The dress is a space to inhabit: Cinzia Ruggeri exhibited in Milan

At the Federico Vavassori Gallery in Milan, the exhibition “Umbratile con brio” looks back over the projects of the designer and artist Cinzia Ruggeri into clothing as experiential architecture.

Cinzia Ruggeri, Umbratile con brio, 2018, Milano

Only a person of extraordinary sensitivity like Mariuccia Casadio could have thought of and curated an exhibition such as “Umbratile con Brio”. The Milan-based Federico Vavassori Gallery’s tribute to the great Cinzia Ruggeri – permanently walking the confines between dream and reality, fashion, art, architecture, design and performance – could only be based on contrast and lightness. After having taken part in the Alchimia experience, since the 1960s Ruggeri has been following her particular and unique line of research into clothing as experiential architecture, as is the case with the Kinetic Dress, the Dress with LEDs, the Liquid Crystal Dress, or the more famous Homage to Levi Strauss made in silk in 1983, part of the permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

She began producing her collections in 1977. Memorable are the pyramid-ziggurat dresses – a much-loved motif re-elaborated in a post-modern key – and the many, diverse, corrosive productions, almost abstract in aesthetic and language, but at the same time humane in their desire to communicate emotions, messages and meta-messages, or even simply moments of true life, frozen into a moment and characterised by a high level of energy combined with tenderness. Here, the dress is seen as a space to inhabit, with which it is possible to interact, experiencing it in a manner which goes beyond the first, logical and simpler use as a covering for the body.

The surrealist language of Cinzia Ruggeri speaks of dreamlike voyages in a concrete manner: the works exhibited tell us of distance, constraint and freedom, they speak to us of presence and absence, of affection, of emptiness and of suffering, of the examination of an existential confine which seeks to be translated into geographic borders, as is the case with the recent Tavolo Milos, made last year. Cinzia Ruggeri moves forward through rapid associations of images which are, at times, presented to viewers in a dramatically ferocious manner, bluntly and without pulling punches, as is the case with the ball of chicken skin closed in an anonymous glass case. The little dogs which resemble her adored Schnauzer are manically repeated as paper shapes or reproduced as children's toys; they can be found here, in the midst of one of her works for whatever reason, while she is feeding them (È l'Ora della Pappa, 2013), taking them to do their business, brushing them. The theme of the glove as a wrapping for the hand leads us to understand something else: the desire to relate, to communicate, to touch, to establish contact, but also to protect oneself. Interact with that which is beyond her, but cautiously.

In this exhibition, hands (gloves) are everywhere, as though this many were needed in order to get a grip on this life, which flows so quickly and in such an enigmatic manner.

The Abito Tovaglia from 1984 consists of candid and geometric clothing, made beyond the rules of tailoring, as Cinzia Ruggeri sees it as a light, totemic object to be examined, irreverent, if you wish, but with its own precise personality, a functional extension of the body; the stomacher which embraces and protects the sternum extends like a tongue of fabric in a welcoming gesture. It is both personal and inclusive at the same time.

Cinzia Ruggeri, Abito Tovaglia
Cinzia Ruggeri, Abito Tovaglia

In the accompanying text, one can read that “Cinzia Ruggeri is an all-round artist and designer”, as well as “a pioneer of fashion, a world in which she was protagonist between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1990s”. She sees the dress as a vision translated into reality, but never the most immediate form. It is a “connecting, disconnecting and disarranging of things, from the materials to the colours and shapes, from fixed to moving images, which endlessly enchant and destabilize. Rendering the obvious and predictable logic of the existing a starting point for a play of breaking patterns, altering weights and measures, revisiting aesthetics and functions. A creative and criminally subtle impulse, to break, overturn and remove the known and most obvious prerogatives from the visible”.

The exhibition is set out in various sections, within an itinerary which leads us on a voyage through time thanks to visionary changes in direction and improbable hyperbole; themes and colours characterise the three rooms (a blue room, a pink room and a grey room), where some of the objects invade the gaze, while others need to be sought out. “The past projects its shadow on the present. It redesigns it, and itself, bringing into creation ever-new and diverse compositions and suggestions. Images and objects, models of dresses, furniture and knick-knacks which led to fanciful furnishings, articulations on an environmental scale of personal and intimate passions, poetic features of her fashion and interior design, from aquatic creatures to the jagged outline of sheer coastlines, and from the blocked-out silhouettes of men, dogs or egg yolks to the playful re-inventions – from Colombra to Perle ai Porci – of verbal definitions and conventions”, adds the curator.

For the exhibition, the artist has created an “unidentified box, a limited-edition case which contains keepsakes from her imagination”, such as a transparent glove, postcards from the past, with models, hand-embroidered photographs complete with Swarovski crystals, a shirt cuff in white material and a drawing with various proposals for (unmatched) cufflinks, plenty of the ever-present pearls (even those before swine), a silk clutch with an integrated purse-holder, a black dog cut out of thick cardboard, the wonderful words of Dino Buzzati which speak of a “Miss” who lives in Piazza della Repubblica in Milan, and who is considered a little mad, as well as a micro-purse in fluorescent orange lace containing very sweet candied violets  (yes, those from the patisserie), the same which lend their name to the words of Casadio: “Chiave di Violetta: Note Accordi e Andamenti nel Pentagramma di Cinzia Ruggeri”. To visit calmly and with enough time to hand in order to observe and dream.

Exhibition title:
Cinzia Ruggeri. Umbratile con brio
Opening dates:
9 February – 10 March 2018
Galleria Federico Vavassori
via Giorgio Giulini 5, Milano
Mariuccia Casadio

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