We did it! Our first Slow Art Day here in Bath has happened! Strictly speaking, we probably have to rename ours Slow Dress Day, because our canvases were the applied art of clothing – mostly dresses – in the collection of the Fashion Museum.
A very small (let’s say ‘select’) crowd met outside the Fashion Museum on Saturday at 11am. OK, there were just three of us, but that’s officially a crowd in my book. Given that we were so few, we decided to go around together and discuss as we went – not quite as suggested by the organisers, but it worked for us. Just to remind you, Slow Art Day is a grassroots concept born in the US. More flash-mob than guided tour, it requires only an interested ‘host’ to pick out a few items to view, and doesn’t demand the art gallery or museum to be involved at all, though I felt it polite to brief the Fashion Museum on what might be hitting it.
The shortlist of items to view was helpful. One of our group had an unusual perspective; she’d suffered a brain haemorrhage a few years ago and now experiences information-overload very quickly, so she really appreciated paring down the options and going slower. And cutting down the items vying for our attention released us all from the anxiety of choice. We found that concentrating on less gave us the space to ask ourselves (and each other) lots of questions. How would that dress have felt to wear? Would the pointy part of that bodice have dug in when you sat down? What would have been worn underneath? Is that manikin the right shape for the period? How did they weave silver into that fabric? How expensive would a metre of that fabric have been? Would the dress have looked as muted as this when new? What exactly is the parchment in parchment lace? – would it have been possible to hide a secret message in it?! Why were the fingers on the seventeenth century gloves so extremely long? How would you have visited ‘the smallest room’ in a mantua? If you sat down in a crinoline, what happened to your skirt ? Happily, the museum has modern crinolines for visitors to try on, so we could test out this last question for ourselves. Answer: it probably depended on your crinoline: some flew up exposing your underwear, some were more demure.
Sometimes we started looking at one thing but were drawn to compare it with similar items located close by. This happened a lot in the What Will She Wear? exhibition, featuring the museum’s collection of wedding dresses (a nod to a certain royal wedding later this month). We had two of the dresses on our list but it seemed natural to contrast them with the rest of the exhibits which spanned almost 200 years. We started with the oldest wedding dress, dated 1829. It wasn’t the most beautiful, but told us something about that period. Not white but a dark champagne colour (the white-for-a wedding convention hadn’t bedded in yet), it had wide-set leg o’ mutton sleeves, lots of flouncy lace, and a curious closure down the centre front.
We experienced a few glitches: a change to one of the displays post-selection, and the closure of our lunch venue (the museum’s cafe) in order to accommodate a wedding reception. This was a teeny bit annoying as I’d thought to check ahead that the cafe would be open to the public that day. But there was something appropriate (given what we’d just been looking at) in being shooed away by the wedding photographer wanting a clean shot of the bride as she entered the beautiful Assembly Rooms. We got a great view of the dress as she swept by on her dad’s arm, and it was easy to find an alternative vendor of soup-and-a-roll for three nearby.
There were a lot of interested would-be Slow-Arters who couldn’t make it this time, and a lot of people responded really favourably to the general Slow Art Day concept, so I hope there will be more. If you’d like to be part of an unofficial follow-up Slow Art event at the Fashion Museum (possibly in May), please leave a comment and I’ll be delighted to organise it. The same principles will apply: no charge, just pay cost of your admission. Do mention if during the school day or on a Saturday works best for you. And if you fancy hosting a Slow Art Day event next year (Saturday 28th April 2012), no experience or expertise is necessary, just lots of enthusiasm. Find out more over at the Slow Art Day site .
I’ll sign off with another 1950s’s TV gem from the creator of the Fashion Museum, the incomparable Doris Langley Moore. I particularly love the way she says ‘head’, and the bobbling period credits. Enjoy!