projects+gallery, a Saint Louis commercial art space designed to present multidisciplinary exhibitions, is pleased to announce the public opening of Amongst Friends., a solo exhibition of photography by Dario Calmese and fashion from the personal collection of Lana Turner on February 16th, 2018.
Based in New York City, American artist Dario Calmese uses photography to tell stories about the people he has met, the places he has been and the histories he has encountered. His body of work is rooted in the theater of the Anthropocene: at times focused on its players, at other times contemplating the set and costumes, but continually pushing beyond the proscenium and shattering the fourth wall to interrogate the justice and aftermath of a scene.
Calmese’s working process treats photography as architecture: as a “built environment.” He uses film as a blueprint of sorts, constructing narratives that move past Barthes’ past-looking “asymbolic death” to construct a more generative image – pivoting from what has been to what is and could be. The artist states that his blackness, queerness and Americanness inform his gaze, each taking turns as narrator and sometimes performing in fugue.
Amongst Friends. is a series of black and white photographs and selected fashion objects from the private collection of Lana Turner, a noted Harlem preservationist and doyenne of style whose extensive inventory of vintage fashion can be understood as an archive of twentieth-century society and a reflection of the role of fashion in the history of African-American culture. Calmese was introduced to Ms. Turner years ago at Abyssinian Baptist Church, while the artist was in search of hats to photograph for a fashion project he was developing as a graduate student. Steeped in traditions passed down since slavery, churches are one of the cornerstones of the African-American community, becoming a space not only for worship, but for people to connect with one another, and to find and express themselves within a chosen family. It is an activated stage within which the clothing you wear becomes performative, and Ms. Turner is no ingénue. She wears her elegant, at times extravagant, wardrobe like armor, expressing her inner strength with accessories that recall generations past and the resilience that continues today.
Upon first meeting, Calmese saw that it was not her hats, but Turner herself who was meant to be the subject of his work. Over years of knowing her he observed that Ms. Turner, who describes the act of dress as her artistic medium – or “painting the body canvas” as she likes to call it – began to actually abstract herself through her self-expression. What began as the process of Sunday presentation over time began to exaggerate itself. Traditional veiled felt hats became umbrella-shaped fascinators and then evolved to 3D printed helmets. Simple gloves transformed into three-tiered satin gauntlets.
Styled by Calmese, exclusively using Ms. Turner’s existing wardrobe, Amongst Friends. seeks to dig deeper into the idea of the black church as an activator not only for imagination, but a crucible for the construction of self. It engages the many layers of one woman’s self-identity, while transcending itself in order to examine the theatrical performance of fashion and its place within African-American culture.
Amongst Friends. will open at projects+gallery from 5:00 - 8:00 pm on Friday, February 16th and is free to the public. Ms. Turner will join Dario Calmese for an artist talk moderated by Rikki Byrd on Saturday, February 17th at 1:00 pm. The exhibition will be on view at projects+gallery until Saturday, March 31st, 2018.