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The World of Wearable Arts

Will Robertson

Visual Arts


Her head is a woolly orange triangle and she is dressed like a lizard. Fortunately she’s not very tall so there is no chance of her blocking my view. I take to my seat behind her and the show begins.
The sound of stone tapping stone in a waking forest.
A woman wearing a barbed-wire skirt emerges from a polystyrene emerald waharoa (gate) to a stirring soundtrack of Maori trance. Taking her place on the central platform, she raises her arms to the roof of the Wellington Events Centre.
Pan flutes
Her breasts are covered in moss. Violent balls of fire explode around her, temporarily blinding me.
Behind me a reluctant boyfriend sighs. His girlfriend challenges him to “at least try and get in to it.”
The air smells like an electrical fault. There is a lot of fog about. Mystical bird creatures move expressionistically around the moss queen; Huia girl, Tui girl and what looks like Silver Fern girl. Others are harder to define in concrete terms; incongruous and exciting conflagrations of flax, paua, coconut and human hair. One is a shipwrecked, corrugated iron ship with a cat’s head at the prow and a pale girl for a steam funnel. She reminds me of the West Coast.
Whirring Purerehua (traditional Maori instrument) Gordon, roped into the show by a semiprofessional model friend, is encased to the ankles in a bracken Kiwi. It looks very cumbersome, his arms are stuck fast at his sides. All the costume allows is a kind of shuffling hop. Part of me hopes he will fall and roll about the stage like a loose napkin ring, his feet wiggling in the air. He doesn’t. He manages a very sprightly and impressionistic, kiwi-like hop, stopping only to dip his dangerously top-heavy beak at imaginary grubs.
Cuban rhythms
Something between a Dalek and a Christmas decoration glides onto the stage. It is followed by dancing children’s drawings, male ballet dancers with kites, licorice all sort girls and a frightening Dalmatian with a long red tongue. One model is covered in gumboots. Another is dressed as a male airline pilot and dances in heels. Mr. Chavanoz the semiprofessional model appears dressed in a red lycra bodysuit with black rubber nodules, a hedgehog fetishist from planet Zork. It is all very compelling. I stop trying to figure out what each costume is supposed to mean and sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
Wellington’s World of Wearable Arts show is not all catwalking birds and sushi bras (the latter being a highlight of the ‘Bizarre Bra’ category). It was not just a catwalk show, which I expected it to be. There were explosions, rumbling bass lines, lasers and some very entertaining aliens, Mongolian contortionists, hermaphrodites and other circus type folk; some covered in flashing light bulbs and jerked around on bungee strings, to great effect. The show concluded with the descent of a billowing satin breast, milk-suited dancers spilling from its nipple. There were also lots of girls and, I suppose, some fashion too.
It was like good science-fiction; surprising, with some mysterious and incongruous elements, but somehow making strange sense. You did not have to be particularly interested in or knowledgeable about modern dance or couture to enjoy it. Even the reluctant boyfriend behind me got over his embarrassment and “got into it”, concluding, definitely to his girlfriend: I have to admit, that was pretty bloody good. (Meaning “it was fabulous”, in bloke.)
22 September 2006