“The body is a vehicle and the stage a canvas for encouraging new ways of viewing the world through revolutionary works of art for the body.” – Wearable Art Mandurah
The stage spotlights were so bright it was hard not to squint. Simple black curtains shrouded the intimate theatre and created an elegant backdrop to the parquetry stage.
A panel of judges, highly regarded in the disciplines of art, fashion and costume design, sat poised at a long table. They chatted quietly and studied the order of proceedings. Behind them, a small huddle of event organisers and invited guests fidgeted, struggling to keep their excitement to a whisper.
The MC took her position at the podium and an expectant hush fell on the room. Mesmerised, we gazed across the stage to the door. Slowly, it opened, and our eyes caught a glimpse of a swirling menagerie of artistic creations.
Welcome to the judging of Wearable Art Mandurah, Australia’s premiere wearable art event. The annual garment competition attracts artists from around the globe and culminates in a dazzling, choreographed stage performance that brings art life, transfixes audiences and showcases the work of competition finalists.
This is no ordinary fashion event. Imagine elaborate and provocative sculptures. Think Jean Paul Gaultier meets Lady Gaga. Or ostentatious costumes from Rio Carnival.
Inclusive of all skill levels, ages and design forms, the competition invites artistic expression and creates opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds to participate. All art forms are encouraged including sewing, felting, weaving, dyeing, leather tooling, beading, painting, knitting, crocheting and more.
Each original garment offers a new perspective on design as artists manipulate and transform fibres and finished fabrics, use traditional techniques in non-traditional ways and repurpose old materials. Careful consideration is given to the overall presentation of each piece including hair, make-up, movement and choice of model.
Along with their garment, each artist submits a statement describing their creative process of construction, symbolism, purpose or philosophy. As the story of the art is read aloud to the judges, models work the stage, flaunting intricate details, elaborate headpieces and unique design features.
This year, 60 entries were received from artists across Australia and overseas including New Zealand, America and Romania. And the creativity was extraordinary. Old lampshades transformed into millinery masterpieces, hundreds of individually wrapped cotton buds assembled and painted to mirror the anatomy of sunflower stamens, found bits of blue plastic meticulously arranged to feather the glittery nest of a bowerbird, discarded x-rays deconstructed to create an abstract collage of bones and tissues, and ironed plastic bottles fused with lace.
Not content with eyeballing the display from afar, judges frequently touched the complex layers, observed the creative use of everyday objects, investigated the structural integrity of extravagant wings and tails, and took note of the finer details, finishing touches and exquisite execution.
The competition comprises five categories and garments are judged across five criteria: artistic vision, originality, innovative use of materials, quality of craftsmanship, and construction and visual impact.
Among the categories this year were ‘A Land Down Under’ which showcased works that embraced the unique culture, architecture, iconography, people, flora and fauna of Australia. In her piece Xanthorrhea Australis artist Lyn Blasgund paid homage to the the Australian Grass-tree. Endemic only to Australia, it is a unique icon of the Australian bush, a true survivor in a harsh land of drought and bushfires.
In the ‘Avant Garde’ category, judges looked for experimental ideas and methods, favouring work that pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo. Artist Monica Goodall was inspired by the character Scarlett O'Hara, from Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With the Wind, who makes curtains into a Victorian style dress. Monica’s garment was made by manipulating old net curtains and repurposing an old novel to create a breathtaking sculptural form.
Forty-three garments were selected to go through to the final round of judging at the June showcase event, a ticketed event open to the public. The artist with the highest score across all categories earns the prestigious title of Wearable Art Mandurah Artist of the Year. Special awards support diversity in entrants and recognise artists living outside Australia, first-time entrants and tertiary students.
The Creative Reuse Award encourages artists to reuse discarded objects or materials to create a product of higher quality or value than the original. Eligibility requires a minimum of 80% repurposed materials to be used in the garment. First-time entrant Neroli Makim made her garment almost entirely from leftover pieces of scrap farming materials found in sheds including polythene pipe, fencing wire and paint.
More than just a garment competition, Wearable Art Mandurah also includes a series of artist workshops ranging from fashion illustration to practical headpiece creation. This year featured a workshop on zero-waste garment making, facilitated by passionate designers and pattern makers of sustainable fashion.
It also provides a creative platform to explore and create awareness of issues in life, society or the environment. Artist Meagan Howe was so struck by the plight of migratory Shearwater fledglings, whose parents mistakenly feed them plastic instead of squid, that she created Mourning Birds to symbolise the sadness of Mother Earth.
Now in its ninth year, Wearable Art Mandurah is one of the city’s most engaging artistic attractions and has grown significantly since its inception at the City’s annual Stretch Arts Festival. City of Mandurah Mayor Rhys Williams says that he continues to be blown away by the quality of the garments and that this year is no different. “Over the years Wearable Art Mandurah has established itself as a premier event, attracting entries from across the globe, showcasing the city as a cultural hub to local, national and international audiences.”
Mandurah, a picturesque coastal city located in the Peel Region of Western Australia, boasts a strong cultural heritage which began with the Binjareb people of the Bibbulmum Nation. The Aboriginal community is custodian of the land which centres on the waterways, rivers, lakes, estuary, ocean and coastal plains that the region is known for. Such natural wonders provide a stunning backdrop for on location photography of selected garments and offer a unique perspective on some of Mandurah’s most popular tourist attractions.
Wearable Art Mandurah is a spectacular family friendly event guaranteed to equally satisfy lovers of art and fashion and those curious to try something different. And while you give your creative heart a workout, don’t miss out on all the nature based activities the region has to offer.
Images by: Stephen Heath Photography & MAPTO