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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

‘Wet Sounds’, Joel Cahen

London Fields Lido, 6th-19th July

Written by Casey Van Wensem

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Every woman has got one, this web ed or at least supposed to have one, online each person’s probably looks different from the next (though not if Primark has anything to do with it) and each most likely has a different purpose and a different story to tell.

The little black dress, currently being showcased at the Fashion and Textile Museum until September 20th, has been a fashion world staple and a seasonal key trend for over 90 years. Yet despite its unwillingness to leave the limelight, this classic piece remains ever versatile, and it is this that is celebrated most successfully at the exhibition; where else would you find a 1980s YSL lace and silk chiffon evening gown with ostrich and stripped cock feathers worn by Dame Shirley Bassey propped next to a 2005 Squirky by Vin and Omi rubber prom dress worn by Grayson Perry? Or am I just the only one that hasn’t been to one of Elton John and David Furnishes’ soirées?

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The exhibition setting is über elegant. A sea of sweeping drapes of white cloth illuminates the dresses perfectly, and the background Rat Pack music makes it feel like you have stepped straight into Breakfast at Tiffany’s. However, the little black dress is not all cocktails, dinner and dancing, and the environment does unfortunately somewhat pigeon hole the garment.

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Another downfall is that despite the exhibition’s claim to chart ‘the development of the little black dress from the 1920s to the present day’, a lack of effective grouping, for example by decade, as suggested by the timeline ascending the stairs, and a weak attempt at contextualising many of the pieces (there are all of three ‘iconic’ images shown), means that many of the dresses are lost amid the confusion. Ultimately there is no story being told.

Rather strangely the highlight for me occurred outside the main gallery space, opposite the shop and next to the little black dress-up area for kids (nice touch), where four glass-cased manikins were clothed in 1970s Zandra Rhodes punk little black dresses. Showcasing to perfection my favourite take on the LBD, I was impressed by Rhodes success in black, rather than the array of rainbow brights she is best known for, and left with a restored faith in the power and wonder of the little black dress.

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It’s like art for your ears, online but it’s underwater. Everything’s better when it’s underwater, right? At least that’s the philosophy that Wet Sounds at Lido Pool in London Fields took on July 6th. It was the beginning of the UK’s first underwater sound art display. Now the exhibition has been around the UK and it’s back to Lido for the final party. With sound artists John Wynne, Yoshi Shinagawa, Klaus Osterwaldt, F Geesin & Wheddon and others, all taking part, I decided to check out this curious sounding event.

Curator Joel Cahen has created a display for all the senses. Ambient sound works by international artists are played by speakers in the pool, where the sound waves mix with the water waves and float on into your submerged ears. Just as swimming is a full-body exercise, underwater sound is a full-body experience as well, with the sound waves taking on a different character and taking over your body and your mind.

I’ve always preferred floating over swimming. When all the other kids were splashing each other and throwing things I preferred to just lie on top of the water and let the waves do their thing. Thanks to Wet Sounds I got to re-live those days, except this time with a soundtrack of street noises, plinky piano melodies, noisy drones, and even the odd monkey howl. The kids were still there too, splashing and creating a general ruckus, seemingly unaware of what was happening inside the blue stuff they were waist-deep in. It is a public pool after all. Which also meant that there were some who insisted on swimming laps like they normally do even if it meant dodging floating hipsters every few meters.

Water can play an important role in music. The Beatles used a microphone dipped in a glass of water to get the famous vocal sound of “Yellow Submarine.” Wet Sounds employs the same technique but backwards, and without vocals by Ringo Starr, sending recordings from dry land into the depths of the pool. This creates a much more personal sound – one that everyone gets to experience as if they’re the only person who can hear it.

You’ll probably have to wait for another year now but if you get the chance, why not dive in and try something different? What other opportunity will you have to go to an art show in your bathing suit?

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