Exhibition Review: The Absent Model

The Absent Model: Reflections of a Stylist’s Work
An Exhibition by Tory Turk in association with Caius House and Tigereye Media
Thursday October 21st, 10AM-7PM
Caius House, Wandsworth, London

Amongst the blockbuster art exhibitions and dizzying fashion events perennially occurring in London, there are sometimes more subtle and meditative opportunities to engage with the creative arts. The Absent Model – Reflections of a Stylist’s Work, curated by Tory Turk, provided one of these occasions. On public view for one day only, at a public gymnasium in southwest London, the exhibition explored the creative process of fashion styling via the presentation of a series of fashion photographs alongside the garments and accessories worn by the models during the shoot. Each of these fashion installations was set in exactly the same place in the room where the photograph was taken, providing a simultaneous experience of the real and the represented.  Although the photographs are alluring and sexually charged, the absence of the model shifts focus towards the process and the tools of the fashion stylist.

I caught up with Tory just after the close of the exhibition, and she had so many enlightening things to say about styling, curating and the genesis of the project.

Can you describe how The Absent Model project came about?

I finished the MA Fashion Curation course at the London College of Fashion in February of this year. For our final presentations we were invited to display an abbreviated version of our thesis projects at the Mall Galleries in London. This incarnation of the Absent Model project came from being frustrated that I was unable to exhibit my MA thesis project in its entirety. I didn’t want to put all that hard work to waste and I was adamant that I wasn’t going to graduate and then go back to what I was doing before. I went along to a funding advice session organised by the Wandsworth Arts Council thinking that it was far too abstract a theme to garner funding but they were really keen to help me see the project through. Amy de la Haye, my course director and advisor, encouraged me to use the final project to my occupational advantage. I aimed give myself an edge in the fashion styling world by approaching the role of the stylist from an academic perspective. Ironically I don’t want to just be a ‘fashion stylist’ anymore!

Can you tell us more about your choice of the location for this project?

Originally, I wanted to use a deserted house or church. A representative from the Wandsworth Arts Council emailed me a link to local film locations and I saw Caius House. I was fascinated with the fact it was an old gym. The deserted sports equipment gave it an eerie feel. The space had history. I felt this would encourage visitors to engage with the space and the respective installations more. If the space had been a “white cube,” the effect of the installations on the visitor wouldn’t have been so arresting. I wanted visitors to imagine the shoot taking place and be effectually mourning its departure.

How do you see your work as a stylist in relation to your work as a curator?

My portfolio contains both styling work and curatorial work. I have never wanted to separate the two strains – I feel they are symbiotic. When styling a shoot or working on an exhibition, knowledge of one can intellectually aid the other, however, in terms of the general mood of the ‘moment’ they are incredibly distinct. On a photo shoot you are working with real bodies, and fake time in a controlled space. On an exhibition you are working with objects, real time on a less controllable terrain. On a photo shoot your audience seems distant whilst at an exhibition they are evaluating your work in front of your eyes.

Why do you think the stylist’s role has been overlooked?

I think if you ask most people to name a fashion photographer or model they will be able to name quite a few. If you ask someone to name a fashion stylist they are more likely to struggle. I think that this is simply to do with PR. If you flick through a magazine stylists’ names are not particularly evident. For some reason the model’s beauty and the person who clicks the camera on a shoot are considered significant to draw in the viewer – when surely it is the clothes on a fashion shoot that are paramount? Garments, model and photographer often make up the perfect publishing dynamic and therefore who sourced the clothes and dressed the model is rendered relatively irrelevant.

Which stylists’ work do you particularly admire, and whom would you recommend aspiring stylist’s to draw inspiration from?

To be honest I don’t have a favourite stylist! I admire what Patricia Field has achieved in terms of the international trends she has instigated. I would recommend aspiring stylists to draw inspiration from the visual arts and the street – if you have seen it in a magazine it has already been done.

In what ways has this project been a unique collaboration for you and the team? Were they in essence also “curated” by you as a project director?

I don’t think I ‘curated’ the team. I think I was lucky enough to find a group of people who felt passionate about the project and gave their time in order to help me see it through to the end. I met the photographer, Jessie Warren, at a Women’s Institute trip to stylist Dee Jones’ Emporium. She showed me some images she had taken of just her feet (I had consistently referenced Guy Bourdin’s 1970s Charles Jourdan campaigns) and I thought she had been sent from heaven to help me out.

In the future, how do you hope the role of the stylist will be portrayed in museum or gallery exhibitions?

It would be progress if they started to include stylists’ names in fashion imagery captions! I think is important that this exhibition isn’t seen as the start of a campaign to get stylists noticed more. I consider the exhibition a mood piece that comments on a structural issue in the fashion world but that more importantly, depicts the creative process. I get a great sense of achievement when someone says that they felt a chill when looking at the conversation between the fashion image and the respective installation.

What’s next for the Absent Model Project?

I am considering using the concept as a general method of displaying various stylists’ work. I definitely want to continue to curate shows that centre around the display of fashion installations.

I was so pleased to know that Tory intends to continue developing projects that explore the processes and representations of fashion styling.  Until then I will continue to reflect upon the Absent Model, and how as a ‘fashion installation’ it provided a space to ponder not only the roles of the photographer, stylist or model – but that of the viewer as well.

For more information about The Absent Model and to see more of Tory’s work click here.

Photos by Jessie Warren, courtesy of Tory Turk

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1 Comment

  • Ben W November 05, 2010 04.41 am

    Wonderful read. Clever, insightful comments. x to both


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