The Concise Dictionary of Dress

The V&A's reserve collection store at Blyth House in Olympia is the setting for Artangel's intriguing installation incorporating mysterious text definitions by Adam Phillips alongside artworks conceived by Judith Clark

A A A | Close

Video Transcript

Adam Phillips (Psychoanalyst/writer)
“A state of essential simplification. Safe in numbers. Recipient of an unnoticed demand. Complicit. Choosing not to choose. Compliant, and therefore, enraged. Unwitting double agent. Blended into a selected background. Committed to difference and biot. Horrified by the idiosyncrasy of desire. Uniformly agreeable. Accurate, diligent, wired for surprise. Consensus a spell. Mourning variety. Idealist.”
I, as the writer, would write definitions. And the definitions would be, by definition, not ordinary conventional definitions. In other words, they would be sometimes provocative, sometimes unexpected, but not predictable. They would be used as a kind of hint or a prompt to Judith to make an installation from them.

Judith Clark (Dress Curator)
The novelty of it is that there have been very few if any, collaborations, explicitly, between dress curators and psychoanalysts. The ideas exist in three dimensions, if you like, and so in the purposes of this exhibition stored dress and stored ideas of dress are installed in direct relation to a very precise general context which is of course the great archive at Blythe house. The visitor’s imagination is already fired just upon entering the building.

Adam Phillips
It becomes almost like a dreamscape of a museum.


Set in the working store for the V&A’s vast reserve collections, The Concise Dictionary of Dress begins with a journey through a turnstile, into an industrial goods lift and up to the first in a sequence of  definitions in a walk-through dictionary of dress.


Cast objects and photographs, tableaux of clothing and accessories are arranged amongst the rolling racks and wrapped objects stored at Blythe House, the former headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank in Olympia, west London. The anatomy of the building reveals surreal and evocative interventions in unexpected places; metaphors of repression and ceremony; fragments of the clothed body briefly glimpsed.

Commissioned by Artangel, The Concise Dictionary of Dress re-describes clothing in terms of anxiety, wish and desire, as a series of definitions created by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and accompanying installations designed and assembled by fashion curator Judith Clark.