• Haptic aesthetics of dress in the contemporary exhibition space

Gundry, Lucy, 2020, Thesis, Haptic aesthetics of dress in the contemporary exhibition space PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

The aim of this thesis is to explore how dress can be felt as though it is being worn when it is not worn in the contemporary exhibition space. In daily life, wearers touch, share space with and move in relation to others as ‘dressed bodies’. This creates a haptic and aesthetic understanding of how dress operates on the body and self, and it is these ‘haptic aesthetics’ which the viewer references in the exhibition space in order to feel touched by dress.

The thesis is divided into four chapters, each of which reveals different registers of this wearer-engagement, but crucially also the embodiment of dress itself: 1. Dress Sense. 2 Dress Space 3. Moving Dress 4. A Dress Voice. Focus on the relationship between dress, body and self in ‘Dress Sense’ reveals that a wearer’s consciousness can become embodied in dress. ‘Dress Space’ demonstrates that through the experience of being a wearer a viewer can not only inhabit their own dress, but also imagine inhabiting dress in the exhibition. ‘Moving Dress’ reveals that a kinaesthetic empathy can be felt between a viewer and dress in an exhibit when there is a degree of movement. ‘A Dress Voice’ highlights the way that dress can communicate through a particular mode: the haptic aesthetics of dress. When a viewer grasps the haptic aesthetics of dress, the effect is one of feeling touched by dress.

The study focuses on exhibitions in the UK, Europe and the United States in the last two decades, encompassing a contemporary phase in the history of the dress exhibition which has seen dress moving out of the vitrine. Theoretical texts drawn from phenomenology, ethnography, museology, fashion studies, haptics and aesthetics elucidate this relationship between the viewer and the dress exhibit. Empirical evidence is derived from personal visits to exhibitions, observation of viewers, original questionnaires and analysis of visitor data and recorded conversations with curators, designers and educators. In addition, a sensory, auto-ethnographic approach is used throughout the research to further record the experience as a representative female viewer. Not only is the female viewer typical in the dress exhibition; dress exhibits are also typically female. A female experience is gendered, yet is shared by all who are able to identify with the female point of view. This can cross boundaries of gender, age, status and culture.

From academic research in design history, textile, fashion and dress theory, and the application of haptic pedagogy, knowledge is drawn together to form a theoretical understanding of haptic aesthetics. A haptic sensibility developed through practice in textile art and dress construction, together with professional work in costume for moving image, contributes to a practical understanding of haptic aesthetics as applicable to dress. Further academic research into the contemporary curation of dress has revealed the issue of liveliness, which underpins the line of enquiry in this research.

The originality of this study lies in offering an understanding of how dress is enlivened in exhibition contexts through the application of haptic aesthetics. The thesis therefore offers a contribution to the future study of the relationship between dress, body and self in contexts where not-worn dress is viewed but not touched.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W230 Clothing/Fashion Design
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Date Deposited: 18 Dec 2020 10:36
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2020 10:36
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/4640
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