We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Patchwork dresses, embroidered bell-bottoms, and the 13th Floor Elevators—the latest show at the Transformer gallery might seem like the contents of a newly cracked 1960s time capsule. Yet “Rejoice” has a sensibility that’s as contemporary as it is retro, and its six artists are all 30 or younger.
The exhibition, on view through Jan. 22, 2005, includes five outfits designed and made by local artists Jess Feury, Jennifer Potter, Karie Reinertson, and Valerie Soles, and Richmond’s Sarah Hagen and Justin Spivey. (All save Potter design and make clothing regularly.) The garments are accompanied by associated fabric pieces or works on paper, forming visual suites inspired by a particular album.
Reinertson, for example, contributed a green corduroy “forest top” and tan mixed-fabric “tree-root pants,” both decorated with nature imagery, along with a macramé hanging piece and two ink-and-watercolor drawings. The 25-year-old artist, who helped organize the show, derived her “organic” themes from Bull of the Woods, a 1968 cult album by Texas psychedelic rockers the 13th Floor Elevators. The show’s other inspirational albums include the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday; Peter, Paul, and Mary’s children’s record, Peter, Paul, and Mommy; and the Faces’ A Nod Is as Good as a Wink to a Blind Horse. The only album that was released in the lifetime of any of the artists is Björk’s Vespertine, selected by Feury, which elicited a white-and-pink patchwork blouse and skirt.
“I was hoping everyone would choose something from a different decade,” Reinertson says. Instead, most of the artists focused on a brief period in musical history. In fact, Reinertson says, Feury “was going to choose Donovan originally, but it didn’t end up working with the art.” Even more curiously, Hagen and Spivey initially also picked Bull of the Woods. When they learned it was taken, they switched to an album by the Byrds, which also had been Reinertson’s second choice.
“It is really strange that we ended up with music from the late ’60s,” Reinertson says. “I think how we got into older music is that we started out listening to this watered-down music that’s out now. We all went backwards ’til we got to the ’60s and thought, Here we are.”
The artists are partial to older technology as well as older music; every piece except for Feury’s is accompanied by an LP cover. “All of us have a thing for vinyl,” Reinertson says. “There’s just something about the process of picking up the needle. It just feels like you’re part of it somehow.”
The works were made especially for the show, explains Transformer co-curator Victoria Reis, who’s been intrigued to see people wearing the artists’ garments in local shops and nightclubs. She calls the clothing on display, however, “sort of high end.” The priciest item is Hagen and Spivey’s $375 “Mind Gardens” dress, made of orange velvet and leather and embellished with floral motifs and a mystic blue eye. The artists will present some of their more affordable creations in a trunk show on Dec. 19, with top prices around $60.
The items at Transformer, Reinertson notes, “are more hand-embellished. The materials are more one-of-a-kind. We’re trying to blur the line between art and fashion with these. The stuff I make for stores is a lot more simple, with less expensive fabrics.”
Most of the show’s participants have art-school educations, says Reinertson, but “at this point, a lot of us want to stick with clothing. There seem to be a lot more possibilities.’’
Another appeal of apparel design, she continues, is that “we are all very homey. We just like a sense of warmth and coziness.” Indeed, getting together to sew has become such a social occasion that “a lot of boys I know have gotten kind of jealous.”