As the sky dims and blacks-out tonight, a riot of color and creativity will pack into the Bear Tooth Theatrepub in Spenard; Object Runway will begin its fourth annual show. A benefit for the International Gallery of Contemporary Art, Object Runway is a fashion show entirely for clothes made out of things that are not clothes. It promises to feature pieces by local artists made with materials ranging from Tyvek to bicycle parts, cocktail umbrellas, even some bodily fluids.
“Or you have the ‘Alaskana.’ There’s always the blue tarp dress,” said veteran contributor Sarah Davies. “How many ways can you make a blue tarp into a dress? There’s really an infinite number of ways!” she said adding, “That’s the Alaska version of the little black dress.”
More than 60 pieces will parade down the catwalk Thursday night in front of a standing-room-only crowd. The event has sold out each year since its founding—this year within the space of a week. “It’s this incredibly rich landscape of super-diverse and really talented artists as well as people,” said Davies, a transplant from Brooklyn, New York. This will be her third Object Runway and she will contribute a dress made of, “Curtains, chocolate, tea, carbon, ash, and blood. What am I missing?… I think that’s it.”
This is the first Object Runway fashion show since Travel & Leisure Magazine ranked 35 U.S. cities last year, and declared Anchorage the worst dressed city in America. “Which is just perfect, because what do we care?” asked contributor Jonathan Lang, with a shrug. Davies was similarly unconcerned. “I don’t think Alaska cares much about fashion and that’s fine. It’s not utilitarian enough. And we live in a place that requires utility,” she said. That attitude adds to the art scene in Anchorage, she said. “I love that there are so many skilled workers that turn their skill to art.”
Object Runway attracts a wide variety of makers from across the artistic spectrum. “It’s probably an artistic hub because it brings people from a bunch of different disciplines,” said Lang, who is also a videographer and sculptor. “Probably the biggest comment I hear come out of people is. ‘I want to do that.’”
Lang has been involved in Object Runway all four years of its existence. The show’s first year, it was held at the Avenue Bar downtown and he served as a bouncer, keeping enthusiastic audience members from clambering onto the low runway. “The second year it was like ‘well geez, I don’t want to be a bouncer. I want to design.’The first year was actually welded bicycle gears and bicycle chain over hand-dyed satin and silk organza.” Lang’s piece this year is a charmingly revealing dress of cocktail umbrellas and bicycle parts (See it in progress:
USPS Tyvek shipping envelopes will enclose model Shannette Harper in a dress by maker Joshua Lowman. “It’s pretty awesome. It’s sturdy and relatively soft once you crumple it up and re-flatten it out. There is a thinner, softer version of the material made specifically for clothing, but it’s not provided for free by my friendly neighborhood post office.” [See his piece in the gallery above]
Artist Coordinator Michelle Hayworth applauds the variety encouraged by the show’s format. “The work is as diverse as the artists and everything from fashion to found art show up,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I think it really challenges artists when we are asked to hang out in the ‘in-between’ spaces. I find it to be very stimulating when boundaries between fine art and the applied arts are broken… While artists are encouraged to make objects for the runway, anyone can participate and that’s why we have such a diverse range of work and people.”
For several of the participating artists, Object Runway is as much about community as it is about the work. “I think artists tend to be isolated,” Lowman said. “Art tends to be a singular vision, and we tend to believe that only we make it happen ‘the right way’ and so exclude other members of our community. I think ObRun [Object Runway] works,” he said. “It gives artists a chance to see each other’s work and network. And drink. The drinking is also very important.”
“I have been able to interact more closely and more intimately with artists’ whose work I already admired,” said Davies. “We come together and celebrate our own and each other’s work. Even in the galleries a lot of artists donate, and they’re not always present for the show but this, everyone wants to come to this show,” One of Davies’ pieces is a tribute to fellow artist and former Object Runway winner Enzina Marrari. The creative community atmosphere is part of what Davies seeks from the annual event. “When we’re all just breathless together… Feeling everyone so excited all around them, watching them stop breathing when their piece comes out. Watching their eyes follow each piece… it’s so exciting.”
“There’s always been fringy art stuff going on in this town and I think there always will be… A lot of things happen that people don’t hear about that have that kind of energy,” said Lang. “There’s nothing to do in Anchorage,” he said, gently sarcastic, then continued seriously, “If you blink, you’ve missed a great stage show.”
Couldn’t get tickets to Object Runway? Follow along as Natalie Snyder live-tweets the show tonight: @alaskacommons
The pieces will be on display for February’s First Friday at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art, located at 427 D Street, Anchorage, AK 99501.