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Takashi Horisaki presents Social Dress St. Louis at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

[uds-billboard name=”socialdress”]Imprints of a rosary, a goalie mask, and a brick, whimsical and airy, hang, strung together on cheesecloth in layers of pale orange, mint green, and light blue amidst eighteen foot high ceilings.  Takashi Horisaki’s installation, Social Dress St. Louis: Learning and Unlearning is physically made up of colored latex casts of items people hold dear, strung across the gallery in cells, or groups, but is essentially made up of the much more braving stuff of community stories, cross-city participation, and getting to know your neighbors.

Horisaki, a Japanese-born, Brooklyn-based artist continues his series of community driven, multiple participant cast latex projects with Social Dress St. Louis. Previous pieces in New Orleans, Louisiana (2007), Buffalo, New York (2010), and originally initiated during Horisaki’s time as an MFA student at Washington University (his connection to the city, and thus relevance in the Front Room’s Homegrown series at the Contemporary Art Museum).  Takashi returns to St. Louis’ Contemporary Art Museum to present a colorful web of interlocking objects, people, and stories with the ultimate goal , according to the artist, to “celebrate the growing, diverse communities  of St. Louis and their characters over the past seven years by bringing workshops that allow a space for communal conversation to these communities.”

Horisaki’s exhibition in the Front Room began with eleven community workshops across the city in which anyone could participate.  Contributors were encouraged to bring an object meaningful to them to cast in latex.  Never worked with latex before? Perfect.  While  Horisaki did provide a video available on YouTube  so participants could learn the process before they came,  most people just showed up, a kind of scenario ripe for meeting new people, discussing the objects we keep close, and learning from each other.  Horisaki acted as a leader in these workshops, and was accessible in both terms of logistics and conversation.  But, there also very naturally arose teachers within group sessions, and participants would guide others on the process as new people arrived.  That kind of collaboration, of working together with strangers and sharing stories is as very much core to Horisaki’s project as is the final installation.

There were many voices involved in this project, from the curatorial team of Cole Root and Francesca Wilmott at Los Caminos who initiated the exhibition, to the local host organizations for latex casting workshops like the Foundry Art Centre, The Rebuild Foundation, the World Chess Hall of Fame, and others.  It is only fitting, then, that those voices spoke to the actual learning and unlearning of meeting Horisaki, working with latex, and seeing a replica of the stuff of the city, their stuff, hanging in an art museum. Here are some of those voices:

On the workshops:

“I cast a red brick from an old schoolhouse in rural Ohio…it’s from the building where my wife’s grandmother attended school. We were driving through the country several summers ago while visiting family in Ohio and my wife pointed out the dilapidated building …Before we left, we tossed a few of the bricks from the building into our trunk as a way to have some tangible, physical connection to that particular place. It just felt like the right thing to do — to try and create in some way this sense of attachment or connectedness to a structure that was in its final stages of life…Sharing about my object and hearing about others’ objects — in a very casual, informal way — really brought about a sense of shared and overlapping narratives, even if only indirectly.”  – John Early, first CAM workshop participant

“I cast my ice hockey goalie mask that I started using in high school… I worked extremely hard to beat out a much more experienced player for the starting varsity goaltending position, which also involved keeping my cool and staying level headed because the other goalie tried very hard to get into a war of words with me at school via other people…The other reason is that it is one of the few times in my life that I have felt the kind of focus that can only be described as Zen. Being a (successful) goaltender means staying calm and relaxed mentally while being rigid and aggressive physically.” B.J. Vogt, last CAM workshop participant

“It was exciting and gratifying to still see so many active community members who are willing to put so much time and energy into their neighborhoods, and go beyond what they had been able to do before.” – Takashi Horisaki

On the installation process:

“Takashi was extremely involved in the process of installing the piece.  Not only did he arrange all of the castings into groups, or cells, he also instructed each of us on how to sew them together and eventually hang them.  It was quite an exhausting process though, a lot of standing on ladders with your arms in the air for minutes at a time, waiting for Takashi to okay an arrangement, or tying knots… Curious, talkative, and witty, he would always take some time to try and get to know us…But that was also the point of the whole project, to bring people together through their stories, through conversation…This is partly why I think the installation came off well.” –Michael Osheroff, team member/install assistant

“Installing the piece sort of reminded me of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. To actually install the piece, we had to climb up ladders, and tie the latex pieces together using nylon string. It was really exciting but also kind of disorienting…Takashi oversaw everything we did. Every move we made and every piece we placed had to be approved by Takashi.” – Becky Daniel, team member/ install assistant

On the final installed piece:

“I think the final installation is quite poetic and very striking in terms of its lightness. Given the fact that all of the castings were of concrete, physical objects of one kind or another, the ethereal nature of the final installation is quite nice. It really possesses an interesting delicacy about it as well.” – JE

“The installation is, I think, fantastic; but it is a shame that people couldn’t see it from above.  It’s totally different.  The cells all appear to be in mid-flight, swooping down as a flock, or like a school of fish swimming with the current.  The bird’s-eye view makes them all seem that much more as individuals working as part of a whole, which I think is the entire point of the project… Just being able to meet up with someone you helped earlier during a workshop and find his/her piece amongst all the others, and talk with them about it, catch up, and discuss the other stories you heard was a thrilling experience.  ” –MS

“Watching the project progress, starting from just a pile of latex cheese cloth pieces to a spider-web of colors definitely effected how I perceived the final product. I wish everyone could have been there for every work shop, because without the knowledge of all that went into Social Dress, I don’t think I would be able to really appreciate the sense of community I felt when I saw the piece all strung together.” – BD

“I thought the exhibition was beautifully installed! I especially appreciated the variety in the way that the objects were translated. Some re[t]ained their three-dimensionality, while other became glyphs or paper-like…the final exhibited ‘object’ was a compilation of things made across the city at different times and places by different people, it was a culmination of many actions spread over many hands.” – BJV


Takashi Horisaki presents Social Dress St. Louis: Learning and Unlearning  continues in the Front Room and the Contemporary Art Museum through July 15, 2012.  The Contemporary Art Museum is located at 3750 Washington Blvd. See for more information.


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