That’s So Tulle

Artist Benjamin Shine’s “The Dance” exhibit portrays lifelike movement and romance out of a most unusual medium

By Robin Jay

Dance-ballarina-close-up--Tulle-Ballarine-Is it colored smoke? A Photoshop tool? A light projection? Bet you’d never guess these Benjamin Shine sculptures are crafted out of tulle – yes, the netting best known for use in ballerina tutus and ballroom skirts, not fine art.

“I originally studied fashion design, which introduced me to fabric as a new medium,” London native Shine told Opulence. “I became interested in one-piece garment construction, which soon developed into construction ideas away from the body as sculptural pieces.

Tulle was one of the first materials I used, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I realized its inherent translucent qualities could be manipulated to create portraits from a single piece.”

The Allure of Tulle
“I was intrigued by the potential to create tones by folding the material – whereby each fold generates a darker tone,” Shine said. “I have created highly detailed and intricate works, especially portraits, but more recently have become interested in conveying a sense of motion and free flowing movement. Above all, I love that tulle netting is half in existence and half non-existent. It is smokelike and ethereal and I am exploring different ideas that revolve around energy and the relationship between the material and immaterial.

“There are many challenges in working with tulle – it can burn or melt easily, so it’s important for me to understand how to control this,” Shine said. “The material is delicate, but also strong enough for many applications. I am still enjoying discovering new ways to use it.”

CMYK-THe-Dance-2-dancersArt in Motion
Shine’s works shown here are from his collection “The Dance.” We asked Shine to describe his unique technique.

“The most detailed sections are made by hand compressing and sewing the tulle,” Shine explained. “It is very similar to sculpting clay, as the material can be squashed and manipulated quite well. I also use the tulle as a structural support so that the figures are suspended by the same material they are made from, without wires, which allows the effect to retain a sense of effortlessness.

“There is a well-known association between tulle, ballet, femininity and movement, so for a long time I have been thinking about how to create an idea that encompasses these subjects. “The Dance” explores the idea of creativity as a powerful yet brief force, charged with passion and energy. It represents this flow and fleeting expression bursting from the source as if manifesting momentarily.

“A white circular vessel releases a smoke-like plume of tulle high into the air, engulfing the ceiling above. The colours converge to form two large faces and a series of dancing figures, silhouetted within the flowing fabric as if suspended in motion. The faces and figures were based on two very talented ballet dancers who I photographed in the different poses to create the sculptures,” Shine expounded.

“I take photographs as I make my tulle projects because it helps me see the work from a different perspective and it shows up things I don’t see in reality. I have quite a sizable studio where I generally have six or seven projects in progress at once. There’s tulle everywhere – even hanging from the ceilings. There are many irons everywhere, many of which are ‘retired’ – after a while, they just stop working!”

tulle-spreadIt’s All About That Face
For Shine, the effort to pioneer into such an unusual art medium is all worthwhile when he sees the priceless expressions on
viewers’ faces.

“I hope to offer something that provokes uplifting reactions and intrigue,” Shine said. “If the viewer responds with either ‘how?’ or ‘wow!’ then I feel I’ve done my job!”

Editor’s note: Givenchy was so impressed by Shine’s tulle works that the fashion house invited him to collaborate on an art/couture clothing line. In the world of fine art, his artworks now resonate globally. A video of his latest installation “The Dance” generated more than 65 million views.


That’s So Tulle