Bisected Imagery in Fashion and Architecture

August 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Look #12 from Prabal Gurung F/W 11 (via

Prabal Gurung’s latest collection for F/W 11 spun a tale of destruction. Centered around the spiteful and tragically faded Miss Havisham from the Charles Dickens epic “Great Expectations,” it featured a macabre parade of women that appeared hastily put together and left in various states of undress. Like Miss Havisham, who let her intense shaudenfraude toward men dictate her main life narrative, the women on Gurung’s watercolor runway evoked a sense of coming undone. Gurung showcased a number of seductive and covetable looks: a scarlet off-the-shoulder cocktail dress with black drivers gloves, a voluminous fur coat with a white-to-red ombre effect, a floor-length gown embezzled with a combination of ebony bird feathers. But the look with the most impact was a licorice red knee-length dress that appeared sliced down the center and tenuously held together with a slender black belt. It channeled a feeling of desperation, haste, and fragility in the way it threatened to fall and reveal the model’s most intimate spaces.

Matta-Clark's "Splitting"

A photo of the interior of Matta-Clark's "Splitting"

The red, bisected look recalls the “anarchitecture” of artist Gordon Matta-Clark from the 1970s. Matta-Clark once studied architecture at Cornell, but eventually paradoxically focused his career on demolishing the very structures he had once sought to create. In a spirited review of a Matta-Clark retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 2007, writer Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times described his process as “chop[ing] up buildings, making huge, baroque cuts in them with chainsaws, slicing and dicing like a chef peeling an orange or devising radish flowers.” The process, documented by drawings and photographs, provoked a number of seemingly contrasting emotions and ideas. They were at once chaotic yet precise, sturdy yet delicate, and simple yet immensely complicated. For what many art critics and lovers consider his magnum opus, “Splitting,” (1974) Matta-Clark bisected a cubic suburban home in Englewood, N.J. with a chainsaw, allowing a stream of light to flood inside and unite the severed interior spaces. Critics’ interpretations of the work have taken several different trajectories. One of the most salient, however, is that Matta Clark’s “cut buildings” offer an incisive critique of the state of neglect of American infrastructure – a neglect that resurfaced most devastatingly in the ongoing, labored reconstruction of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Granoff Center at Brown University

While the process of splitting objects has in the past encompassed destruction and decay, the recently completed Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University uses splitting as a way to build community and celebrate the act of creation. Designed by the cerebral architecture firm Diller, Scofidio, and Renfro, best known for conceiving the controversial and iconic renovation of Lincoln Center, the building references Matta-Clark’s “Splitting” in its conspicuous misalignment in the center. It divides the building in roughly two equal halves, with the right half sinking into the ground as if it were built on a patch of quicksand. But rather than having the effect of separation between the two sides, the misalignment encourages connection, offering clear views of different floors via glass walls. Of the abundant interaction the structure promotes, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times writes, “you can sometimes watch work taking place on three different floors at once, an effect that imbues the building with an unusually strong spirit of creative solidarity.” Ouroussoff continues, praising the building’s “insistence that curiosity – about different ways of thinking as well as different artistic mediums – is at the heart of any creative act.”

As Matta-Clark’s “Splitting” revealed the dilapidated interior of individual homes and by extension, American infrastructure, Gurung’s bisected dress exposed the broken state of Miss Havisham’s internal world. The dress, with its generous slit and barely connecting hemlines, recalls Miss Havisham’s unrequited love and reminds us of heartbreak’s power to break us.


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