Performance art collaboration opens annual IU Fashion Show

The annual IU Fashion Show is a milestone for students interested in retail studies and fashion design. This year, however, the show featured a new addition to the program: a performance art opening through a collaboration between fashion design students and a Performance Art and Object class.

The interdisciplinary collaboration within IU Bloomington's School of Art, Architecture + Design started when Deb Christiansen, director of undergraduate studies, approached visiting assistant professor Melanie Cooper Pennington with a proposal to team up for the show.

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Students from Melanie Cooper Pennington's Performance Art and Object class opened the annual IU Fashion Show. Photo by Marc Lebryk

Christiansen said the interdisciplinary aspect of the show was important. Designs featured work from metalsmithing and jewelry design students, and students either wove or designed and digitally printed textiles/fabrics for their collections in textiles courses. 

Collaborating with Pennington’s Performance Art and Object class took this interdisciplinary nature to a new level. The class’s project, "From A to B," was conceived by 17 students and performed by six at the opening of the IU Fashion Show.

"My students were intrigued by the opportunity to participate in an event that has such a historic focus on the body, but they were interested in incorporating experiences and ideas they have been having in the performance art class," she said. "They considered making wearable sculpture - or outlandish identity masks - but in the end decided they wanted to create an interactive object that they would perform."

Students walk at the annual IU Fashion Show. Photos by Marc Lebryk

The interactive objects came in the form of two giant cubes that students rolled onto the runway and climbed through over the course of 10 minutes while indie music blasted.

The performance fit in well with other themes of the fashion show: art in relation to the body in front of an audience.

"Performance art is not really about 'putting on a show' but is very much about making a statement in real time with the body," Pennington said. 

The show brought a record 23 fashion design B.A. students who showed off designs, but many more were involved in the behind-the-scenes processes: marketing the program, writing budgets and grants, and, of course, creating art through Pennington's performance. 

"I feel fortunate to be in a school that thinks about the full arc of design and creativity, from concept, to creation, to market, and in an environment that blends the art and merchandising of products," Christiansen said.