the case of a model, where one can perceive the building in its entirety, it appears even more sculptural.''
Dalwood’s just as conscious about how she designs the costumes as she is about the sculptural compositions, and the direct relationship between her work and fashion is evident. Structural fashion elements such as the Elizabethan ruff or the flamboyant hairdos of Marie Antoinette are a source of fascination so it comes as no surprise that she admires the incredibly sculptural work of designer Junya Watanabe. ''I’m not interested in fashion as such but the shapes that can be attached to the human body as clothing or adornment. […] It is this kind of ‘fashion’ which I am now seeking out and referencing in my busts, sometimes directly, such as with the masked figures referencing headgear by Watanabe, and sometimes just invented – the garments I would design if I was a fashion designer instead of an artist!''.
So where would Kathy Dalwood like to take her inspired ideas next? ''In relation to the busts there are some projects I would love to do; it would be great to work in collaboration with fashion designers and architects and make busts in response to their designs. I’d also love to do a collaboration with a long established ceramics or porcelain manufacturer in England, Europe or elsewhere: I can imagine designing a bust specifically for this kind of project.'' Sounds promising indeed!
''Secret Society: A Sculptural Banquet'' is Kathy Dalwood’s first solo exhibition and will be on display now through to June the 9th, 2013, at Pitzhanger Manor / PM Gallery & House in London (Walpole Park, â¨Mattock Laneâ¨, â¨W5 5EQ, London, UK). Curated by PM Gallery & House in association with Matt Price, the installation has been styled in collaboration with Karina Garrick.
N.B. Don’t miss the opportunity to join Kathy Dalwood and curator Matt Price for a free tour of the exhibition on Sunday 2nd of June at 2pm!