Everlasting: The Flower in Fashion and Textiles

National Gallery of Victoria
Everlasting: The Flower in Fashion and Textiles, 2005, 1, pp. 14 - 22
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When an object or motif is universal, there is a tendency to trivialize it. This essay makes use of the French scholarly notion of the histoire des choses banales - everyday things - in order to elucidate a collection and exhibition of textile and dress across a long span from the 17th to the late 20th centuries. It makes interconnections between the history of botany, plant collecting, garden aesthetics and the design of clothing and textiles, in order to argue that the floral motif is cross-cultural and ubiquitous. But it is connected in highly specific ways to different systems of social organization, personal adornment and religious practice. It makes a case for the characteristics of plants that lend themselves to representation on a variety of formats and design methods. The flower provides a unifying and versatile stylistic device highly suitable for both two- and three-dimensional surfaces. As two-dimensional motifs such as textiles and low-relief sculpture are always preferred by belief systems in which the mimetic copy of nature is discouraged, the flower carries a special place in decorative arts and architectural embellishment. The writer, McNeil, worked with the curator, Roger Leong, at the prestigious National Gallery of Victoria in order to make the final selection of artefacts and then to contexualise them through the format of the essay. The exhibition received notices in the major Melbourne presses and had a high visitorship as would be expected at this flagship gallery.
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