Dressmakers’ dummies are favourites with photographers of haunting; Eugène Atget, who rarely shows the inhabitants of a Parisian street or room, dwells on the smiling mannequins in shop windows, wearing aprons and housemaids’ caps, or on an effigy of madame in a string of pearls and a tilted trilby. Fixed expressions and rigid bodies give the images an uncanny aura – something similar radiates from cult statues when they’re dressed up and carried in procession in Spain or Italy. The idol looks trapped in a perpetual no-man’s-land, and the feeling around them turns somnambulist, peculiar and unreal. Hollywood Costume (at the V&A until 27 January 2013) establishes a similar otherworld where ghosts have gathered, even though many of the subjects are still with us. Wearing the costumes they wore for famous roles overlays their living presence with the spectral shimmer of their apparitions on screen. These figments, as Andy Warhol called his famous persona, are mingling, too, with many who are long dead. Ronald Reagan and Meryl Streep, Bette Davis and Robert De Niro jostle closely together in several large spaces, chambers for different sins in the afterlife – for vamping, sharp-shooting, taxi-driving – while a flickering crowd comes and goes in an endless loop on screens and monitors. The stars have been cybernetically generated to appear among us again, like the phantoms who materialise at the tug of the tides in Adolfo Bioy Casares’s visionary fable about perpetual beauty, ‘The Invention of Morel’ (1940).
LRB 20 December 2012 | PDF Download