October 27, 2011
The Glamour Factory
Six months ago it was just an ambition: to host a late night at a major art gallery in London. Take science into a new habitat, to add to our collection of music festivals, banquets, sewage treatment plants, department stores, crumbling art deco power stations, indie art gatherings, and immersive cinematic celebrations. Who, after all, would expect to see science sidle up alongside paintings, sculptures and heads made of frozen blood.
Well, we would for a start – as would Contemporary Vintage, who (in their own words) say:
“There’s a gap between the way culture is traditionally communicated and people’s everyday lives. Contemporary Vintage fills that gap by connecting people to culture in ways that are relevant to them.”
Replace the word “culture” with the word “science”, and you essentially have the ethos of Guerilla Science. Our union was, you might say, meant to be.
So we were delighted when they brought us on board to curate a Late Shift Extra to complement Glamour of the Gods, the National Portait Gallery’s current exhibition of Hollywood portraiture from the industry’s “Golden Age”.
Together with Contemporary Vintage and DJ duo The Broken Hearts, we produced The Glamour Factory, an evening of makeovers from Illamasqua, cocktails from Hendricks Gin, posing classes, lectures, workshops, photography sessions, music and live dance performances in The Broken Hearts Cocktail Lounge (check out more in their radio show for JazzFM here) – all throughout four floors in the central London gallery on October 7, 2011.
We brought science into the cultural spread, putting the concept of “glamour” under the microscope and exploring the science behind facial recognition, identity, and gender.
Daniel Rees of the Wellcome Library introduced us (or, at least, those lucky enough to get into Room 16) to the Victorian practice of physiognomy – intoning character and virtue from facial features – with a set of 19th century forehead reading tools from Germany. Read more about beauty, symmetry and attraction in his blog post here.
Clinical psychologist Dr Victoria Holt and psychiatrist Dr Polly Carmichael of Tavistock and Portman (an utterly unique clinic that specialises in helping children experiencing difficulties with their gender identity) led us through an exploration of issues concerning gender, identity and sexuality – appropriately held in the Tudor Gallery, surrounded by men in frilly frocks and forbidding, regal portraits of Queen Elizabeth I.
Evolutionary biologist Professor Mark Pagel led us through a life drawing class with a twist, describing the evolution of hairlessness and our use of tresses as sexual signals, as guests illustrated the ornate hairdos of Hollywood starlets. Read more about the strange and unique condition of the naked human body crowned with a mop of colourful hair in his blog post here, and catch his TED talk here.
Roaming throughout the NPG Dr David Gems Institute of Healthy Aging, UCL took us on specially created tour exploring notions of life, death and immortality, examining the gallery’s portraits through a scientific angle.
And the renowned Dr Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroaesthetics at UCL, took part in the “Glamorous Debate”, discussing the finer points of icon, image, style and fame with panellists Ted Polhemus (anthropologist and writer), Grace Woodward (stylist and fashion broadcaster) and Janty Yates (Academy Award-Winning costume designer), chaired by Pamela Church-Gibson (Reader in Cultural and Historical Studies, London College of Fashion).
Thanks to a spot on the BBC News, as well as a full page in the Evening Standard, we all knew the event would be packed – but nobody was quite prepared for just how popular the night became. When more than 4,000 people had crammed into the building, the gallery had to close the gates – and by our estimate, 500 people had to be left disappointed.
But who knows – maybe this won’t be the last staging of the Glamour Factory, and Londoners will have another chance to transform into Hollywood icons through a blend of fashion, science and art. Watch this space…