University Galleries and Collections

Touch Me: Feeling Fashion

South and East Galleries

February 5 - May 3, 2024

Fashion is immediately associated with looks, and its popularity thrives in our current culture of image, reinforcing an aesthetic that is quintessentially visual. The works in Touch Me: Feeling Fashion challenge such a claim by exploring the connection between how fashion touches us—clothes on our bodies—and how we feel about it, both individually and socially.

Exhibiting artists Erika Diamond, Nadia Liz Estela, Susanne Goetz and Theanne Schiros, Kristen Kaas, Ani Liu, Jean Shin, Alison Weld, and Irmandy Wicaksono explore remnants, self-portraiture, identity, skins, new materials, and notions of protection. Sustainable designs by Petit Pli and functional garments from the collection of Cora Ginsburg LLC flesh out the past and future of designing for the necessity of touch. We expect the synergy of these perspectives to encourage a more mindful approach to the thinking and wearing of fashion.

Recorded programming part of the exhibition:

Textile Biomaterials -- Ancient and Modern - Susanne Goetz, FIT and Theanne Schiros, PhD, FIT/Columbia University

A Feel for the Organism: A Design Sociology Approach to Biodesigners - Elizabeth Wissinger, PhD, CUNY


Press Release

Touch Me: Feeling Fashion is a continuation of the 2022 collaboration between the University Galleries and Laura Di Summa, associate professor of philosophy, called Fashion Is a Verb: Art, Performance, and Identity. Fashion Is a Verb demonstrated that fashion is not only a consumer object but also an artistic vehicle and an interactive performance connected to individual and social identities. If that project was concerned with how we express ourselves through our wardrobe choices, the present exhibition is concerned with our relationship to our clothing. How do our clothes make us feel about ourselves? Just as our bodies animate fabric with shape and movement, how do those garments push back and either help or hinder us? Our clothes can make us feel empowered or trapped based on how accurately they convey how we wish to appear to the world. As much as our clothes shape us, we shape our clothes by leaving behind palimpsests, little reminders that we were here and we lived. To walk a mile in another’s shoes is to experience the world as they do. Fashion begins with touch. Behind every garment, there is a pair of hands; there are sartorial techniques and embroideries; there is, first and foremost, the fact that clothes touch our bodies every day, morning to night, through intervals of time that see us growing, aging, and morphing.

The selected artists here explore touch through remnants, self-portraiture, skins, new materials, reuse, and protection. Nadia Liz Estela’s deftly reworked men’s shirts—ripped, braided, reconstituted, and encased in wax—are a family portrait and a nod to her mother as much as they are commentary on society’s unspoken rules about class, gender, and race. Alison Weld also merges portraiture with remnants—from her own closet—to create undeniably Surrealist likenesses that speak to the relationship between women and our predetermined roles, and between the artist and her embodiment in her work. Ani Liu’s Pregnancy Menswear is a celebration of the beauty of tailoring when unbidden by the constraints of traditional gender roles and of the body laid bare in all that it is capable of. Jean Shin is a fearless, compassionate historian committed to an ethos of reuse, and her hemlock skins are timely and poetic modern relics that encapsulate her brilliant approach to making art as an act of healing. Kristen Kaas also discerns the role of relics. Hers are taken from nature and bear witness to sacred family time spent gathering and gleaning, sealed and actively deteriorating within handwoven enclosures designed to prevent further touch. Irmandy Wicaksono’s Living Knitwork Pavilion panels convey the primary role played by textiles as shelter for our bodies—second skins bearing our personal and cultural iconography—and pay tribute to the dialogue between the fields of fashion and architecture. Erika Diamond explores a full spectrum of vulnerability in fashion, from shelters created for her friends out of Kevlar to garments designed to be broken by the impressions left behind after personal interactions. I am honored to present the collaborative work between researchers Susanne Goetz and Theanne Schiros, whose groundbreaking experiments and applications have raised the profile of sustainable biobased materials for fashion and paved the way for a new generation of designers. London-based designer Petit Pli has harnessed the genius of the permanent pleat, perfected by couturier Mario Fortuny and championed by Issey Miyake, as a practical solution to the age-old problem of children outgrowing their clothes too quickly, creating a range of designs that grow with, and not against, young bodies. A rare early nineteenth-century nursing bodice from the collection of Cora Ginsburg LLC is example and reassurance, perhaps surprisingly, that unnamed designers have long created functional garments that cleverly accommodate bodies in a state of flux.

Feeling Fashion is ultimately a reflection on the plurality of touch. Touch is transactional and performative. It requires direct involvement. Touch can be strong or tenuous, thus varying in intensity; it can be warm or cold; prolonged or brief; it addresses all portions of the body, eliciting different responses depending on what area is affected; and it is open to the principle of equipotentiality, in which the same type of touch can be assigned different meanings and lead to different interpretations. The nuances of language tell us more, for the complexity of touch borders the emotional sphere. When garments and accessories touch us, they evoke emotions. When fashion touches us, we are, somewhat poetically, “touched by it.” Research has shown that touch can communicate distinct emotions with an accuracy that often surpasses our ability to communicate via facial and vocal expressions. This eclectic exhibition is here to explore as much as it is here to show. It is here to suggest a path of mindfulness toward what we wear: the garments and the accessories we buy, look at, and are in touch with forever.

We are continuously grateful for the commitment and support of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

- Laura Di Summa and Casey Mathern, curators

Related Events

Opening reception:

  • Wednesday, February 28, 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m., Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts

Curator-led Tour:

  • Wednesday, February 28, 4:30 p.m., South Gallery, Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts
  • Thursday, March 7, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m., South Gallery, Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts

Textile Biomaterials -- Ancient and Modern

Susanne Goetz, FIT and Theanne Schiros, PhD, FIT/Columbia University

  • Monday, March 11, 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., South Gallery, Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts or via Zoom
  • To view the recorded artist talk click here

A Feel for the Organism: A Design Sociology Approach to Biodesigners

Elizabeth Wissinger, PhD, CUNY

  • Monday, April 11 | 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. | South Gallery and Zoom via registration
  • To view the recorded artist talk click here

Fashioned Beginnings: Children’s Fashion, Touch, and Memories

Melinda Byam

  • Tuesday, April 30 | 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. | South Gallery