Sound, Vision and the Closet of Curiosities

The 1950s were a time when handheld film cameras were becoming more widely available and ‘home movies’ became widespread. Colour film made a splash, too. Home movies, colour and 1950s style have all been combined into a stunning work of wearable art from Year 13 Queen Margaret College (QMC) student Charlotte Lee.

Only a few weeks away from finishing high school, Charlotte first became interested in sewing in Year 8 with a Materials project to make a tote bag. ‘I realised “oh, I like this – it’s quite fun”’ she remembers. She’s kept with the subject since then, gaining new skills to the point where she now sews lots of her own clothes.

Her garment – Sound and Vision – forms part of Closet of Curiosities, a two-week exhibition of the work of five QMC students inspired by other wearable art shows. ‘It’s really exciting!’ enthuses Charlotte about having her work on display. ‘You walk around town during World of Wearable Art (WOW) and see outfits set up in window displays – to make one yourself is quite funky.’

Sound and Vision nearing completion. Photo supplied.

Sound and Vision flows from a number of influences. ‘I love 1950s clothing and silhouettes – I wanted to use that.’ That idea was combined with home movie recordings to form a skirt. ‘There are snippets of my own ‘home movies’ – strips of sheer organza with little photos inside [from my life?], frame by frame.’ There are also strips of 8mm and 35mm film­ – both used in the ’50s. The top mimics the front of a 1950s radio and Charlotte ‘tapered the lower part to create a stronger hourglass silhouette.’ Sound and vision, indeed.

The project was part of their school work, though Charlotte and her classmates were given plenty of scope to develop their own ideas. ‘It was great having so much freedom in what we wanted to do. We were encouraged to reach out and consult with the clients and stakeholders ourselves. We’re also encouraged to problem solve’.

The client work in this case was with the National Library. Other students explored the likes of National Library exhibitions Mīharo Wonder and Pasifika Spectacular. Charlotte’s work with Ngā Taonga had her discussing ideas with Senior Curator Diane McAllen. Diane gave an overview of film and radio history, the technology available at the time, and suggested some films to watch. She also shared some ideas about how, in the 1950s, the creation of home movies became available to women – a particular example being Hilda Brodie-Smith. Looking around the Rust + Restoration exhibition also inspired a focus on past technologies.

Charlotte Lee with her parents. Photo courtesy Mark Beatty and National Library.

Unlike some heavy or bulky wearable art pieces, this could become a wardrobe item as it is quite lightweight. The weeks prior to deadline have been busy and exciting. ‘There’s been a real energy in the classroom as projects are nearing completion: quite a bit of pressure.’ Charlotte’s final piece worked out to be quite similar to her original design, too.

Claudia Kraamwinkel, Caitlin Howorth, Simran Panchal, Barbara Knight, Materials Technology teacher, Charlotte Lee and Harriet Holmes. Photo courtesy Mark Beatty and National Library.

Next up is the Closet of Curiosities show at the National Library, running Thursday 15 October to Thursday 29 October. The exhibition will be on a runway near He Tohu and include a touchscreen with more information about each garment.

And after that? ‘I’ve applied to study Costume Construction at Toi Whakaari. That course covers a wide range of design and making but the focus is on construction and technical aspects of garment making,’ she explains. ‘I really like making clothes – it feels like I’ve found my niche.’

This could provide a real boost to a potential future World of Wearable Art entry. ‘I would like to enter if I’m not too busy! Just see what could happen and go for it.’

Queen Margaret College Materials students Charlotte, Harriet, Simran, Claudia and Caitlin. Photo courtesy Mark Beatty and National Library.
Sound and Vision on display at Closet of Curiosities. Photo courtesy Mark Beatty and National Library.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision website.

By David Klein

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