Critics’ Picks

View of “Susan Cianciolo,” 2016.

Portland

Susan Cianciolo

Yale Union (YU)
800 SE 10th Avenue
May 22 - July 10

Susan Cianciolo’s miniretrospective, collecting over twenty years of personal ephemera, reference material, and fashion sampling, is about invitation at its core. Lavish in its clarity of form, this tactile, spaciously curated series of shrine-like installations includes an arena of chair and table skeletons modeling Cianciolo’s handmade clothing; three tiny houses showcasing videos that chronicle the artist’s history with runway fashion; and over fifty of her carefully assembled “kits,” arranged in a grid on the gallery floor—boxes, piles, and sewn arrangements that display the artist and designer’s personal and professional life in archival splendor.

Fans of her renowned RUN (an uncompromising and innovative DIY fashion label whose motto could have been “maintain the guidelines of your own design,” in the words of her video diadal, 1998) will enjoy spying her deconstructed sketchbooks, photos, journals, and international-travel souvenirs for behind-the-scenes creative insight and odes to friendship. But the meticulous, fragile quality of her sewn quilts and life-size effigies, which pad and guard kits like mummies in a tomb, point toward death and rebirth. The kits’ contents underpin ritualistic themes such as purging accumulated materials or disclosing secrets. One handwritten note sums up the artist’s Zen-like practice to achieve material freedom: “There is much feeling in nothing, accept there is stillness, silence, being oneness omnipresent.”

Casual yet fastidiously organized, some kits are as simple as a box of green glitter—Glitter and Love Kit, 2016—while others encapsulate single memories, such as OSAKA kit (Run 7 dress, toys, 2 girl dress, ribbon, painted stick, two fans), 2016, and LET’S TRY TO GET ALONG kit, 2015. It’s this kind of personalization and care that remind one that dress-up is rooted in, yes, fun and decadence, but also in locating material that makes humans feel comfortable in their skin.