By investigating what happens to our apparel after we discard it, Arianne Pollet-Brannen explores the possibilities of remaking obsolete items and refashioning both our objects and ourselves. The Belgian-born Halifax resident works with used and discarded shoes, taking each apart and carefully salvaging the leather cutout segment, sole and piece of fabric that shaped it. She then reconstructs those materials into pieces of “wearable sculpture” that resemble a kind of body armor. The armor is primal – insofar as it is made out of animal skins – and sensual, in how it clings to and enhances the form of the wearer.
Pollet-Brannen is interested in exploring how the body is “fashioned” by our clothing and consumer habits – what we wear, how we fetishize certain objects (especially shoes) and how quickly we discard them once we decide they are “used.” Her use of old leather and shoe fabric as a material further explores themes of reuse, salvage, reconstruction and sustainability. In a consumer culture where the majority of apparel is cheap, plentiful and easily disposable, Pollet-Brannen’s reuse of valuable shoe leather links her practice with earlier traditions of workmanship, which invested time and energy into a limited number of precious materials that would stay with a person throughout their lifetime.
According to curator Laura Schneider, Pollet-Brannen’s concept is also highly relevant to Cape Breton’s DIY scene. “Her work, in all of its competing narratives, emphasizes the depth of relevance and possibility for the visual arts in our community. In Cape Breton, commercial craft practices are prolific, so it will be interesting to see how the audience responds to work that is both technically beautiful and intellectually rich.”
Pollet-Brannen calls her work an “anti-fashion statement,” and explains that the “sometimes extreme relationship between people and material objects stimulates my curiosity and research.” But the fierceness and sensuality of her wearable leather sculptures have notable echoes in the work of avant-garde couturiers Jean-Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen, who both explore the use of leather for armor and sculpture in high-end fashion.
Photographs of the pieces suggest that the show, Pollet-Brannen’s first solo exhibition, will be a visual feast, complemented by a video projection and a series of framed drawings on fabric. Opening night will feature CBU theatre students wearing the sculptural garments and mingling with guests among bare mannequins.