As our perspectives change with age, our perception of fashion evolves too. For Irene, the #NovelWaysOfDressing open call was a chance to revisit the days of the past and ruminate about the present . Inspired by Stephanie Jane Burt’s Dressing A Window, the different elements in the artwork led Irene down a path of self-reflection, culminating in her ensemble that encapsulates the journey she’s been on so far.
One of the selected candidates from our #NovelWaysOfDressing open call, Irene shared with us about how art has shaped her perspective, both as an artist and a viewer, and how fashion plays an important role throughout the different stages of her life. Watch the video below to hear more about what inspired her outfit, and read on to find out about the story behind her look.
Dressing A Window is an artwork exhibited in the Time Passes exhibition, organised by the Singapore Art Museum. From now till 21st February, you can explore the virtual gallery online, or head down to National Gallery Singapore to view the exhibition in person. To find out more about the ongoing exhibition, visit bit.ly/sam-timepasses.
What were your first impressions and thoughts when you first saw this artwork?
Stephanie Jane Burt’s artwork initially reminded me of the American or British romantic movies of the 1950s, where women with permed hair and lace dresses danced through the night at balls. As a child, I had always thought I would be a princess when I grew up—I was badly disappointed! (laughs)
How was your outfit today inspired by Dressing a Window?
My outfit looks far removed from Stephanie Jane Burt’s Dressing a Window, but the artwork was only the starting point for me. I was originally inspired by the draped pink lace fabric in the artwork. This threw me back in time to my wedding , 49 years ago—my dress that evening was a tailored long gown in similar pink lace. I had initially wanted to wear the gown for my Novel Ways of Dressing open call submission. I even found an old photo of myself dressed in my pink lace gown—however, I realised that I have changed; similar to how the holiday house was refurbished over the years in Virginia Woolf’s novel–To the Lighthouse–which the artist was inspired by.
A eureka moment happened—“I am that refurbished house,” I thought to myself. Refurbished over the years, both internally and externally. Thus, my current way of dressing has to suit the person I have become—a parent, and grandparent of five, communing in a multigenerational household. So I chose something I would wear on a normal day: a loose batik dress, comfy laced up shoes, and a small hat, along with a lightweight cloth bag and gold-plated gypsy-style earrings. Practical, and easy to maintain.
As a fellow artist, what does art mean to you?
I feel that art is a way of seeing. It’s a way for me to bring joy to others. Sometimes I do a painting of my grandchildren because I want to capture a memorable moment in their life. It gives me immense joy to paint them and I give it to them as a reminder of their childhood. It’s probably one way I express my love for them.
As a viewer, art is when something appeals to me and stops me in my tracks. It makes my heart skip a beat; it could be something you’d call beautiful; maybe something akin to déjà vu by jolting me into a new way of seeing; or an experience that transports me into the artist’s point of view.
In your own view, how do you think art impacts people?
I believe that art can influence people to think in a certain way and guide their actions. As an artist myself, I’ve learnt from people’s reactions to my own artworks that the message in your artwork needs to be well-articulated and directed.
Along with age, how has your perception of fashion changed?
As a young lady, dressing up was fun—it was a shared activity which bonded my friends and me. It gave us much pleasure, and was definitely a respite from studying for exams. My mother taught my sisters and me to dress appropriately and modestly. What one wears reflects self-respect, social standing, and upbringing. Audrey Hepburn epitomised style for me—I did not dress like her, but she was a picture of my hope that I carried in my head.
Getting older carries with it the side effect of being sidelined, perched precariously on the periphery of mainline conversation and dynamics of a group of younger people. One’s relevance to the mainstream gets further diminished by not being privy to current social agendas, and catch phrases. Added to that downward slope, is hearing loss.
I don’t intend to be sidelined. I made up my mind to stay relevant, to cling on to the rails of the last ship, before I am thrown into the murky waters of oblivion. What strategy do I have to postpone the loneliness of isolation? I decided to change my fashion choices and exercise to stay fit. I now purchase styles which catch my eye, in my colours and within my budget. I will consider clothes which look contemporary, and doesn’t draw attention to a changed body structure.
Irene was chosen as one of our four candidates from the #NovelWaysOfDressing open call, which we launched at the end of the first phase of this collaboration with the Singapore Art Museum. We invited the public to submit their own sartorial interpretations of the artworks in the Time Passes exhibition—view the other submissions at the links here and here.