CHRCH Clothes: Kate Hamilton’s “Studio Lab”July 22, 2014
For the month of July, Cottekill’s CHRCH Project Space has been filling up with yards of sailcloth sculpted and sewn into huge pieces of clothing hanging floor-to-ceiling and attached to a crisscrossing system of pulleys. The pulleys creak as Kate Hamilton tugs at some clotheslines, and the hem of a huge, floor-to-ceiling dress lifts off the floor. It undulates in the space, rustling loudly like crashing waves or a torrential downpour. Full of tension, the dress heaves and sighs as it if it might collapse completely, then falls back to its resting position, crinkling and crackling as it settles into place.
“When we ran through moving everything for the first time it was like we were just creating a huge storm,” Kate says. “The dress was just swimming through the space, and then it was so quiet and calm afterwards.”
The huge, swimming dress is part of Kate’s four-week residency at WSW, during which she, along with stop-motion video artist (and WSW alumna) Tona Wilson and composer Jonathan Elliott, are creating an immersive, interactive multimedia environment inside the 116-year-old former Dutch Reformed church in Cottekill. The exhibition, It’s a Big World In There, will be presented Saturday, July 26 for viewers to move through the field of floating garments and projections.
The experimental project grew out of Kate’s recent work for a Zurich Theatre on La Voix Humaine, a one-woman opera written by Poulenc. Kate had been making room-sized garments for a while, but for the opera she constructed an enormous button-down shirt that was used onstage as a projection screen. “That’s when I thought, Wow, ok this could be something really interesting,” she says. “But I’m going to need some help.”
With enough space in the one-room church to experiment with rigging, Kate enlisted Jonathan and Tona to add their own experiments to the mix. Jonathan’s multi-track score includes songs from a small Dutch hymnal with a crumbling spine that Kate has kept on hand for inspiration throughout her residency. Tona’s projections incorporate sheet music from the hymnal, passages from Moby Dick, photographs of the church’s stained glass windows, and images from Eadweard Muybridge’s late 19th century photographic studies of motion. Projected from various points in the room, her animations move through and across the garments, highlighting their architectural impact of of their draping folds and precise construction.
Kate thinks of the CHRCH as a “Studio Lab”, a space for all three artists to experiment, explore new ways of working, and surprise themselves and each other. “We’re really playing—it’s going to be the result of serious play.”
Having grown up with paper dolls, Kate was fascinated by the construction of hats and garments as an adult. After years running a millinery business and a children’s clothing line, she discovered costuming in the 1990s and has gradually moved her practice toward the intersection of art, design, and avant garde theatre. Her ethereal, translucent human- and room-sized garments explore the architecture and experience of clothing—what it means to us, how it shelters us, and how we discard it.
“Shapes that shelter may not last,” Kate writes on her website. “Protection is fleeting….Light rules over matter. Most paper pieces are also players in tableaux/installations. Like we are.”
Though she’s worked with fragile glassine paper in the past, Kate’s most recent garments are made of ripstop, a lightweight, flexible nylon used for hot air balloons, kites, and sails. As light glows softly through the translucent fabric, seams, pockets, buttonholes, and plackets appear like x-rays of these ghost-like bodies. They’re all engineered with armatures that provide some structural support—lending them bit of body and making them tent-like. And when they’re let down and the armatures come out, they collapse into bags, ready to be reborn in the next tableau. With the help of Jonathan and Tona, Kate’s field of hanging garments takes on a completely new life.
A button-down shirt with one arm raised in gesture floats eerily across the width of the room, just skimming the floor as projected text scrolls up over its collar and onto the ceiling, a hymn humming in the background. “I find so much beauty in these—I can’t get away from the translucence,” Kate says. “It’s all about the beauty of their fragility and their emptiness.” It’s a Big World In There will be presented for one night only, on Saturday, July 26, 2014 4-7pm. Check out more video footage of the performance here.
Kate Hamilton is a sculptor, costumer, and designer who works in the mid-Hudson Valley and New York City. Last summer, Kate was a WSW resident with Mau Schoettle to create handmade paper costumes for The Mine Project — Dada Spill, a site-specific, participatory cross-discipline performance held in Rosendale’s Widow Jane Mine. Kate’s ephemeral sculptural work has been shown around the US, and her costuming has appeared in art performances, operas, and theatre in New York, Berlin, and Zurich. See more of her work online at katehamiltonstudio.com.