My initial idea for this mending exhibition was to hold another mending workshop and base my exhibition on this workshop. After thinking this through, I realised there was no need to do this as there was so much available material to work from. Instead, I found a really interesting workshop that combined archival material from the Mass Observation Archive held by Tom of Holland at The Keep in Brighton.
The workshop made me think about the performative aspect of mending; he is what you would call a visible mender. He mends and darns visibly- sometimes as preventive measure, other times to repair and also as a decorative element. While professional menders pride themselves in doing things invisibly and inconspicuously, modern mending asks us to regard it and look at it. It performs for us, it is visible and marks the passage of time, the wear and tear.
This week I was in Paris for a manufacturing trade fair. Compared to a designer trade fair, the communication of fashion is kept to technical terms; CMT, minimum orders, FOB prices, lead times. While some manufacturers have an identity, brands come here to find a manufacturer that would produce their products to specifications at the best 'value' they deem fit. Here, fashion is demystified but production is not necessarily clearly alluded to unless the company prides itself on ethics and sustainability and to trade with the EU factories have to go through a process of safety certification.
I had some time to pop into a fashion exhibition at the Palais Galliera. The premise of the exhibition is that it focused not on a theme, or a chronology (although it was arranged in a rough chronology), but on the biography of the objects--who wore them, when, where. All objects were from their own collection and had 5 different segments.
I was looking for ideas on how mended and altered garments were displayed in museums. The mended garments in this exhibition consisted of: children's clothing and workwear. The children's wear, belonging to aristocratic children and even Napoleon, would probably have been mended by their carers. It is done out of utility, and somehow it is acceptable for children, even expected, to wear and tear their garments. The second category was work-wear. As can be seen by the photograph above, they were displayed flat on the wall against a grey backdrop. Facing fashionable dress, displayed on fashionable stockman and fibreglass mannequins, they reminded me of how ethnic and folk dress/textiles are traditionally displayed in museums.
Aas Dujardin-Edwards (2016) articulates
"... this display manifests how fashion archives defy time by remaining after the death of their owners yet it also reminds us how much these patrimonial pieces bring life and death together by delivering so many evidences of humanity with trivial perspiration traces or stains but also by enhancing the absence of the living body."
Dujardin-Edwards, H.-J. (2016) Parisian insights: Anatomy of a collection. Available at: http://www.wornthrough.com/2016/09/parisian-insights-anatomy-of-a-collection/ (Accessed: 14 September 2016).
This week I spent observing the work of my peers over at the MA Chelsea Summer Show, continued to read a number of books and I went to the London Design Biennale which was very inspiring, but I will leave that review for another entry. I thought it would be more interesting to reflect on the practice of my peers at Chelsea instead.
There are 4 key themes that I would like to reflect on that struck me most from the show, which actually were also informed by the installations I came across at the Design Biennale as I would write about eventually. For now, the themes are:
1. Making and Prototyping
2. Observing Empirically
3. Flights of Fancy
4. Lo-tech tactility vs. Hi-tech fantasy
1. Making and Prototyping
One of the things I miss the most in this MA is having a studio practice. While most of my work is done through reading, thinking and research, I enjoy creating prototypes and making things. Seeing the prototypes that the MA Interior & Spatial Design students exhibited was inspiring and made me think of ways that I could apply prototyping into testing out physical methods of displaying dress. (Can I find a space to experiment with different ways of displaying dress and note down audience interaction?)
There were 2 installations that drew me particularly for their making. Afifeh's laboratory was not only beautiful, but it slowed down my 'looking' process to analyse and anticipate how the machine works. It was a mix of pulleys and aims to fuse art and science together. Most of the systems are exposed and you can figure out how it mechanically would work. Machines nowadays are not so simple. If you pry open a laptop, it would be impossible for the layman to figure out what part does what..or at least for me!
The second project by Apeksha Mehta was aesthetically intriguing to me from a perspective of dress. It explored the tension between restraint and the body in creative practice. Referencing the work of Rebecca Horn, and physical artists like Jackson Pollock, she created a series of objects that marked the body's restraint. I don't wish to simplify her work too much, but it drew me for its aesthetics --so do take a look at her reflective statement which has been laid out into an e-book here.
2. Observing Empirically
Liliane Nguyen's work challenged me to think more empirically when considering curating spaces. Her research question was "A study into the perceived notions of boundaries that exist within a gallery context, and the impact this can have on the physical movement within that space as well as the psychological memories taken away from the experience.". Liliane did 2 experiments and observed how it changed the way audiences interacted with the artwork/space. She took detailed notes and observations. This attention to detail and to behaviours is something I am very interested in, but I have not made it explicit in my research. As my thesis is exploring mended and altered garments, which are part of the slow fashion movement, I would like to explore how to 'slow down' the process of looking at garments in a fashion exhibition as well. When I was at the MoMu Game Changers exhibition, I noticed many would pass by rooms quite quickly, sometimes just snapping a picture for instagram. I thought it was a pity that so much detail was being missed out, and wondered how I could slow down my audience to get them to notice certain details. While there is an element of subjectivity (i.e. different things are interesting to different people) I think the only way to be able to observe this phenomenon is to look at audience reactions in situ after identifying certain types of display techniques.
I do have a soft spot for data, spreadsheets and organization, so this is something I would like to pursue further. I have already identified some exhibitions/galleries/spaces I would like to observe, so it would be a case of organising this and recording my observations over a period of time. I need to think about what my research question is in order to create the best conditions for my empirical observations.
3. Flights of Fancy
This was an interesting spatial reaction to a serious topic that has also been dealt with at the London Design Biennale--global warming and how to display data in an visual manner. I think it is something to think about when dealing with a topic such as sustainability/slow-fashion as there is a lot of horrifying data but sometimes we have to use artistic mediums, flights of fancy, to communicate fact through art... Luman Chen creates a beautiful installation that aims to "utilize artistic and efficient ways to transform scientific data and quantifiable facts of the Antarctic into communicational visual installation." I think it is beautiful.
4. Lo-tech tactility vs. Hi-tech fantasy
Overall, I think due to the student nature of the projects, most were created with lo-tech materials and were very tacttile, experimental and delightful. There was only one project I saw that engaged with virtual 3-dimensional models. After seeing the Bjork Virtual Reality exhibition, I think there is still a lot of wonder to be experienced IRL.
This week's highlight was obtaining new leads for my research. I have booked a trip to Manchester and Brighton in a few weeks to explore Make-Do and Mend in England. I am interested to see the changing attitudes to mending as per a conversation I had this week, and listening to the radio has also coincidentally inspired me in terms of the approach I would like to explore in fashion exhibitions/exhibitions in general--the element of surprise and delight.
1. Make-Do and Mend
One of the easiest ways to jump-start research is to speak to as many people as possible about your idea. This week, at the LCF library, I got an obvious clue to where I can further my research into. While speaking to Jenny, the ever helpful librarian Jenny suggested I look at the ‘Fashion on the Ration’. I had been to the exhibition at imperial War Museum last summer, and although there are some critics to the ‘Make Do and Mend’ I think it makes sense to start there as it contextualises my thesis firstly to a well-known government policy that officially rationed access to fashion. It is also great as I would be able to access much of the material.
I have already set up an appointment to go see ‘Fashion on the Ration’ again, this time the exhibition has travelled to Manchester and is meant to have been expanded on. This would be great to refresh my memory and also now with another eye, to explore what it does museologically. While in Manchester, I plan to see ‘Fashion & Freedom’. I will also be viewing some archival material on Make do and Mend at Brighton, which really brings my research to different parts of England. I do have to be aware that this is a starting point, and make-do and mend is not my dissertation topic itself.
2. Mending is Not so Cool
Another point that was highlighted to me today was that mending has negative connotations. And can be seen as a derogatory term when used from a point of privilege. It would be interesting to look into the changing attitudes towards mending and worn garments. This baffles me a little because perhaps I’ve always been very casual about DIY and not looking impeccable—especially working in the arts I did not have to conform to office attire for job interviews or social occasions. Being brought up in Singapore, where we have a large middle class, I do not remember having friends aspiring to be ‘posh’—or perhaps I am ignorant on this as I was personally brought up in a very ‘bohemian’ environment coming from a single parent, Latin American/2nd Generation Chinese Singaporean background.
Saillard (2015) reminds us in Cloakroom Vestiaire Obligatoire “Nineteenth-century dandies liked to break in their new clothes by rubbing the fabric with shards of glass, but today we only tolerate things that are brand-new.” I especially loved this quote, speaking about how worn clothing, the reminder of our mortality, imprinted with time, is the last transgression in an era where we accept pretty much anything else.
"Today we accept all kinds of stylistic transgressions (punk style, tattoos, and piercings are trends stripped of their defiant origins), but we don’t tolerate dirt, except when it’s by design on a pair of jeans. Anything damaged, altered, lived-in, worn out—when the effect is not a pre-manufactured one—is probably the only shocking thing left in an era when fashion itself inspires only a desire to consume and to give off an impression of luxury."
Terminology to research: mending, make-do and mend, worn, darning, dirt, damaged, altered, lived-in
3. Delight in Exhibitions
One of the key words that has been also jumping out at me has been delight. It first spoke to me as MoMa curator spoke about how she curates based on ‘design that delights’. I have not been able to find much theoretical literature on delight, but it is a charming word that speaks about being surprised, having pleasure. In Crafts of Use, Kate Fletcher’s case studies all show the delightful nature of wearing clothes—making alterations, gifting, receiving, swapping, making things ones’ own. Delightfully surprising too was a BBC 4 radio programme that I listened to in the bath called ’The Element of Surprise’. It spoke about surprise in art, science and everyday life and it feels very timely because life can often seem unpredictable but the more we learn to accept that we can delight in the surprises that it throws at us. As Yann Martel says, all real art is about surprise.
(It is available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07q1zbp ). In Micromuseology one of Candlin’s theories put forth is that allowing your audience to explore, without being overly didactic, gives them space to be surprised, to find out things by themselves instead of being guided by text panels, and this makes for a more enjoyable and engaging exhibition experience.