When was the last time you had a life-altering art encounter? Folks at the Mizel Museum of Judaica are willing to bet, well, never. That's why they're shipping in Body Packaging 2001 -- one of the wildest, weirdest and unquestionably artiest fashion shows you've ever seen -- from Colorado Springs, of all places, the last town on earth you'd think capable of producing something so sassy and avant-garde. The staged extravaganza, featuring wearable-art creations, professional lighting and set design, African drums and an operatic aria or two, hits the runway Sunday evening in a benefit performance for Mizel's multicultural Bridges of Understanding program.
"Instead of having a 'fashion show,' we wanted to do something more connected with the community here," says theatrical designer Lindsay Ray, one of four women credited with producing the unusual work-in-motion. For their first attempt, staged a few years ago at the Gallery of Contemporary Art at CU-Colorado Springs, they purposely sought an unusual stable of artists from all disciplines: "We had inventors, ceramists, woodworkers. Artists who would not ordinarily create things for the human body came up with incredible pieces," says co-director Varya Tudor. "That first show was so successful, people were turned away at the door."
What kinds of creations attract those SRO crowds? Tudor gives a taste of what to expect Sunday at the Mizel: "There's one piece modeled after the ribs of the Hindenburg zeppelin, transformed into Plexiglas and reflective material placed on top of a model. Another piece is made entirely of dried flowers and moss. There's a porcupine piece made of foam packing material and another created entirely out of theater lighting gel." And there are boas made of shredded paper; bird's-nest headdresses; clear-plastic Devo skirts; electrical-wire fright wigs. Not to mention a gaggle of other unnamed wonders not yet divulged by the producers. "We don't want to give away all the surprises," Ray says enticingly.
Are there difficulties in staging such a different beast of a spectacle, one that's part costume pageant, part high-fashion parody, part happening? "You do have to wonder what to do with the runway after the fountain costume spews water all over place," Tudor jokes. "You have to have a lot of help, people along the runway to assist. There are artists whose costumes can't even walk up the stairs!" And, in fact, a number of pieces are modeled by the artists themselves, along with their children, husbands, boyfriends and gal pals: "It's not only a community affair and multidisciplinary, but it also has something to do with family; somehow, the whole family gets involved," Tudor adds.
So does the peanut gallery. Team member and artist liaison Barbara Diamond says the audience reaction itself is dramatic: "Everyone is whistling and clapping and screaming and going nuts." And, Tudor adds, "When the audience gets in there, they become the final element for putting all of this together. Instead of just hanging a show in a gallery, you have an immediate reaction. That's what makes it all work.
"After the show, dentists and construction workers came up to us and said, 'My wife had to drag me here,'" Tudor says. "But after seeing it, they were saying things like, 'I have this great idea for a costume!' A psychologist came up to me and said, 'I never realized you could wear things other than clothes.' It really inspired that feeling of play."
And that is perhaps the truest purpose of any garden-variety art experience: to open viewers' eyes to things they might never have seen before. "We converted people to the world of art," Ray says. Better yet, it's opened the eyes of artists, as well.
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