John Massey’s silk-screen print, “Versailles,” is of two arms. One is normal. The other is made of gold and twice the size of an average human arm. It’s the first thing you see at Adornment, the latest exhibit at Agnes Etherington art gallery, which contains several prints and photographs that are on display for the very first time since they entered the vault.
Reviewing it started as a daunting task. It’s a mix of 18th to 20th century artifacts and contemporary works dealing with body ornamentation.
Ed Pien’s “Winged Girl” is a disturbing ink drawing. It depicts a female head in a darkly animated style. She’s wide-eyed with smaller heads attached to her long black hair.
Hamish Buchanan’s cibachrome photograph, called “Veiled Man,” was a favourite. It’s a shot of a naked man lying on the ground at a dramatically oblique angle from the viewer. His arms lay limp above his head and he is mostly covered in a sheet of translucent fabric.
The direction of the extended limbs in Buchanan’s photo direct glances to a pair of gum-bichromate print paper photographs by Stephen Livick. The first one shows a young blonde woman with sunglasses and the second is a man with makeup resembling a Kiss band member. The photos together contrast ways of camouflaging the human face.
Six glass cases feature a variety of accessories dated from 1791 to the 1950s in the centre of the room display. There’s a pair of satin shoes, hats, parasols, crocheted and embroidered purses and leather gloves.
These intricately designed pieces are all acquired from the Queen’s University Collection of Canadian Dress and made by anonymous artisans. Others, such as a Tiffany and Co. wedding fan from 1867 and special gold pocket watch were individually donated. The pocket watch, showcased in the front section of the exhibit, has a significant connection to Kingston. It was presented to Robert Chanonhouse, chief constable of the Kingston Police, by John A. Macdonald in 1866.
Adornment shows a cultural obsession with adding ornaments to the body. The historical aspect of this exhibit doesn’t just show off 18th century creativity. It looks at the evolution of humanity’s obsession with adorning oneself.
Adornment is in the Historical Feature Gallery at the Agnes Etherington until May 13, 2012.
—With files from Caitlin Choi