Gertrude Stein poems dress up art installation 

Inspired by Gertrude Stein’s groundbreaking, experimental 1914 poetry collection “Tender Buttons,” “The Dresses/Objects Project” promises to be one of the most talked about interdisciplinary art installations of the year.

Masterminded by Katrina Rodabaugh, who did her graduate work at Oakland’s Mills College, the installation in Project Artaud’s Z Space features handmade dresses, letterpress prints, photographs, poetry, and dance by more than 30 women artists.

“Gertrude Stein is a matriarch for generations of experimental poets,” Rodabaugh said.

Using the first of the anthology’s three sections, called “Objects,” Rodabaugh selected a handful of poems that reference women’s clothing, bodies and fashion.

Three years ago, she used a letterpress to print the poems onto fabric. The prints were then distributed to designers and fine artists to turn into dresses. The ground rules were that the designers use at least some of the fabric, make dresses that were wearable, and take their inspiration from fashions popular from 1910-20s, when Stein and her salon were gaining notoriety.

Rodabaugh intentionally chose artists from different backgrounds. While three own fashion design companies, she also chose a furniture maker, print maker and fiber artist. Some of them don’t even sew. The results, which will be for sale, should be fascinating.

Rodabaugh then enlisted interdisciplinary artists, most of whom aren’t models, for photo shoots. Finally, she created the installation of dresses, dress forms and photos.

The opening two nights of the exhibit today and Saturday also feature dancers who will perform in the dresses, accompanied by live musicians.

“I’m most interested in the dresses changing context, and how the relationship of the viewer changes as the object shifts context from fine art to costume and garment,” Rodabaugh says.

“Because I’m interested at pushing at the line between art and craft, one major theme of the installation is of the visual artist working with thread and needle to make dresses,” she says. “There’s a portion in the performance piece where the dancers strip to slips, then take the dresses off dress forms and put them on. Approaching the garment before putting it on clarifies that we’re working with fine art as opposed to costuming.”

Rodabaugh will be in the gallery every Saturday afternoon, making one more dress. At the July 18 closing reception, that dress will be shown with the others in an event also featuring poetry by Lara Durback, Jennifer Manzano and Erika Staiti.


The Dresses/Object Project

Presented by Z Space at Theater Artaud

Where: Z Space at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco

When: Opens today; 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; live performances 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday: closes July 18

Tickets: Free, donations accepted


Note: A closing reception runs from 2 to 5 p.m. July 18.

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