New vision of Venus takes shape at UAlberta

(Edmonton) Gowns created by two world-class designers, including University of Alberta alumnus Michael Kaye, are bringing a new perspective to Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and at the same time dressing up collaborative U of A research.

The Re-birth of Venus: Fashion and the Venus Kallipygos, an exhibition in the U of A Department of Human Ecology, explores the influence of art on fashion using the mythical icon, whose curvy likeness is immortalized in everything from paintings to carved statues. The show also brings together the varied research of graduate students who co-curated their shared vision with assistant professor Anne Bissonnette.

The result is a cross-disciplinary exhibition that “pushes the boundaries of knowledge,” said Bissonnette. Using pieces from the U of A’s Clothing and Textiles Collection, she and her students drew on their individual research areas of fashion, history and classics to present an exhibit that explores an age-old but ongoing issue of body image for women.

“Using the university’s collection—which is the largest clothing and textiles campus collection in Canada—we’ve created a beautiful exhibition, but also one that pushes interdisciplinary research, and that is very much what human ecology is about,” said Bissonnette. The research invested in the exhibition will be submitted as an article for academic publication and can also be viewed on the Clothing and Textiles website.

The Venus exhibit combines the scholarly research of Sarah Nash, a PhD student in the Department of History and Classics who specializes in first-century statuary, with the work of Bissonnette on late 18th-century dress, and the interests of Loretta Yau, a former master’s student in human ecology, who researched the bias-cut techniques of French designer Madeleine Vionnet.  

At the heart of the exhibit is Venus Kallipygos, a stone beauty residing in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, Italy.

Using the statue as a focal point, Bissonnette and her students unveil the enduring issue of body consciousness and how it influences fashion, old and new. On display in the Human Ecology Gallery until March 2, 2014, the elegant exhibit includes a filmy muslin gown circa 1808, a 1930s pleated Fortuny “Delphos” gown and a sleek green bias-cut gown Michael Kaye created for the U of A’s centenary in 2008.

Kaye’s gown in particular has a special place in the exhibition, Bissonnette added. “It anchors people in fashions that are still contemporary, and we like the fact it links back to Alberta. As a U of A grad, Kaye still uses the Vionnet bias-cut techniques, and we still expect sensual gowns to look this way.”

The public can learn more about The Re-birth of Venus at a free lecture presented by the U of A Fashion Culture Network at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Telus Centre on campus.

In support of the Venus exhibit, two prize raffles are being held. Tickets (three for $25 or one for $10) are available on a Holt Renfrew gift basket of Cartier beauty products and a second raffle (three tickets for $10 or one ticket for $5) offers three Redefining Eve dress forms as a prize. The tickets are available for purchase in Room 1-03 of the Human Ecology Building from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 24 and 25, and also at the lecture Oct. 29. The draw for both prizes follows the lecture's conclusion at 8 p.m. Oct. 29 in Room 150 of the Telus Centre.