The Fourth Persona: Archaeology of Costume (an experimental exhibition)
In this Flashtalk I will introduce you to The Fourth Persona: Archaeology of Costume (an experimental exhibition),which explored ideas around the agency of archived performance costume.
Held in June 2019, the exhibition contained fifteen matte paper B0-sized photographs of historically significant dance costumes held in collections and archives across Australia and England. Each image captures my first encounter with a single costume, or a set of costumes, as experienced in their archival settings, and were displayed to replicate these – lying flat on tables or hanging on racks, protected underneath tissue paper and requiring white cotton gloves for safe viewing.
Stepping beyond the public, private, and professional personas of the performers who wore the costumes as working garments (their embodied relationship with the costume meaning their personas are inextricably linked to it), once it enters an archive the costume becomes an object in its own right. The exhibition The Fourth Persona aimed to work as a testing ground to explore the idea that when a performance costume enters an archive it acquires a ‘fourth persona’, one which can exist separately from those of the body who wore it, and one which has value as a powerful storyteller of time and place. Can an exhibition successfully communicate to an audience that an archived costume is a valuable cultural marker.
Secondarily, the exhibition also tested how the ways in which costume is displayed in an exhibition setting might be manipulated to shift the audience’s reading of them, as well as playing with assumptions regarding the relationship between knowledge, truth, and trust in archives. The accompanying exhibition website can be viewed here: https://fourthpersona.wixsite.com/costume
Emily Collett is a set and costume designer and educator whose practice comprises theatre, dance, film, television, and costume research. Emily was nominated for a Green Room Award for Dream Home, Northcote Town Hall 2015, and has received grants from the Ian Potter Cultural Trust and ArtStart. She was the first set and costume design candidate in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2016 ‘Women in Theatre’ program, and a costume design candidate in the Besen Family Artist Program at Malthouse Theatre in 2017. Recent design credits include Control, Red Stitch Actor’s Theatre, 2019; Wild Cherries, La Mama Courthouse 2019; Whale, Northcote Town Hall, 2019; A Little Night Music, Watch This, 2018; and Niche, Elbow Room Productions, 2017. A tutor in design and PhD candidate at The Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, her research focuses on the topic of costume for performance as a cultural marker, specifically in relation to Australian identity.