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50 Shades of Robot: The Art and Fashion of 'Man as Machine' Was More Spectacle Than Substance

When attending a fashion show that promises to satisfy artistic inclinations of all types, skepticism is the name of the game.

At Thursday evening's Man as Machine at Three Three Three First Avenue fashion, dance, music, makeup, body painting and all types of fine art were broadcast as the draws to this event. And, naturally, something has to fall to the wayside with such a wide berth of objectives.

It's not that it's unexpected. When an art show develops past a simple exhibition to a multimedia extravaganza the amount of production required becomes exponentially larger. And, at Man as Machine, spectacle seemed to be the deciding factor of how the show progressed.

Ignoring the artists that came in during the previous days to spend hours hanging or installing their pieces, the day of the event had its own time-constraints. In the back rooms of Three Three Three, makeup artists arrived more than four hours before the show's 7 p.m. call time. And, restricted to a small room demarcated by a partitioning sheet, dozens of people--makeup artists, assistants, models and photographers--worked up until 9 p.m. in the cramped, cosmetics-ridden space.

The makeup production alone was one of the greatest collaborations of the entire show. Artists designed several different makeup themes--there were eight different designs taped onto a window in the makeup area--and the hair and makeup artists created an assembly line of copper foundation, three-person hair styling teams and fake eyelash gluers.

But the models weren't finished once their faces were painted 50 shades of robot. After they sat through a dozen people having their way with their skin and follicles, the models were sent to an adjacent room to be styled by fashion designers.

And while all of this was going on, three different artists worked on body paint pieces. Models stood still for anywhere from three and a half to five hours as they were taped, airbrushed, painted, glittered and accessorized to tantalizing effects.

With all this work and collaboration, once the models hit the runway it was obvious that this was the main draw of Man as Machine. People completely packed out the space, pushing tightly against the narrow, padded silver runway to snap a blurry phone photo as models walked by. Once they hit the stage, models threw sultry looks, demonstrated masterful maneuverability in impractically tall heels, showing just how good they could look while taking a vest off.

Yet, while the fashion was fantastic in its own right, it didn't quite hit on what the theme of the show was. Only one design felt truly futuristic, and none of them pushed forth the notion of a cyborg. And honestly, I was a little disappointed that I didn't see Terminator or cyber-Goth fashion designs.

The art suffered from a similar problem. The pieces, overall, were mediocre. Standouts were Jonathan Ramirez' sculptures, which combine human forms and mechanical parts and Luis Fernando Camacho's piece, "Man as Orchestrator: Man as an Instrument of Progress," which was a blend of structuralism and cubism executed with such precision that it easily set itself above the rest.

Besides the few that were technically impressive and thematically on point, so many others seemed non sequitur. With a show like this, theme should be everything.

Yet where the art and fashion dropped the ball, the dance routines picked up slack. There were a few hiccups here and there--the live band backing the dancers getting ready, set up times taking a tad longer than expected--but the dancers truly brought "Man as Machine" to the forefront. The routine of Eric Coudron and Lauren Gonzales was perhaps was the perfect embodiment of the show.

They began the dance with organic, sweeping movements and employing shadow play with the projector as a light source, the routine ended with them using stiff, mechanical movements.

Despite the minor foibles, follies and nitpickings, makeup artist Ashley Whitby captured the importance of these shows when she said, "It's great. I get to do whatever the hell I want. I mean, you get to create your own reality."

And while this new reality may have seemed thin at places, it definitely didn't disappoint.

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Scott Mitchell
Contact: Scott Mitchell