Help the performing arts recover

9 July, 2020

One object, multiple stories.

The Australian Performing Arts Collection team share their stories about the vest and white pants worn by Graeme 'Shirley' Strachan of Skyhooks, unveiling more of its hidden history.

 

The Curator’s Perspective: History and Collection of the Object
Olivia Jackson, Curator, Australian Music Vault and Music Collection

In 1974, Australian rock band Skyhooks released the album Living in the Seventies. Despite six of the ten songs being banned from radio play, the album went straight to #1. The use of everyday imagery and relatable characters, against a backdrop of contemporary Australian suburbia, ensured their songs resonated with local audiences. The group often wore costumes that reflected a love of kitsch Australiana, including designs that incorporated the Australian flag, coat of arms and flora and fauna.

In 1989, each member of the band donated a costume to the Australian Performing Arts Collection. When the Australian Music Vault opened in 2017, we displayed a black velvet suit worn by Greg Macainsh. To limit the damaging effects of light exposure on the black velvet, we arranged to swap the suit with this outfit worn by Shirley. Both costumes were created by Melbourne-based designer Uschi Flett. Although we must maintain museum standards of object safety, our philosophy is to display objects as closely as possible to how they were used by the performers – maintaining their sense of character. In order to do this, we had to go through a number of processes to ensure the safe display of this costume.

 

Costume on display at the Australian Music Vault. Photograph by Jason Lau

 

Costume on display at the Australian Music Vault. Photograph by Jason Lau.

 

The Conservator’s Perspective: Conservation Treatment and Underpinning for the Vest
Carmela Lonetti, Conservator, Australian Performing Arts Collection

The vest required conservation treatment to stabilise the fragmenting silver Lurex fibres on the central wheel motif. A piece of fine silk netting was placed over the Lurex and stitched around the outside edges using fine silk crepeline thread to prevent further breakage or loss.

To prepare the costume for exhibition we had to source a mannequin that would ‘fit’ the costume. I worked closely with a mannequin supplier to identify and custom sculpt and paint a mannequin to fit the costume.

 

IMAGE Sculpting etha-foam shoulders for the mannequin

 

IMAGE: Sculpting etha-foam shoulders for the mannequin.

 

While Shirley originally wore this vest with nothing underneath, we needed to create extra support in order to display the vest on a mannequin. We created a black jersey undergarment with additional supports on the vest itself – connected via velcro. This held the weight of the costume’s buckle and kept its straps in position while on display.

 

Before treatment front of vest and detail of damaged Lurex threads on central wheel motif

 

Before treatment front of vest and detail of damaged Lurex threads on central wheel motif.
Vest worn by Shirley Strachan of Skyhooks, c.1976. Gift of Shirley Strachan, Cultural Gifts Program, 1989.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Detail of Lurex threads on central wheel motif after stabilisation treatment

 

Detail of Lurex threads on central wheel motif after stabilisation treatment.
Vest worn by Shirley Strachan of Skyhooks, c.1976. Gift of Shirley Strachan, Cultural Gifts Program, 1989.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

The Registrar’s Perspective: Retrieving, Preparing and Dressing the Mannequin
Jenna Blyth, Registrar, Music and Art, Australian Performing Arts Collection

The white poly-satin trousers were highly susceptible to marking. The vest is constructed mostly of degraded elastic and features a heavy 1970s car seatbelt buckle at the front which – if not supported could stretch the elastic further when it is moved from its storage box to the mannequin.

 

Vest (back) worn by Graeme Shirley Strachan of Skyhooks

 

Vest (back) worn by Shirley Strachan of Skyhooks, c.1976.
Gift of Shirley Strachan, Cultural Gifts Program, 1989.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

When dressing a mannequin it is helpful to have a reference image of the person wearing the actual costume, and for added atmosphere we like to listen to the artist’s music as we dress. For a costume that literally said ‘Butts’ on the back, we would have to spend a bit of time ensuring that the ‘butt’ looked up to scratch. It is interesting what you find yourself having to focus on when preparing a collection object for display.

 

Vest (back) worn by Graeme Shirley Strachan of Skyhooks

 

Skyhooks, c.1975.
Photograph by Kathleen O'Brien.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Find out more about contemporary Australian music at the Australian Music Vault.

 

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