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The Bakhtinian Grotesque in fashion at the turn of the twenty-first century

Granata, Francesca (2010) The Bakhtinian Grotesque in fashion at the turn of the twenty-first century. PhD thesis, University of the Arts London.

Type of Research: Thesis
Creators: Granata, Francesca

This thesis constitutes a study of the grotesque in fashion design at the turn of the twenty-first century. Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin's theories, it investigates the reasons behind the proliferation of grotesque imagery within fashion of the period. In 'Rabelais and his World', Bakhtin traces a "struggle" between the classical and grotesque concepts of the body in the West which, he argues, can be observed in a number of different areas including the "canon of behaviour", the history of dance, and fashion. As Bakhtin himself suggests, yet does not develop, fashion constitutes a particularly fertile case study for an investigation of the grotesque. Taking on this unrealized project, my thesis examines the grotesque in fashion from 1980 to 2010. A constant transgression, merging and exceeding of borders constitutes one of the central attributes of the Bakhtinian grotesque. In its insistence on the body's lack of boundaries, the grotesque is in line with Kristeva' s theories of the subject-in-process - a porous subject in a state of constant becoming. Both Bakhtin' s and Kristeva's concepts suggest an engagement with the maternal: a subject which, by containing another within, questions the possibility of a unified and stable subject position. Thus, part one of this thesis explores the pregnant silhouette created in fashion of this period by Rei Kawakubo, Georgina Godley and Leigh Bowery, alongside Bowery's birth performances. Additionally. the grotesque, being central to the carnival spirit, is characterized by an element of play humour and parody, an aspect of the grotesque which allows for a recuperation of the carnivaleque humour in fashion of this period. Part two offers a new reading of "deconstruction" fashion, and in particular the work of Martin Margiela, which has often been read in modernist terms of truth to materials and structural clarity when, in its constant challenges to proportions and symmetry, it appears more closely aligned with a grotesque aesthetic and carnivalesque humour. Part three extends these ideas to the work of Bernhard Willhelm, which most explicitly articulates the Bakhtinian grotesque by employing medieval carnival imagery. Willhelm's work also explores, together with Olaf Breuning and Georgina Starr, the relationship between humour and horror in a number of fashion shows and collections. This relationship is not only underwritten by Bakhtin's theories of the grotesque, but also by Freudian theories on the relation of both humour and horror to repressed unconscious processes. Interdisciplinary in its approaches and methods, the thesis includes oral history as well as visual and material culture. as it focuses on the direct study of garments alongside fashion shows, in conjunction with a theoretical framework derived from Bakhtin's theories and their subsequent articulations across the fields of art history and critical theory.

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Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: Bakhtin, grotesque, Martin Margiela, Rei Kawakubo, Leigh Bowery, Georgina Godley, carnivalesque, Kristeva, Bernhard Willhelm, oral history, material culture.
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Central Saint Martins
Date: 31 March 2010
Date Deposited: 24 Apr 2012 11:51
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2024 08:21
Item ID: 5182
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/5182

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