In the middle of the exhibition a mannequin by Rudolf Belling is displayed. Belling was one of the most important representatives of classical modernism, whose practice brought together art, craft, and industry. His Fashion Sculpture A from 1921 was made in collaboration with a Berlin workshop. Their hyper-modern appearance meant that Belling’s mannequins were ahead of their time, and they continue to inspire artists and designers today. The press named this mannequin “the aluminum goddess” and it anticipates the machine woman “Maria” in Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis.

The exhibition offers a variety of surfaces for us to run our haptic gazes over. The common ground between these diverse objects is the pre-eminence of facade. They are enigmatic objects, representing the cultural systems that produced them, to which facade is both a barrier and a window. Surface finish sometimes masks construction that is flimsy, or it can misleadingly give the impression of effortlessness to something which is in fact the product of great labor. The Belling mannequin is made of fragile papier maché, although it emulates the perfect chassis of a sports car.

Historically, artists have often used fragmented mannequins in their installations.  Passer-by considers mannequins as part of a wide cooperation between creative fields and understands them as compelling objects in themselves, without the automatic need for artistic imposition (in particular gestural intervention like dismemberment or surface interference) to elevate them to some notionally higher aesthetic plane. The individuals and cultures that produced these mannequins are fascinating in their own right, not least because their histories offer multiple narratives that avoid basic binaries. When placed in a physical space together, these objects activate thrilling relationships and contrasts, their multiple gazes falling in unexpected places, and their states of dress or undress signifying so much more than conventional titillation. The span of eras and locations, bodies, gestures, and stories would supply ample material for a mannequin’s autobiography.