Dare to Wear : Glass Dresses by Diana Dias-Leảo

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Until September 2011.

Diana Dias-Leảo delicately constructed but tough modernistic designs come to life in the ‘Craft and Design Gallery, how things are styled, made and used,’ in the Walker Art Gallery.

The exhibition is in fitting with its surroundings and is set in-between a labyrinth style direction showing a continuous evolution of mans usage of craft designed objects. It has a comical approach which is juxtaposed with the austere, grand building as in-between the pottery and art deco plates is a mobile phone which makes light of what is constituted as art. As when the objects displayed were originally produced they were not seen as art or worthy to be studied, only in retrospect objects become idealised, the mobile phone connotes the futures over analysis of common objects.

Positioned in the middle of the labyrinth are two glass boxes containing Diana Dias-Leảo designs, the way they are exhibited is too show off their beauty and not in an hyperbolic manner to be studied and their significance be over analysed. This is represented by the lack of signage, with only one white label at the base of each glass container stating the number of each garment, name and year they were created. This allows the spectator to not be influenced in their views and be able to form their own judgement on the designs. This is in-fitting with the rest of the exhibition space of being a place of contemplation of the meaning of objects and not an instruction based dialogue between the spectator and the objects explained meaning.

There is an audio-visual accompaniment to the exhibition in which the designer gives an interview about her thought process behind the garments and her aims of the exhibition. It feels personal and in correlation with the structure and layout of the garments, it allows the spectator to consider their attitude towards the designs to their original aim. There is no misjudged representation of another external influence, it allows for a direct communication between the original thought process and the spectators, which makes for an honest consideration of the exhibition.

The corsets made out of broken glass fragments and barbed wire hang from steel chains on white padded coat hangers, which gives a daunting and spooky feel it is as their owners have long been gone and only the hard shell of their garments remains. They represents the theme of isolation as the garments seem lonely and isolated by not being with a mannequin, this is further emphasised by the use of broken glass fragments, as glass as a material is difficult to mould to desired shapes and when broken is hard to repair to its once perfect position so each fragment becomes isolated and frayed.

Diana Dias-Leảo contemplates the notion of the male gaze on the garments as they are made to look sexy by all the dresses being backless, which is a sign of vulnerability of the wearer and by the corsets having the traditional plastic fasteners, which connotes sexiness and is typically to be found as the destination for the male gaze. The connoted sexiness is at first appealing but on closer inspection the garments have a sharp, dangerous twist of being unable to touch and therefore controlled by the male gaze by the materials used. It gives the power and control back to the wearer as they can be seen as desired and sexy but be incomplete control and thus reverses the notion of the male gaze.

The garments also approach the theme of body image and represent a visual form of self harm by the use of barbed wire as the main body structure. The garments act as an extended metaphor of the wearers agonised feelings which normally are concealed, they represent an honest visual approach to many women’s fear surrounding body image in a juxtaposed beautiful fashion.

The cobweb dress is positioned on a white, headless mannequin with a round base, the dress twists and manipulates the fabric to come to a tight peak around the base of the mannequin. This connotes the feel of restrictiveness and self control which is further emphasised in the bodice of the dress, as the fabric does not flow and instead is collected in different size webs around the bodice.  This imagery of restrictiveness plays on the sex appeal of the garment and relates a negative correlation between the desire for one to be seen as sexy and the imposed restrictiveness this causes on the wearer, due to the male gaze.

The long dresses are beautifully designed to look ethereal and have fairytale connotations as they are long, glistening with muted non-offensive colouring such as subtle pink, blue and green. The use of glass fragments in this case reflect the light and look as if the dress is shining from within to reflect the beauty of the wearer. As Diana Dias-Leảo said, ‘even though the image is glittering it is the person inside who is priceless.’

The exhibition is a beautifully well constructed collection of Diana Dias-Leảo continuous development of work using glass from 2005 to 2010, it highlights many issues surrounding women and their feelings towards body image which is subtly connoted in the use of materials and the way they are designed. The exhibition is small but perfectly balanced with the rest of the Walker Art Gallery, this is further metamorphosed in the gift shop where there is no replica imagery to be bought about the exhibition, such as post cards.  It remains loyal to its original aim of letting the garments speak for themselves and not being commercialised by an exterior force, by allowing the spectator to be that and appreciate the beauty of the designs and not be directed to a pre-deceived thought and imagery path.