#4 Review: Cos & Serpentine Galleries Presents: Park Nights 2016: Brian Belott, with Billy Grant, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Matthew Thurber and Tyson Reeder
While not directly related to my MA dissertation, this week's Park Night performance affected me. It was delightful and unexpected, leaving me thinking about images and situations for days after. The Serpentine Park Nights is sponsored by COS, which draws fashion/art audiences and so this performance's promise of a fashion show was well placed.
What really struck me was the ability of the narrator to get me to go inside my head, by closing my eyes and just through suggestive narration, and participate in the performance with my imagination. He also managed to get the audience to explore a different part of the architecture of the pavilion--by seating on the floor.
The audience was bewildered, confused, impatient at times, laughing, uneasy.. I was almost in tears by the experience.
The 'fashion show' was ridiculous and absurd--and could easily have been a *insert avant garde label here* runway show. With heavy techno music, models entered wearing were deconstructed t-shirts, garment tags showing, a shoe on a shoe on a shoe, trousers with pockets and pockets and pockets (which made me think of Dali and Schiaparelli's 'Tear Dress' collaboration and also of his paintings with drawers coming out of torsos--showing the innards) "But..I NEED TO PULL OUT EVERY POCKET BAG TO SHOW YOU THE CONTENTS OF MY POCKETS!". There were models eating-yes eating!-humming, getting electrocuted, hitting each other pulling each others hair. A man in a lampshade hat! Graduation gown with patches (totally on trend with the high-school trend) (and is getting a degree the most fashionable thing you can do? hmmm yes honey) Models of all ages, ethnicities, shapes...(fiction is more diverse than reality). It ended with models in minimal coats forcing open their coats which were fastened by garment security tags which made a cricketing beeping noise and the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist barging down the 'runway' with a suitcase that had soft toys exploding out of it. And Brian Belot's head on fire...
The full performance is available on https://vimeo.com/177224376.
This week I managed to secure a consultation with the author of Craft of Use, Kate Fletcher who holds Open Mornings at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion for September.
In the coming weeks, I would have to really work harder at defining my research topic to make the most of the meeting.
A part of the research work for Craft of Use was the Local Wisdom Project which really speaks to me. It took over 500 interviews with people in different cities, and shared how they used their clothes. Another part consisted of getting fashion design students to respond to these stories.
The Craft of Use wishes to be a manifesto, an open ended resource, for designers, creatives and researchers to further explore. Fletcher does mention that a challenge was that many students wanted to gather more examples instead of working with what was available. I wonder if by trying to hold a workshop I am just adding unnecessary research, and instead I should be using case examples from Craft of Use to lead my future research instead?
This week's highlight was visiting a dress archive started by a textile conservator and speaking to the collector about mending and alterations. I vaguely contacted her about my project and she kindly agreed to show me some items in her collection and share her expertise with me.
Some key notes from the visit:
This is the first entry for my journal on my MA Thesis. I suppose a good way to begin is to reflect on the common threads that have been present in my research projects since the beginning of the academic year.
I began my MA interested to explore digital subcultures and subcultural theory. However, moving to London and seeing a few exhibitions at the Black Cultural Archives made me curious about what made London's culture so intriguing. In Dick Hebdige's seminal text, Subcultures: the meaning of style, he alludes to the fact that many youth subcultures in Britain owe their roots to the black presence in Britain. So in the first semester I began deep research into the cultural identity of fashion designers and was inspired by the richness of black culture in London which was palpable--I saw it in the streets, in the visual culture, on my journeys home. My research led me to look at the work of black british designers and stylists from the late 1980s to now. Visually, Grace Wales Bonner's work viscerally narrated to me all the reading I was doing regarding black diasporic identity. Through my research I found out about designers like Joe Casely Hayford and Bruce Oldfield whose garments are in the Victoria & Albert Museum's archives. I was particularly drawn to the writings of Carol Tulloch and Stuart Hall. In Hall's writing about the diaspora, I was seeking to understand this longing I have to understand my own diasporic identity as a person of bi-cultural heritage-- I feel neither Bolivian nor Singaporean. As a fashion curator, I still had trouble thinking about the spatial elements, perhaps because I was not sure about what exactly I was trying to get people to feel in my exhibition. I was timid because while I loved doing the project, I had an uneasy feeling sometimes that this is not my story to tell---yet.
The second semester was intense as I really began to interact with theories on collections, which traditionally, are where curators will obtain objects for exhibitions from. I tried to bring something personal to my research and began by investigating the bowler hat in dress collections, which I had first seen in Bolivia worn by indigenous women as a young child. Unexpectedly, my research ended up not being about Bolivia at all (rightfully so, it was an essay about collections and collectors!), but my own recollection of an object sparked that research. My methodologies included material culture analysis (I visited archives and sketched/observed numerous bowler hats) as well as very geeky excel spread sheets that allowed me to systematically chart out the accession of bowler hats into institutional collections. I really enjoyed the essay as it got me to think in a different way and direct my idiosyncrasies into an academic paper.
For my collaborative project, I held a mending workshop which was so fruitful that I decided I wanted to use it as a research method for my final thesis. My previous experience as a lecturer and art facilitator, as well as the workshops I held with my fashion label Mash-Up in Singapore, became really useful. Perhaps I am going to be a very didactic fashion curator..
With all these reflections in mind, the following are a few hints for my MA thesis that I will entertain and try to develop into an exhibition proposal.
1. Workshops as a way of interacting with the public and gathering research for an exhibition
2. The mending workshop was so rich with conversations between participants and myself that I wish to explore the topic of mending/altering garments
My starting point would be Kate Fletcher's 'Craft of Use' book, which explores fashion after it leaves the catwalk and enters our lives. She explores how people use garments; mending, altering, re-styling, gifting them.
Another starting point is the work of https://tomofholland.com whose image I am using in this blog.
A literature review is to follow...