Illuminating Wearable Art 2011

"A Dress For All Seasons" takes top honors

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2011

L arger-than-life images of Wearable Arts past grace all three illuminated screens while the bright white fabrics of floating scenery bounce with iridescent black light. A glowing Andy Kline and blinking Shona Strauser make their way through the crowd abuzz with anticipation to finally arrive onstage in entirely white and glowing garb. The two flip open lighted folders (because even their scripts are illuminated) and Wearable Arts 2011 has begun.

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Klas Stolpe / klas stolpe
Klas Stolpe / klas stolpe

Each year the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council improves their production of the Wearable Arts bit by bit, and this year the culmination of theme and design supporting the art and craft of the participants took the show to a new level. From the MCs’ costumes to the pre-show photography and glowing scenery, the theme “Illuminate” wove through each element seamlessly. This year our thirst to know, “How did they do that?” was delightfully quenched with the added element of projected close-up photography while each piece graced the stage. Of course, my thirst to know how it’s done is unquenchable so I went straight to the artists to find out more.

This year’s overall winner, “A Dress for All Seasons” was a clear departure from past winners’ craft mediums. Used to the amazing wood creations by David Walker and the living plant works by Teresa Busch, this light-show-on-a-dress by a team of six self-proclaimed smart-guys took both the theme and the show to a new place. The team (Rebecca Parks, Jessalyn Rintala, Jess Parks, Bob Vieth, Daniel Shey and Jeremy Hansen) wrote over 900 lines of code to choreograph the dress’s inlaid LEDs, EL wires and tinsel to dance in the dark. Small flat silver batteries and micro-controllers kept the dress wearable, while a sequined silver glove woven with conductive thread gave the outfit just enough pop for even the King of Pop to be proud.

Sunday’s winner, “Wrap it Up” by artist Savannah Bell, elevated our perception of plastic wrap. Bell transformed an entire box of Costco plastic wrap into an Age of Enlightenment period piece, complete with enormous Marie Antoinette wig. And no, much to Andy Kline’s dismay, it was not see-through. In the category of transforming the ordinary into extraordinary, this piece took the cake.

Another type of plastic was featured in Lauralye Miko’s “Surprise Ending” which took third place Saturday evening. Using recycled plastic bags, Miko fused a fabric-like base for her dress and then wove opposing-colored strips of the fused fabric into a gold and white bodice. Poofs of plastic were glued to the fused skirt base to create a cloud-like cupcake of a dress. This dress, and it’s under layer of neon, took a little under three months to complete and traveled from Anchorage via suitcase to arrive undamaged and ready to show.

For artist Donna Powell’s fourth year of competition, her third-place tied piece, “Masquerade” was a long time coming. Six months before the competition she laid plans for a wearable art piece made completely from foil-lined bags. Recruiting friends from as far as Holland, Miami, and Philadelphia to send their leftovers over, she began to build her bag dress into a costume worthy of an opera. Complete with lights, feathers and flash, Powell’s dress could fit in at any part from Venice to New Orleans — and of course Juneau.

The final third-place tie for Sunday was epic all around. “The Dragon Queen and The Samurai” by Joyce Lively and Vera Earl featured a battle between man and mystic creature played out in fabric, glitter, feathers, beads and more. in their first foray into the world of wearable arts, the two took no prisoners and used no pattern to create these costumes. In a refreshing twist this piece, though not a dress, did get a third place nod.

Overall this year’s competition outshined others in complete design aesthetic and execution both on and offstage.

Kudos to the crafters of all kinds who made it possible.

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