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.