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Fashioning the Body


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Suzannah Biernoff
  • Assessment: a 5000-word coursework essay (100%)

Module description

This module traces some of the surprising intersections between fashion, art and photography since the 1920s. Through in-depth case studies of four very different artists and designers (Elsa Schiaparelli’s collaboration with Salvador Dalí, Louise Bourgeois’ clothing installations and textile works, and Cindy Sherman’s fashion photographs), we will consider: the legacy of Surrealism; issues of gender and representation; the history of cosmetics; feminist aesthetics; the mutual fascination - and mutual investment - of art and haute couture; and the significance of the body in postmodernism. What these case studies have in common is an understanding of the body (and face) as something that is ‘fashioned’, by social conventions and technologies, by desire and language, through violence, but also in the pursuit of pleasure. Far from being simply represented, the bodies we will look at could better be described as tactical, analytical, symptomatic or subversive.

The module is not intended as a comprehensive survey; rather, it is structured to encourage a critical and imaginative linking of intellectual debates and visual sources. In light of recent approaches to the history of the body, the case studies will be considered in their cultural and historical contexts, as well as in relation to theoretical and critical writings. Indeed, ‘writing’ (and reading) the body is one of the underlying themes of the course: something we will pursue through discussions of key texts (by, amongst others, Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault, Umberto Eco, Griselda Pollock and Laura Mulvey).