Machine Dazzle makes fashion-as-art at the Moody Center

‘Wearable surrealist’ sculptures inspired by ‘Sideways to the Sun’ debut April 27

The costume artist and sculptor known as Machine Dazzle has performed inside the installations of other artists twice before, in the now-defunct Exit Art exhibition space in his home city of New York. One was an installation made out of truck tires. The other was a functioning shower that invited the crowd to disrobe and enter, nude.

Machine Dazzle with some of the costumes he created for "A 24-Decade History of Popular Music" (Photo by Willa Folmar)

Machine Dazzle with some of the costumes he created for “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” (Photo by Willa Folmar)

Neither were anything like what Machine Dazzle will perform in April 27 at Rice’s Moody Center for the Arts when he puts on a show inside of and inspired by Natasha Bowdoin’s piece “Sideways to the Sun,” a large-scale floral landscape that fills the entire Central Gallery with its cartoon-like plants and blooms.

“’Sideways to the Sun’ felt strangely familiar yet brand new — brand new like a fresh, unused copy of something older that had been preserved that I had never laid eyes on,” Dazzle said of the first time he saw Bowdoin’s work. “Familiar like things that I had noticed in cartoons and animated films, but different.”

Dazzle regards the installation and its many moving parts — including giant “set pieces” that can be rolled across the gallery on wheels — as something almost sentient.

“I feel like the installation wants to be alive?” he said. “Is it? I can’t tell if it’s friendly or menacing.”

His sense of the piece very much echoes that of Bowdoin, an assistant professor of painting and drawing, who said of her work when it debuted earlier this year: “Flora can be threatening; so can the feminine, while we’re at it. Nature can be messy and dangerous, maybe even more so if we don’t know what a particular kind of nature might mean.”

“I give no expectations for the show,” Dazzled said of the upcoming April 27 event at the Moody. “I like surprises.”

“I give no expectations for the show,” Dazzled said of the upcoming April 27 event at the Moody. “I like surprises.”

That the two artists are simpatico in their reflections on the piece is only natural.

The Moody Center saw strong similarities between Bowdoin’s work and that of Machine Dazzle; it’s one of the reasons he was invited to Rice next weekend as part of the Moody’s Dimensions Variable series that engages other artists responding to artworks currently on exhibit.

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Dazzle is known, in part, as the costumer behind theater artist Taylor Mac and his Pulitzer Prize-nominated show “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music.” His complex creations — sometimes more fittingly referred to as “immense sculptures” — for such shows have been called “a new and heightened form of Surrealism” by The New Yorker. His costumes are praised for demanding more of audiences than straightforward aesthetic appreciation, and the April 27 event should prove no exception.

“I give no expectations for the show,” Dazzled teased. “I like surprises.”

What is certain is that the show will be wholly different from the college circuit show he took out on the road with Mac last year.

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“When I work with Taylor Mac, I become part of his subversion. I’m a tool that helps the show along, because of Taylor’s costume. I help give the audience permission to transform and play make believe.”

Here, he’ll be working with Bowdoin to finalize the costumes he’s created in response to “Sideways to the Sun,” using models cast by Bowdoin for the performance.

“It’s a true collaboration,” Dazzle said.

It’s also a return to his roots. Dazzle — born Matthew Flower — spent his formative years in Kingwood before his family moved to Idaho when he was 11 years old. A recent Instagram photo of Dazzle in a Houston Oilers “Luv ya Blue” T-shirt attests to his Bayou City upbringing, as do recollections of what he once called his “most treasured memory”: his parents taking him to see “The Nutcracker” at the Houston Ballet for his 10th birthday.

And while he has returned only a few times since — “I had no reason to until now!” he said — Dazzle has no designs on rediscovering the city of his youth next weekend. He’s here with a singular mission in mind.

“My only plans are to give the best show I can,” he said. “When presenting a fashion show, days and hours of work are all taken for granted in a six- or seven-minute show. I want to make a lasting impact on the audience —an impact that leaves them satisfied, yet wanting more.”

Dimensions Variable featuring Machine Dazzle is free and open to the public. For more information, visit //moody.rice.edu/events/dimensions-variable-featuring-machine-dazzle.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.