Costumes as Performance and Activism

It's official. I've signed my contract to be the keynote speaker for the Costume Society of America - Midwest Region Conference - which will be held on Friday, October 14 and Saturday, October 15, 2011 at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. More details about the event are available on the CSA site here.

The selection committee was drawn to my work as an artist who uses costume in my work (All is Vanity series) and the themes of feminism and social activism that I have explored in my series Revolutionary Fashion and 1966 (Paper Dresses). They also liked my mesh dress sculptures (which are a work in progress) titled Women in Armour. I will also draw on my experiences as a writer and researcher in reviewing the relationship between fashion and art, particularly in recent exhibitions like McQueen at the Met and Gaultier at the MMFA. Let's hope I can live up to their expectations!

A Conversation with Matthew Teitelbaum of the Art Gallery of Ontario about Art and Fashion

Matthew Teitelbaum, Director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario
Recently I sat down with Matthew Teitelbaum, the Michael and Sonja Koerner Director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario,  to talk about his views on fashion and art. I was looking for a contrary viewpoint to that of Nathalie Bondil, the Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, who during our interview at the Gaultier press preview clearly defined fashion as art. Whether fashion is or is not art is definitely a topic worthy of discussion....  An extract of my conversation with Matthew was published on Fashion Projects here.

Now if only I could get Harold Koda or Anna Wintour to have a chat with me....

Dolce Dreams

Blinded by Desire V by Ingrid Mida 2010
 "Dolce" is the Italian word for "sweet", and it was indeed a sweet dream to have my work featured on the lovely blog Dolce Dreams twice this week. The first post called "Do you Know where you are Sewing?" featured an array of talented artists who use embroidery as their medium. Much to my surprise, Nathalie of Dolce Dreams declared my Revolutionary Fashion series the Grande Finale!! And then to make this dolce dream even sweeter, she featured a post with more of my work yesterday in a post called A Special Showing.

Blinded by Desire, Mixed Media on Toile de Jouy by Ingrid Mida
I am honoured to find my way onto her beautiful blog Dolce Dreams, especially as she is a very talented embroiderer herself. I know because I am lucky enough to own several of her pieces.  Her lovely lavender sachets get tucked into my suitcase and have traveled with me to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Paris and Berlin. A pretty sachet with the words "Je suis calme" sits in my lingerie drawer and is a constant reminder of her friendship. See more of her work on her lovely Etsy shop here.

Book Review: Dreams of Joy

Lisa See is the author of one of my favourite fiction books - Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - which was recently adapted into a film. I also was entranced by Peony in Love. Her stories transcend time but are rooted in history to bring alive themes of love between mother and daughter, love between best friends and love for one's country. A captivating story teller, Lisa See's books illuminate the Chinese culture in a way that makes me yearn to know more.

When I saw her latest book, Dreams of Joy, the sequel to Shanghai Girls at the book store, I snapped it up with great anticipation. The title and the image on the front led me to believe that this would be a joyful story. And while it is is another beautifully written novel that has great depth and poignancy, it could have used a warning label.

The book is set during a tragic period in China's history called the Great Leap Forward. During this time period of 1958-1961, the Communist Party of China instituted reforms intended to transform the country from an agrarian economy to a modern industrial society. In short, the reform initiative was a disaster and millions of people died in a horrific famine and by violence at the hands of party officials. The horror of living through this time is conveyed in great detail through the eyes of the main characters of the story, Joy and her mother Pearl.  I am not at all sorry that I read this book, but I did not realize what I was getting into.... If you are looking for a light summer read, this book is not for you.

Title: Dreams of Joy
Author: Lisa See
Publisher: Random House 2011
Category: Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 354

Summer wedding ease, Vilnius

My Picks from Paris Fall 2011 Couture

Valentino Fall 2011 Couture
Photo by Yannix Vlamos
I love how the world of fashion is now just a click away. With a myriad of deadlines all coming to a head last week, reviewing the Paris Fall 2011 Couture collections has been on my to-do list for two weeks now. Maybe someday I'll actually get to see it in person, but being able to click back and forth between the shows makes it relatively easy to see the common threads. 

The Paris Fall 2011 Couture collections were defined by extreme embroidery, feathers, ruching, and shredded effects. In the past, Chanel and Dior have easily been among my top picks, but not this time. The matronly suits at Chanel and the chaotic circus-like outfits of Dior put them at the bottom of my list. 

My favourite looks from Paris Fall 2011 Couture all share two things in common - elegance and a flattering silhouette. If I could afford it, these are the looks that would find their way into my closet. 

Jean Paul Gaultier Fall 2011 Couture
Photo by Yannis Vlamos
Jean Paul Gaultier Fall 2011 Couture
Photo by Yannis Vlamos
Valentino Fall 2011 Couture
Photo by Yannis Vlamos
In terms of artistry and innovation, the winner to me would be Givenchy. Riccardo Tisci showed a selection of sheer white gowns worn over body-suits and embellished with over-the-top embroidery and beading creating a beautiful type of armour. The woman is a beautiful, powerful and yet delicate creature. This is a modern vision of purity, elegance, romance and beauty.

Givenchy Fall 2011 Couture
Photo by Givenchy
Givenchy Fall 2011 Couture
Photo by Givenchy
Which is your favourite? 

Lyla Rye: Swing Stage at Olga Korper Gallery

I am so very pleased that my friend and mentor Lyla Rye opens Swing Stage at the Olga Korper Gallery tomorrow night. Lyla is a gifted sculptor, video and installation artist, who often draws on her background in architecture as inspiration for her space altering works. This particular installation is a play on the jaw-dropping structural beauty of the Olga Korper Gallery and is presented by the Koffler Centre of the Arts.

Lyla Rye: Swing Stage
Koffler Gallery Off-Site at Olga Korper Gallery
17 Morrow Avenue, Toronto

Opening reception Thursday, July 14, 2011 6-9 pm, Artist Talk at 7 pm
Show runs until August 20, 2011

By the way, Lyla is not only incredibly talented, but she is humble, sweet and funny. I've never seen her without a smile on her face. And she is also an extraordinary teacher who brings out the best in her students.

Book Review: B as in Beauty

It was a lazy summer weekend. The weather in Toronto was glorious, with brilliant sunshine and deliciously warm temps. I gave myself a vacation - no cooking, no errands, no work, and no calorie counting allowed. It's funny how a simple shift in attitude turned my own backyard into paradise. One of my favourite things to do on a summer day is to lay in the backyard under an umbrella and read. I chose what looked to be a chic lit book, hoping that it had the thread of a plot that would sustain my interest over an afternoon and this book fit the bill perfectly.

B as in Beauty is the story of Beauty Maria Zavala, a young ambitious copywriter who has always been a bit uncomfortable with her body. Of zaftig proportions, she dresses to blend into the scenery and is treated like part of the background by her boss and coworkers. In a chance encounter with a Russian fairy god-mother, her life takes a bizarre twist and she finally discovers that self confidence is the secret to being beautiful. She learns to own her beauty and her power and the story ends happily ever after.

This was the perfect summer weekend read. It was both funny and sweet. It wasn't until I finished the book and read the back cover that I discovered that the author is a man!

How was your weekend?

Hang with the Best

Last night was the opening reception for Hang with the Best at Toronto Image Works. I was honoured to have a selection of my work from All is Vanity included in this show, especially since the award winning Ed Burtynsky also had a piece there (Ed is a famous Canadian photographer who is known for capturing monumental landscapes that reflect the changes inflicted by man).

At a fete filled with photographers, it was somewhat ironic that my photo was taken with an iphone but hey, it's all I had in my purse!

Lately, I've been torturing myself on trying to decide whether I should focus on writing, research or my art practice.... I love and hate them all if you know what I mean. As much as I love the arts, there is also a hefty dose of rejection associated with it...  Plus after a few days in the studio, my brain screams for more intellectual pursuits. Doing research at the museum seems to counteract that and yet I am also painfully aware that I do not have the "right" credentials. Plus I cannot sit chained to a computer or scanner all day either. Is there a right answer?

Women of Armour by Ingrid Mida 2011
Maybe the right answer is that there is no answer. Funny how writing a blog post can clarify things...

Hang with the Best continues at Toronto Image Works Gallery at 80 Spadina Avenue in Toronto until July 17, 2011.

Chanel Fall 2011 Couture

Chanel F/W 2011 Couture
If you could own one piece of couture, would you chose a Chanel tweed suit?

Karl Lagerfeld's most recent collection for Chanel Fall 2011 reinvents the tweed suit in a myriad of ways. Some of the suits separate into three pieces. Surface effects with sequins and shredded fabric also modernize the look. The palette is mostly gray, black and cream but is punctuated with begonia pink. Jaunty boater-like hats, scraps of lace over the eyes, fingerless gloves and boots complete the look for fall 2011.

Chanel F/W Couture 2011

Evening Gown from Chanel Couture F/W 2011
As fabulous as this collection was, it did strike me that even some of these young, gorgeous models looked - dare I say it - a tad dowdy.

Chanel Couture F/W 2011
With the heavy tweed, a boxy silhouette, and the ugliest part of the knee exposed above the boot, it made some models look matronly. Given that the target customer for these suits is probably much older, wider and heavier than the runway models, if you can afford one of these suits, be sure to make your choice carefully!

Chanel Couture F/W 2011

Book Review: Girl in Translation

Although most of us probably think that sweatshops no longer exist, every cheap piece of clothing that we buy probably came from one. It wasn't until I read the novel Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok that I understood what goes on in such places. There used to be a "sweatshop"  not far from my studio.  This place was off limits so to speak - marked by heavy doors with Chinese characters - from which  tired and sweaty workers emerged covered with fibres and still wearing dust masks over their faces. I never really gave it much thought until I read this book...

Girl in Translation is about a young girl named Kimberly Chan who comes to New York from Hong Kong with her mother. Burdened by the heavy debt owed to the aunt who helped them immigrate,  they are at the mercy of this mean-spirited relative who also runs the clothing factory in which they must work. With the mother's piece work wages garnished to repay the debt, they have no choice but to live in a roach and rat filled apartment without heat in Harlem.  Kimberly works with her mother at the factory after school and on Saturdays while trying to learn English and do her schoolwork. Her innate intelligence, hard work and resilience serve her well and she manages to earn a scholarship to a private high school where she is able to start the slow climb to a better life.

This coming of age story is utterly compelling and it is the type of book that is hard to put down. The reality of the sweatshop is so grim and so horrible that it is hard to fathom how any of it could possibly be true.... And yet, the author herself came from such a background, earning a bachelor's degree from Harvard and an MFA in fiction at Columbia. Although the book is clearly semi-autobiographical, I almost wish the author had written it as a memoir so I had a better sense of where the line between fiction and reality lies in this work. But sometimes truth is even a stranger tale than fiction.

Title: Girl in Translation
Author: Jean Kwok
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Riverhead Books, New York 2010
Number of Pages: 303 (paperback edition)

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