Hands-on Art: Going at it, glamour and nails

24 April 2014 - 09:43 By Andrea Nagel

Next month, artist Frances Goodman, in collaboration with outre clothing designer Suzaan Heyns, will exhibit a new collection of work at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.

In the exhibition, called Nail Her, Goodman, who is known for her multimedia works that explore the commodification and objectification of the body, excess and obsession, will work with the designer to comment on the artificiality, but also the armour-like appeal, of fashion accessories, particularly false nails.

For Goodman, false nails signify a culture of excess and transience. She is interested in false nails as an expendable extension of the body - but also interested in them as a material to create bodily form.

''False nails are physical, intrusive and artificial, but strangely empowering as well," she said.

''Long talons tap into ideas of the untamed, uncontrollable female who can claw and scratch - there's a danger associated with them. They mark the skin."

Though Goodman admitted nails and make-up fall into a similar category, she said nails represent something that goes beyond merely enhancing appearance.

''Long false nails seem to give women a sense of fierceness and wildness. They also express themselves with nail art. I've seen women's personalities change when they put on false nails. Black nail polish is expressive of an attitude. Men don't have access to this territory."

In her research, Goodman discovered the mythical figure of Melusina, a woman depicted as half serpent or fish, cursed for her disrespect of her father.

''I found many representations of strong women as snake-like with scales in mythologies," said Goodman.

''It made me think of nails as an extension of the skin, of identity and personality, much like fashion. Nails are both fashion and anti-fashion and I wanted to collaborate with a designer to comment on this."

Goodman noticed the visceral reaction that people have to false nails.

''People want to touch and stroke them, but are also repulsed by them."

She has always had a rapport with Heyns and decided to ask her to produce a piece for the show.

''Suzaan wanted to be a sculptor, so it makes sense for her to produce a piece for the show."

The sculptural performance dress constructed by Heyns reinterprets Goodman's sculptures by coating and sculpting the female body with false nails.

The costume will be suspended during the exhibition, and activated during a series of choreographed performances in which a performer will be inside the costume.

Heyns said: 'I wanted to study sculpture, but opted for fashion as a way of sculpting with fabric.

''It's a natural fit for me as I often work with embellishment and repetition."

So far she has amassed more than 130000 false nails that she is applying individually by hand to create the ''dress".

''It has taken longer than producing a collection for Fashion Week, but I've enjoyed every minute. It's given me the opportunity to use my design as commentary, which is something I've always pursued.

"With my work there is always something different, but with a recognisable Suzaan Heyns signature."

The exhibition is on at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg from May 2 to 31. Heyns's piece will be exhibited from May 6 to 31