The World of WearableArt (WOW) is a unique combination of the world’s leading wearable art competition and a spectacular stage show held in Wellington, New Zealand every year (except for the previous two years because when it was postponed because of the global pandemic). The competition was born in 1987 when Nelson sculptor Suzie Moncrieff had an idea to promote a rural art gallery and thereby created a new genre of performance
It is now New Zealand’s largest annual theatrical production with a typical attendance of around 60,000 people.
It is also the global competition for international designers working at the cutting edge of fashion, art, design and costume, alongside students and first-time entrants.
I don’t normally enter art competitions because my bone sculptures never usually even make the finals and there is a definite bias against this kind of work from some people in the local arts community – why I’m not sure.
I started making art with bones in 2003 but didn’t have my first full show of bone work until 2010. It was a complete flop, a total disaster. I didn’t sell a thing and got dumped by my (second) art dealer. I remember spending two days in bed with the curtains pulled and my phone off trying to process it (as things had been going quite well before I started making the bone works.) It was very hard to carry on and I don’t think many sane people would have bothered. Every competition I entered (even with the first full bust made of bones) was an absolute wash-out. I couldn’t even make the finals of an art competition in small town Alexandra with the second major bone bust (Oves Dei).
To cut a long story short the long drought has finally been broken and in September of 2022 a collaborative piece of work (with Wellington artist, Fifi Colston) was the Supreme WOW Award Runner-up and Aotearoa Section Winner.
It’s called ‘Fera Dei’ (Rabbit Goddess).
She is the imaginary queen of the rabbit ravaged Central Otago moonscape
Most of the credit goes to Fifi. I would never have entered without her pressuring me to do so. We met sometime around 2015 when we had art studios close to each other in Wellington. Like me she is a multi-media artist who is also a writer, painter, fabricator and a well known book illustrator. She has entered WOW some 27 times and won a number of awards.
I created the top part of the work over a Worbla base and Fifi completed the vast amount of fabric work. The fabric design was created using photos from my archive of bones as well as photos of the central Otago landscape where the bones used in this creation were found.
Here’s what Fifi has to say about our collaboration –
‘In 2019 I spent 6 months in Otago on a writer’s residency where she worked on a graphic novel that explores the (fictitious) lost visual diary of a fashion student. The work within, discovered by another artist, leads to the appropriation of the idea of making of a piece of wearable art. Both the ‘real’ and the’ fictional’ artists in the novel are consumed by the intense light and textures of the Central Otago landscape Whilst in Ōtepoti(Dunedin) visiting Bruce’s ‘Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery’, I was inspired by ‘Oves Dei’(Sheep Goddess) – a life-size bust he’d made from remains of hundreds of introduced animals who’d lived and died in this harsh environment. Mahalski spends weeks walking this landscape every summer picking up and recycling the remains of animals who were unlucky enough to be introduced by nostalgic Victorian emigrants. He seeks to honour their short lives in his art. We decided to collaborate and after many concept sketches the final concept was born.
Photos by – World of WearableArt
Fera Dei by Fifi Colston & Bruce Mahalski, New Zealand 2022