Nailing It: Dress design sculpted into art

13 May 2014 - 02:03 By Jackie May
NAILS AND SCALES: Suzaan Heyns's 'Melusina' is part of Frances Goodman's exhibition 'Nail Her', now on at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg
NAILS AND SCALES: Suzaan Heyns's 'Melusina' is part of Frances Goodman's exhibition 'Nail Her', now on at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg
Image: GOODMAN GALLERY

Following the opening of Nail Her on Instagram, I was mesmerised by photographs of Suzaan Heyns's Melusina.

A performer wearing Heyns's 3m-long sculpted dress moved around for hours, creating an eerie spectacle.

The imposing dress now stands lifeless on exhibit among a collection of works by Frances Goodman. No less spectacular than it looked on the performer's body that opening night, the dress is part of an exhibition exploring the objectification and commodification of the female body. Constructed using acrylic nails, the sculpted garment shimmers under the lights at the Goodman Gallery.

The bottom of the dress is a mass of serpent-like shapes, suggesting the female body is both serpent and encircled by serpents.

"The serpent becomes her. The nails become her armour," said Heyns.

Melusina is a reference to the mythological creature who was part-woman and part-snake in ancient Celtic and medieval folklore. She was thought to be a changeling, deceiving and luring her man with song. This idea resonates with the exhibition's theme of women using false nails as a way to adorn their bodies.

When Goodman approached the fashion designer to participate in her exhibition, Heyns was delighted.

"I've always wanted to be a sculptor," she said.

With her team of interns, Heyns used 130000 false nails over more than 500 man-hours to construct her nail dress.

"We stuck them on with 150 bottles of silicon glue. Because the nails were different sizes, like fish scales, we had to apply them in different patterns."

The top of the dress is heavily corseted, with an exaggerated bust to compensate for its height. The skirt is shaped using a combination of foam and fabric on a steel armature.

Once finished, the dress had to be lowered from Heyns's studio window using her husband's rock-climbing equipment. It was far too big to fit through the door.

Will we see more sculpture works from Heyns?

"Oh, yes. I love sculpting."

  • 'Melusina, 2014' is on sale for R210 900. It is on exhibition until May 31 at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. www.goodman-gallery.com
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