Acid Webs: Spinning Under the Influence

What do Christopher Kane's Spring/Summer 2011 collection and sick spiders' webs have in common? Thread and drugs is the unlikely answer.

At the Wellcome Institute's High Society exhibition which explores the historic impact of mind-altering drugs, I came across some images of webs spun by spiders on various substances including: marijuana, speed and caffeine. The experiment undertaken by NASA aimed to show the intoxicating effects of these drugs in a striking, graphic form.

The gentlest drug was marijuana - spiders on this spun a loose variant on the even, ripple-like structure of a regular web (image below). Scarily, the most potent was caffeine, which literally caused the spiders to crack up and produce an irregular web that resembled shattered glass (image top).
As though crafted by such spiders, Kane's Spring Summer 2011 collection, nicknamed 'Princess Margaret on Acid' injected neon-laced venom into traditional threads. Demure ladylike neck-lines and skirt-lengths and precise tailoring in the style of the English princess were transformed in sherbet hues, daring cut-aways and trompe d'oeil techniques: leather was carved into filigree lace and tulle given the Saville Row treatment (image top). Curvilinear Chinese tattoos, those inky webs of the skin, became lacy leather side-panels on dresses (image just above).

On models with wind-flushed complexions and sleek Sunday-School hair, the clothes looked summery and wearable. However, I can imagine that suspended from a hanger these bright, lacy creations might look like trippy X-ray visions. The fabric of brides, Goths and ladies of the night, lace is glamorous owing to its richness of pattern and thinness of substance. Flat and uninhabited by bodies it is a sort of man-made spider web, and in Kane's fluorescent colours becomes truly otherworldly.

Christening dress by Adam Fuss from the series My Ghost, 1997

The baroque webs beneath clothing form the subject of camera-less photographer Adam Fuss's image of a christening gown in the series My Ghost, currently on view at the V&A's exhibition Shadowcatchers: Camera-less Photography. With the aid of chemicals the white frock was exposed directly onto photographic paper. Bone-stiff, this X-ray-like image reveals the serpentine patterns and turgid structure of this seemingly soft and innocent garment. Fuss moves beyond the mere aesthetics of lace to reveal its esoteric aura and hint at sinister narratives.

Ethereal yet intoxicating, webs haunted by ghosts or other powdery substances continue to fascinate and inspire.

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