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The Arts
Sep 01, 2013

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The Mighty Queen

An exclusive walkthrough of the much-anticipated “A Queen Within” exhibition with curator Sofia Hedman.
Story: Samantha Chadwick
Photos: Sofia Hedman photo and renderings couresty of Amanda Cook Public Relations

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There’s no arguing that Sofia Hedman is a major player in the world of fashion curation and exhibition design. Having led the archival team for “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” at the Met in 2011, her commitment to conceptual fashion and art—combined with her dedication to fashion history—made her the obvious candidate to curate “A Queen Within,” the groundbreaking fashion-meets-art exhibition that opens Oct. 19 at the World Chess Hall of Fame. The show, which spans two fully curated floors of designer garments and installations rife with storytelling and symbolism, aims to explore the nine archetypes of the queen based on the theories of Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Amid the final plans and finishing touches, Hedman sat down with ALIVE to talk through the first-of-its-kind exhibition, its key pieces and what it takes to bring a show of this caliber to St. Louis.

Sofia Hedman

ALIVE: What inspired the concept for “A Queen Within”?
Sofia Hedman: In the game of chess, the queen is considered the most powerful and most unpredictable piece; she redefines the rules in a patriarchal system. This unpredictability is the inspiration for “A Queen Within.” The starting point was the wonderful private collection of Alexander McQueen pieces we were given access to. McQueen is very well known for his unpredictable and rule-breaking design. We decided to invite other pioneering, radical and rule-breaking designers who directly or indirectly include some form of storytelling or use of symbols in their work.

Sage Theme

ALIVE: The nine archetypes of the queen are the major themes of the exhibition. How does this play out in the show, and where do the designers fit in?
SH: The themes are based on the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s most common archetypes. The story of each persona—its powers, its weaknesses, its significance and its sacrifice—is told through examples of fashion, photography, film and artwork in the exhibition.

In chess, it is theoretically possible for a player to attain a maximum of nine queens simultaneously on the board. To resonate with this phenomenon, “A Queen Within” will explore nine personas of the queen archetype: Sage, Mother Figure, Magician, Enchantress, Explorer, Ruler, Mother Earth, Heroine and Orphan.

The exhibition includes objects from many of the most important designers of our time (McQueenGucciViktor & RolfJean Paul Gaultier). These are shown together with some of the most exciting and up-and-coming designers in Europe and Asia right now. The objects in the exhibition are not chosen because they are inspired by chess. Rather, they are selected because they highlight the various queen archetypes. Each queen archetype possesses a set of characteristics that the objects within each theme help to amplify—either through visually embodying the themes or originating from collections that conceptually resonate with the archetypes.

Magician Theme

ALIVE: What was your process for designing the exhibition, and what are the must-see elements?
SH: We wanted to do an exhibition that viewers can experience on many different levels. They’ll be able to look closely for hidden symbols, stand back to appreciate the overall effect of enveloping visuals and reflect on each theme. To create a vibrant experience, the first part of the exhibition will be set in an oversized chess board design where the visitor can walk around. The second part will be built around a corridor from which the viewer can peek into hypothetical worlds.

To historically contextualize the themes and objects, the exhibition design will be based on emblems and symbols in royal paintings such as the “Rainbow Portrait” (c. 1600-1602), the “Armada Portrait” (c. 1588) and the “Pelican Portrait” (c. 1575) of Elizabeth I, as well as emblems from the 15th century and onwards, many of which are symbols for the English queen. For example, eyes and ears symbolize the queen’s fame and constant vigilance, while serpents symbolize the queen’s wisdom; these symbols will invade the whole exhibition.

After discovering Hieronymus Bosch’s Haywain triptych panel painting (c. 1516) on a McQueen dress from the private collection, Flemish painters such as Bosch and Pieter Bruegel The Elder became the inspiration for the exhibition design and prosthetics, together with heraldry and bestiary. Artist Karolina Kling and artists/wood carvers Orlando Campbell and Julius Lightfoot are commissioned to contribute artwork and sculptures, and master coiffeur Charlie Le Mindu will create bespoke masks and wigs for the show.

Mother Figure Theme

ALIVE: What is your favorite room in the exhibition?
SH: It has been a long process putting the themes together, and I think I have fallen in love with each for different reasons. One theme can be seen as a reaction to another, and the artwork in each theme has grown along the way. However, I adore the Enchantress Queen and the Explorer Queen. The Explorer theme includes extremely experimental designs by the Japanese designers Hideki Seo and Anrealage, which both somehow challenge our ideas of beauty. The exhibition design, which is made of illustrations by artist Karolina Kling, is inspired by the European royal sea voyages.

ALIVE: Walk us through some other rooms that visitors shouldn’t miss.
SH: In the first theme, the Sage, the viewer will enter a three-dimensional version of the chess board, symbolizing that the Sage Queen is a thinker, planner and risk-taker. The room will be gold and white with red details on curtains. White was one of Elizabeth I’s favorite colors, and gold-wrapped threads in textiles at that time were reserved for only those of the highest status in Europe. Originally, the chess board was not black and white, but rather red and white. In this theme, we are introduced to the world of storytelling in fashion through a number of McQueen pieces from the private collection, as well as a selection of photographs from Anne Deniau documenting her lengthy and inspiring collaboration with McQueen.

In the Mother Figure theme, the plinths will be arranged in the directions of the movement of the queen on the chess board. The Mother Figure Queen is a parent, protector, helper and mentor. In this theme, we introduce some of the royal symbols that have throughout history been associated with the queen’s presence, both through objects and sculptures in the exhibition design. From the ceiling, huge eyes encrusted with Swarovski crystals look down on the mannequins below. The eye symbolizes the queen’s fame and constant vigilance. The theme includes the black embroidered lace dress and crown by Jean Paul Gaultier from A/W 2007 Couture, Maison Martin Margiela’s unforgettable glove vest from the S/S 2001 Artisanal collection and Iris van Herpen’s snake dress from her Capriole Haute Couture collection.

The enormous eye, ear and serpent sculptures in the Magician theme are symbols taken from Elizabeth I’s “Rainbow Portrait.” The eye and ear symbolize the queen’s fame and her constant vigilance, implying that she sees and hears all. The serpent is a symbol of the queen’s wisdom and intelligence. The Magician Queen is the visionary, catalyst, inventor and charismatic leader. This theme includes the Japanese designer Writtenafterwards’ dress in mixed media from Collection #07 Seven Gods–Clothes from Chaos and a look from the very thought-provoking Swedish designer and artist Josefin Arnell’s Mirror, Mirror collection.

For more information on the exhibition, visit worldchesshof.org.

Related Stories:
"A Queen Within"
STLFW Fall 2013 Sneak Peek
Archetypes: Antoinette Temporiti

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