The Erotic Cloth - Abstracts

Session 4: The Mysterious Cloth

Curvatures of Cloth: ‘The Heart of True Eroticism’ in Serpentine Dance - Dr. Georgina Williams

 ‘…kneel in adoration before the whirling speed of a gyroscope compass: 20,000 revolutions a minute…’[1] F. T. Marinetti, 1916

When Modernist dancer Loie Fuller carefully contrived a manipulation of the multiple metres of cloth within which she shrouded herself, she transformed into a seductive articulation of William Hogarth’s concept of the serpentine curve as ‘THE LINE OF BEAUTY’.[2] Hogarth describes how movement suggested by serpentine curvature initiates a ‘pleasure of the pursuit’[3] as it ‘leads the eye a wanton kind of chace’,[4] subsequently provoking the hypothesis that the line of beauty is strongly connected to eroticism.[5] These combined concepts are encapsulated in the premise of ‘mechanomorphic modernism’[6] and physically communicated through Fuller’s serpentine dances.

This very specific interpretation of ballet as ‘a deeply mechanized and fetishistic art form’[7] is indicative of how cloth can be employed to express the emotion of motion. Through intertextuality of visual as well as philosophical ideas, this illustrated presentation aims to demonstrate how the unique collaboration of Hogarth’s eighteenth century aesthetic theory, and Modernist methods of expression in respect of Futurist fascination with technology, movement and speed, can be physically interpreted through the medium of the serpentine dance. Consequently the medium becomes a mechanism by which to investigate explicit as well as implicit suggestions and perceptions of the erotic and explore the ways in which cloth can serve as an art-form in and of itself, thereby evoking the premise that, when exploited in this way, Hogarth’s “pleasure of the pursuit” can be discerned as centred ‘at the heart of true eroticism’.[8]

  • [1] MARINETTI, F. T. (2009) The New Religion-Morality of Speed, Trans: RAINEY, L. IN: RAINEY, L. et al (Eds.) Futurism: An Anthology New Haven & London: Yale University Press p225
  • [2] HOGARTH, W. (1997) The Analysis of Beauty edited by PAULSON, R. London: Yale University Press p6
  • [3] Ibid. p34
  • [4] Ibid. p33
  • [5] OGÉE, F. (2001) I: Crafting the Erotic Body: The Flesh of Theory: The Erotics of Hogarth’s Lines IN: FORT, B; ROSENTHAL, A. (Eds.) The Other Hogarth: Aesthetics of Difference Princeton: Princeton University Press p64
  • [6] GARELICK, R. K. (2007) Electric Salome: Loie Fuller’s Performance of Modernism Princeton: Princeton University Press p32
  • [7] Ibid. p139
  • [8] OGÉE, F. (2001) Op. Cit. p64


Caressing Cloth: the warp and weft as site of exchange - Dr. Catherine Dormor

‘The caress consists in seizing upon nothing in soliciting what slips away as though it were not yet. It searches, it forages. It is not an intentionality of disclosure, but of search: a movement into the invisible.’ (Levinas, 1969, p.257–8)

Taking as its starting point the notion of the caress this paper proposes a framework of cloth-based thinking that re-positions the body as a site of exchange between two. Thinking of and from the female body, this paper explores the notion of the caress, and its inter-relationship, direct and indirect, with textile and woven cloth.

Drawing on the work of Luce Irigaray and taking the caress as a form of porous communication between two, extended ways of thinking are opened out that focus upon desire and the touched body that are not foregrounded by the idea of objects of desire as routes to sexual (or other) gratification. Thus this is a body whose difference from another body is, like the warp and weft, a source of communication between and which emphasises the com– (together, with), and exchange, thus suggesting the caress as an end in itself within that exchange.


In foregrounding woven cloth as a model for thinking through and with the caress, this paper reflects upon the artwork and art-making of artists, both those preoccupied with textile and those whose practice offers parallels modes of thinking, namely Anne Hamilton, Chiharu Shiota, Shirin Neshat, Mona Hatoum and Anna Maria Maiolino. These practices, I want to suggest, can be considered collectively as a mode of (re)awakening, a term drawn from Irigaray’s search for a language of the caress. In order to unpack this, the paper takes three points of departure: dehiscence, which explores the idea of the caressing cloth as stimulus between two ‘skins’ or bodies and thus the producer or source of an infinitely generative encounter between two; inter/intra–dermal modalities, which develops the idea of the caressing cloth as a gesture–space which enfolds into and onto itself through the physical interplay between dermal and epidermal layers of the skin; and finally, a nomadic caressing cloth, which draws on Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a ‘nomadic’ experiencing of the world and suggests an understanding of the landscape through performative action and reaction, holding within itself a sense of the infinite: a supplementary perspective rather than oppositional.


Perception in the Folds: The Requirement of Having a Body - Grace Williams

“If to perceive means to unfold, then I am forever perceiving within the folds.”[1]

The central use of fabric within acts of magical deception is a widely unacknowledged accouterment, much like the purloined letter, hiding in plain sight; it becomes unnoticeable due to its obviousness. Yet, its role within the genre of vanishing seems intrinsically linked with the gendered nature of magical female disappearance. As Deleuze states if perception is in fact an act of unfolding, then the body under swathes of fabric immediately becomes a point of contention.

This paper discusses the seductive fluctuations of fabric within the spheres of stage magic, the dark room of the séance and the unique photographic genre of hidden mothers; focusing specifically on its symbolic and sexualized connotation in the context of draping the female body. Beginning with a discussion of the symbolic use of an oriental scarf in Bautier de Kolta’s l’escamotage d’une dame (fig 1.) our conversation will meander into the spewing-forth of cheesecloth (from any available female orifice) in the ectoplasmic manifestations of mediums in the T.G Hamilton séances (Fig 2,3). Also touching on the concealing of the female body under carpets in the Victorian photographic genus hidden mothers (Fig.4) I will discuss my contemporary artistic practice resulting in the artworks ‘Escamotage, 2014’ (Fig.5) and ‘Supernormal Scarves, 2013’ (Fig.6) both of which focus on the ability of fabric to simultaneously reveal and conceal.

The contemporary artworks by Eva Stenram (Fig.7), Rudolf Stingel (Fig.8) and Anette Reimer (Fig.9) will also be referenced in relation to each strand.

[1] Deleuze, Gilles. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. London: Continuum, 2006. Pg. 107.


Performance: UN/DRESS - Masako Matsushita

UN/DRESS is based on transforming and transformation arising from the fusion of body and object. Consumption and excess are the focus and starting point of this metaphorical performance. Using the act of dressing and undressing as its central mode of inquiry, the piece explores the nature of change and questions the role of clothing and the body in modern society.