Passageways: On Fashion’s Runway, Kunsthalle Bern, 2018, installation view.
The origins of the fashion show reveal a constellation where the body, commerce and modernity converge. Described as a theatre without narrative, fashion’s runway illuminates the paradox of irrational mutability and mechanical standardisation. The “first” runway could be understood as the practice of couturiers sending living mannequins (what we now call models) into the public boulevard sporting new designs, eliciting shock and photographic dissemination. This animation of bodies performing novelty in urban life foregrounded the format we know today: models passing along a strip flanked by their consuming onlookers. Runways express the formaldehyde of a culture in flux. While technological treatments of the runway have modified since its emergence at the turn of the 19th century, its underlying edifice has remained largely intact. Despite this ongoing scenographic sameness, various designers have explored the runway as a discursive site to interrogate the mechanics of fashion’s circulation. These runway experiments reconfigure the relations between audiences, arrangements of space, the carnivalesque body and the haunting of its commodity form. Leaping from Paul Poiret’s epic 1911 “A Thousand and Second Night”, the designers exhibited at Kunsthalle Bern have approached the runway-as-medium, using it twofold to extend and challenge the ideas within their own practice as well as the fashion system at large.
(Photo courtesy of David Aebi.)