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What’s it like to wear an artwork? Dom Rowland on wearing Johanna Unzueta’s A Garment for the Day

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In the second gallery of Johanna Unzueta’s exhibition Tools for Life at Modern Art Oxford are a collection of simple handmade garments, reminiscent of factory worker uniforms.

Unzueta sourced the fabric for these clothes from a factory in Guatemala that up-cycles old jeans. The garments were tailored to fit Modern Art Oxford staff, who wore them on the opening night of the exhibition, and in doing so activated them as ‘wearable sculptures’. But how does it feel to wear an artwork?

In this blog post Modern Art Oxford Events Assistant Dom Rowland reflects on the experience of wearing Unzueta’s garments.

Johanna Unzueta, A Garment for the Day (detail), 2019-ongoing. Photo by Ben Westoby

It was a very different experience to us wearing our regular clothes. Usually whilst working in the gallery you can find yourself blending into the background as visitors are occupied with the artwork on display, but that’s pretty hard to accomplish when you are displaying the artwork on your body.

I felt quite privileged to be trusted with the garments and showing visitors how they fit and move definitely gave a bit of dynamism to the opening night.

Jack, Andrei and Dom. Modern Art Oxford Events assistants wearing A Garment for the Day on the opening night of Johanna Unzueta: Tools for Life. Photo by Helen Messenger

They fit well, felt very durable and the fact that there is nothing outlandish in the workwear design or the pattern meant that they wouldn’t be out of place if seen out on the streets of Oxford. But because of the flow of the exhibition – the repetition of that diagonal denim pattern and the use of the indigo and yellow throughout – they become artworks when worn inside the gallery.

Emma, Amy, Sara and Andrée. Modern Art Oxford staff members wearing A Garment for the Day. Photo by Ben Westoby

Joe, Modern Art Oxford Operations and Visitor Services Manager wearing A Garment for the Day. Photo by Ben Westoby

It was definitely a great way to show off the artwork as visitors get to see and feel the garments in all their glory and entrusting them to staff and volunteers means that they are kept safe from harm. People seemed to feel more comfortable coming up to the staff and sharing their thoughts on the work and we got more questions about the exhibition than whilst in our regular uniform.

Dom and Andrei. Modern Art Oxford Events Assistants wearing A Garment for the Day on the opening night of Johanna Unzueta: Tools for Life. Photo by Helen Messenger

Getting to wear the artwork and the fact that these garments are not just prop pieces but well made, well-crafted outfits in their own right definitely gave me a greater appreciation for Johanna’s craftsmanship and technical skill. It was a unique experience that really helped me to understand her work more clearly.

Jack, Andrei and Dom. Photo by Helen Messenger

Find out more about Johanna Unzueta’s garments and discover her other works online in our Virtual Exhibition.