Monday, August 25, 2014

Melbourne Writers Festival - Reading Fashion.

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the Reading Fashion event at Melbourne Writers Festival. Based on the NGV exhibition Fashion Detective, the panel comprised of three women - exhibition curator Danielle Whitfield, conservator Bronwyn Cosgrove, and author Sulari Gentill. The discussion covered topics related to forensics and fiction; how preserved clothing can tell people so much about a certain period in time, a historical figure, a society, or a significant event. 
What seemed like a ping-pong match of panel members bouncing off one another's comments, the Reading Fashion conversation was so intriguing to witness. Whitfield's overwhelming knowledge on the preservation of garments, teamed with Cosgrove's humorous recollections of the laboratory work that is involved in dissecting and researching the materials, made the conversation informative, but not too much to take in. 
Listening to author Sulari Gentill speak was perhaps my favourite part of the conversation. Her blatant honesty about writing organically - 'solving the mystery as [she goes] along' - and her ties to Australian crime writing made her such a valuable presence in the room. The thing that I thought was so beautiful was when - during question time at the end of the conversation - an audience member asked Gentill how she gains inspiration for the vivid descriptions of clothing she provides in her stories. The audience assumed that Gentill visited museums and researched images, but our assumptions were incorrect. Gentill explained that her descriptions come from the mind. She continued to explain that every individual reader would imagine a different garment to the next person as a result of personal experiences and prior knowledge; and that's the beauty of writing. 
“Fakes and forgeries, poisonous dyes, concealed clues, mysterious marks and missing persons, NGV exhibition Fashion Detective looks to the collection as a body of ‘material’ evidence." - National Gallery of Victoria.
Unlike your usual exhibition, Fashion Detective combines both fact and fiction to present a fascinating and chilling journey of fashion through time, and the mystery behind seemingly unassuming garments. Four of Australia's best crime writers worked on speculating the evidence at-hand, introducing plots and characters to reveal fashion's substance and context. 
The Fashion Detective exhibition is running at the National Gallery of Victoria until Sunday 31st August, and is open all days, except Mondays, from 10am-5pm. It’s free entry, and there is a 'parlour' room for the little ones to play in, too! Get in quick - you won't regret it. 

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