July 1st, 2015
Interview with Bridget Donahue of Bridget Donahue Gallery
by Mae Colburn
Gallery view, Susan Cianciolo’s ‘if God COMes to visit You, HOW will you know?…,’ Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York City
Bridget Donahue Gallery, which opened in Chinatown in February 2015, can definitely claim a two-for-two. The New York Times described the Gallery’s inaugural show, Lynn Hershman Leeson’s ‘Origins of the Species’ (February-April 2015) as ‘prophetic’ and the New Yorker named its current show, Susan Cianciolo’s ‘if God COMes to visit You, HOW will you know? (the great tetrahedral kite)’ (May-July 2015), ‘enchanting’ and the gallery ‘terrific.’ Congratulations are in order, both to the artists and to the owner, Donahue herself.
Meanwhile, the show goes on. Donahue describes opening and closing the gallery five days a week, flipping on the lights and clipping the little flower. During this interview, which took place over Jessi Reaves’ ‘No Reason Work Table’ (2015), a delivery arrived, a pair of shoes to be placed among the costumes, quilts, and kits (which Donahue describes below) that comprise Cianciolo’s show. The shoe’s bag, an actual shoe bag, was noted. Only Cianciolo, Donahue smiled, would have one on hand. In the kits, most of which are boxes, are slippers, sketches, sneakers, and much more. A film, played on a laptop peeking out of a cardboard box, presents conversations about fashion, some with Cianciolo’s former students. Fashion is here, but it is bundled and wrapped, stitched, transformed. Cianciolo is a constellation artist and fashion is one of her many stars.
Mae Colburn: Let’s start with the gallery. What prompted you to open this space?
Bridget Donahue: I told people I never wanted to have my own gallery. I thought you had to be a rich person to do it. I really respect galleries, the tradition of it, and I learned from people who take it seriously. That was the hardest thing about the transition – I actually loved where I worked. It was my dream job in many senses.
My three jobs were Gladstone Gallery, D’Amelio Terras, and Gavin Brown’s enterprise. And Cleopatra’s, but that wasn’t a paycheck. That was me tithing my own wages with a group of people.
There are different models, but if you stand to make money from an artist, in my opinion you should be working for that 50% and constantly promoting them. That’s the biggest contribution I can make, is the fact that I do run my mouth pretty energetically when I’m into something. With a gallery, you invest in things, you help produce artworks, you help move them around, you photograph them, et cetera.
MC: You really support your artists. It sounds like you’re moving into the market with a lot of integrity.
BD: That’s the hilarious reality is that the first couple shows here are not particularly easy sells, the joke being that my commercial gallery starts off being wildly anti-commercial. But I believe in them so much that it doesn’t matter. And things are paying for themselves. There’s a great tradition at Gavin Brown’s enterprise of doing seemingly non-commercial shows, but he’s just this incredible person who can actually turn that around.
This [space] is a little more of a humble comparison, but it’s funny too. Sometimes people come to this show [‘If God COMes to visit you...’] and are like ‘Ok, is anything here for sale?’ They can’t believe that Susan would be willing to part with some of this stuff. It’s so meaningful and impossible to make again or get back. She’s cared for these things for sometimes up to twenty years and part of the whole exhibition is about that letting go, which blows my mind.
When Alex Fleming, who curated the archival work in the back and the costumes [in front], introduced me to Susan, he thought I would be interested in the photo archives. And I think this is absolutely part of the story, but I never for once saw an exhibition of framed photos, framed watercolors, and framed paintings. And at the same time I never saw an exhibition with clothing.
It was the second I saw those boxes that I was blown away. And then when I found out that the kits were actually part of her fashion line and that she actually continues to organize and think about and collect things in these tailored boxes, I was like, ‘we have to show these, they’re unbelievable.’ It was that idea that the paintings and pictures and archival clothes and all these other precious things are just taped together.
Susan Cianciolo, Large Doll Box, 1995-2015, Photo by Katya Reily
MC: That’s the thing. Both of the artists you’ve shown work across media: paintings, photographs, cardboard, tape. How do you approach the labels that often accompany these different ways of working?
BD: I’m thankful that I don’t see such categories existing – that could be in part because craft education was one of the first art-education experiences I had – via the social sciences, I studied Anthropology, within that category, craft is art. A more euro-centric, academic appreciation of Art helps me to understand a socialized history of forms and predecessors but it does not aid me in understanding when I feel work is important.
Nothing about this project is about trying to import craft or fashion or design into an art context. I’m not thinking, ‘this is where craft meets art.’ I’m not interested in that position. It’s like if you label anything, like when somebody says they’re vegan and then somebody busts them for wearing a leather belt. I don’t want to say, ‘I’m just going to show good things that I care about,’ because that sounds almost self-righteous or even naive, but that is more genuinely what I want to do. It will be interesting to see what I’m interested in, but it will take a while to define that.
For now, with Lynn and Susan, as much as people want to assume the program has a strategy, it was also an easier reality. I got the space and moved in in October 2014 and opened in February 2015 and it’s really hard to ask an artist to make a show in that amount of time. It’s easier to show people that have existing work and are a little more confident in what that work is, and also that are eager and willing to participate. That’s a huge thing. It’s about collaborating with a really exciting, relevant person in my mind and learning from them.
MC: Is there anything you would like to add about this show, maybe in the context of Fashion Projects?
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Exhibitions, Performance, Textiles
January 12th, 2015
A Review of “David Bowie Is”
by Jay Ruttenberg
Striped bodysuit for Aladdin Sane tour, 1973. Photo: Masayoshi Sukita. © Sukita / The David Bowie Archive 2012.
“David Bowie Is,” the museum retrospective of the singer that recently concluded its run at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, featured virtually every artistic medium imaginable. Included works extended to music, film, video, fashion, and, in Bowie’s portraits of his Berlin running buddy Iggy Pop, painting. One display case featured the star’s long-retired cocaine spoon—a redundancy, considering the exhibition’s inclusion of his “Life on Mars?” video.
The show originated at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and made its sole U.S. stop in Chicago, where it was greeted with the crowds and fanfare of a blockbuster. The outpouring of interest seems sensible: Absent from public performance for nearly a decade, Bowie is pop’s missing man. His mark remains everywhere; he is nowhere. “David Bowie Is,” which was produced with the subject’s cooperation, if not curatorship, made a resounding case for his significance. To view the exhibition’s many rooms detailing his work in the 1970s was to peak into the 1980s. The phlegmatic British vocals that would dominate a corner of ’80s pop and the nervous mutability of music and media that would define Madonna (to say nothing of Gaga) have roots here; arguably, so does Michael Jackson’s cheesy white Thriller suit. In one displayed video, 1979’s “Boys Keep Swinging,” Bowie appears as his own backup singers, garbed in the elaborate gowns and wigs of female drag. What seems shocking about the video, however, is the main image of Bowie ostensibly as himself, clad in the dark suit of a prototypical mid-80s yuppie. It’s this look—which, for the record, predates Bret Easton Ellis’s debut by six years—that appears to be the video’s true act of drag.
A museum show about a pop star inevitably runs into limitations. In an exhibition of a painter, visitors directly confront the subject’s primary source: the painting is the ultimate art. Even for a multidisciplinarian such as Bowie, the true art lies in his records and performances; the stuff inside display cases can seem secondary, if not trivial. But the aim of this exhibit, where headphone-clad visitors roamed as an army of enthralled zombies, was immersion. It was presented with high-minded care and, at least when covering the years that matter, the exhaustiveness of a box set. Over 400 items were on hand: photographs, handwritten lyrics, a monstrous set of keys from the musician’s Berlin apartment, even an old pocket map for the West Berlin subway. There were also more than 60 stage costumes, most fetchingly the pear-like black-and-white jumpsuit that Kansai Yamamoto designed for the Aladdin Sane tour. Even all these years on, we discover new sides to the pop star: Meet Ziggy Stardust, the world’s most glamorous hoarder.
But the exhibition’s showstopper was drawn from nobody’s closet. Rather, it was the famous video of Bowie performing “The Man Who Sold the World” on Saturday Night Live, in the waning days of the 1970s. The video deserved greater prominence at the MCA, if not an entire museum to call its own; it also would have benefited from the other two songs recorded for the episode. Nonetheless, the clip could move mountains. Bowie is accompanied by Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias, vanguard figures from the nocturnal club world, both clad in monochromatic Thierry Mugler dresses. The men carry Bowie to his microphone as if he is a children’s toy. Wearing a cardboard tuxedo that was designed by the singer and Mark Ravitz under the spell of 1920s Dada, Bowie sings with the bemused detachment of a Martian. Space alien analogies always fit Bowie—after all, we are talking about the Man Who Fell to Earth—but they seem particularly apt for the SNL appearance. At the taping, he was newly returned from self-imposed exile in West Berlin, introducing irrefutably avant-garde notions to a mainstream arena. (Not for nothing did Kurt Cobain cover this song in Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged set.) The ’80s—which thwarted the world’s rock stars where no drug or label chicanery ever could—were mere days away. Bowie seemed intent on ending his decade of dominance in spectacular style. The appearance is not an act of subversion so much as it is a sterling media performance—pop as art and back again.
Jay Ruttenberg is editor of The Lowbrow Reader and of its book, The Lowbrow Reader Reader. He has written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and other publications.
Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973. Photo: Brian Duffy. © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive.
Posted in Exhibitions, Film, Museums, Performance
September 20th, 2014
Off the Runway: Print as Performance in Contemporary Fashion
Marin Margiela SS1990 Show photographed by Bill Cunningham for Details
Coming up on Friday, September 26th, I will be speaking together with K8 Hardy and Susan Cianciolo on a panel about art, fashion and independent publishing at the New York Art Book Fair taking place at MoMa PS1. The panel runs from 12:30 to 2:00pm. The talk is organized by James Mitchell and Susan E. Thomas, who will moderate.
Below is the full description:
“The fashion industry has long used publications as a means of marketing, typically in glossy magazines and coffee table books. Throughout the 20th century these print forms embodied complicated relationships among artists and designers, the fashion industry, and publishers. The punk wave of the 70s and the later rise of lifestyle magazines like The Face, i-d, and Paper Magazine marked a shift from presenting fashion for the affluent to promoting the anti-fashion of youth subcultures. By the end of the century, new serial publications like Visionaire and Purple had dispensed with any obligation to present fashion, per se. They adopted the techniques of artists’ books and zines to make print objects that investigated fashion subjects. At the same time, individual fashion designers and artists produced print publications and worked as guest editors or art directors for magazines. Other book artists have parodied the fashion industry. This session explores the intersection of art, fashion design, and independent publishing.”
Posted in Designers, Lectures, Performance, Publications
May 9th, 2013
A Review of “Punk: Chaos to Couture”
by Jay Ruttenberg
Gallery View, D.I.Y.: Hardware
Punk fashion, in its purest form, is a gawky Jew from Queens, resplendent in old jeans, snug shirt, long hair, and a chintzy black leather jacket that, depending on the viewer’s perspective, either masks or accentuates the wearer’s geekiness. Anything beyond this uniform—the safety pins, studs, or those storied Mohawks—has always seemed an affront to the music’s minimalism. Worse, it is cheesy.
Or maybe not. Whereas in New York, punk was a witty music and art movement, in London, it quickly became a deathly serious fashion and media one. The Ramones gave their first concerts at a 23rd Street loft and a not-yet-famous Bowery dive bar; the Sex Pistols began their stage life at Central Saint Martins College, the London fashion hub. Hence, despite existing in the city that both birthed and perfected punk, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Punk: Chaos to Couture” exhibition feels much more a piece of London than of New York. This is probably for the best: London punk never offered a rival to Joey Ramone’s pop persona or Tom Verlaine’s musicality—but then, New York did not produce image svengalis in league with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.
Refreshingly, the Costume Institute’s exhibition, curated by Andrew Bolton, devotes itself almost wholeheartedly to the fashion inspired by punk, predominantly womenswear made in the music’s wake. It never attempts comprehensiveness and avoids Hard Rock Café-isms. (Best to ignore the show’s biggest misstep: a dead-on-arrival, by-now-obligatory recreation of CBGB’s bathroom.) Excepting a room devoted to Westwood’s work—the sloganeering t-shirts of old circling the fancier items that followed—most pieces are from designers not typically associated with punk rock: Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen…. Those punk aesthetes kvetching that the mere existence of this show somehow contradicts the music’s mission are missing the point (or, more likely, confusing the exhibition with Anna Wintour’s tone-deaf party). “Chaos to Couture” seeks to celebrate, not dabble in, cultural tourism. It is not about punk, but about fashion’s belated response to punk.
Gallery View, D.I.Y.: Graffiti & Agitprop
Rooms are divided by influence and material. “D.I.Y.: Hardware” represents the sordid mark of S&M, with gratuitous zippers, ominous padlocks, and other metals—bondage gear for the wealthy, basically. A snippet of the New York Dolls’s “Trash” spins in “D.I.Y.: Bricolage,” a room devoted to customization and recycled materials (i.e., a Margiela ensemble featuring foil and metal staples). The exhibition concludes with “D.I.Y.: Graffiti and Agitpop,” with the Clash as muse, and “D.I.Y.: Destroy,” which is inspired by Johnny Rotten and his awing collection of shredded grandma sweaters. For a viewer such as myself, far more schooled in songs than in garments, exploring how the genre eventually trickled into high fashion is eye-opening. In music, the best punk-influenced bands have always been those that channel elements of the genre into unexpected sounds (say, Beat Happening) rather than those producing mere facsimile. Ditto the more interesting clothing: McQueen’s skull and crossbones or a hokey Elvira get-up from Versace seem rote compared to, say, Moschino’s skirt of white plastic shopping bags, whose playfulness might have been appreciated by X-Ray Spex. A series of puffy cream Comme des Garçons dresses, at the show’s finale, reference the layers favored by punk kids only upon a second or third glance. The effect is striking.
As exemplified by that CB’s bathroom—and will some brave soul please take the Met’s bait and use the toilet?—the exhibition stumbles as it gets cute and veers away from fashion. The museum’s decision to identify famed designers laboring under multinational corporations as “D.I.Y.” is laughable. At times, the exhibition tries too hard to create a punkish aura—the “Graffiti and Agitpop” room resembles the menacing punk rock of a Hollywood backlot. And while it is impossible to be discontent while hearing “Blank Generation,” particularly along Fifth Avenue, the inclusion of background music diminishes the clothing it sets out to contextualize.
How this exhibition is received by New Yorkers remains to be seen. The show has yet to open, and already it has given us the cringe-worthy spectacle of insecure celebrities struggling to add hints of leather or metal to their wardrobes in order to qualify as “punk” for the Costume Gala. Perhaps such behavior flies in London; in New York…yeesh! It’s embarrassing just to think about it. For Chrissake, a punk wears what a punk wears.
A recovering rock critic, Jay Ruttenberg is editor of The Lowbrow Reader and its book, The Lowbrow Reader Reader. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Spin, and Details.
Posted in Exhibitions, Museums, Performance
June 7th, 2012
Interview with Pascale Gatzen: Fashion + Sustainability—Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
A student’s response to Jean Luc Nancy’s Being Singular Plural from Pascale Gatzen’s class of the same name, Fall 2010.
Pascale Gatzen: Sustainability has to do with awareness, with love, with wellbeing, with the realization that we are creating this world together. It’s about exploring what we can be and who we can be, about connecting to a sense of play, pleasure, love, care, to a place where we value each other, where we see and are seen by others, and where we are willing to share, to be vulnerable, to be courageous.
Pascale Gatzen describes her position at Parsons’ School of Design Strategies as that of a facilitator, nourishing “a productive flow of energy” between students. She isn’t interested in perpetuating disciplinary distinctions, social constructions, or the capitalist paradigm. She’s motivated by love, which for her involves movement, exchange, and relationships. Her logic stems from the realization, after years working in fashion and art, that creative production is too often motivated by insecurity and the need to prove oneself. Her focus now lies on the relational aspects of fashion, on alternative models of exchange. She describes student projects that include gifting, bartering, trading – models that explicitly forge a sense of proximity, immediacy, mutuality between people, between materials. For Gatzen, sustainable fashion is about nourishing a productive flow, motivated by love, of clothes, ideas, and identities.
Mae Colburn: You, and others, often use the words ‘love’ ‘play’ and ‘beauty’ to describe your practice. How did you develop this relationship to fashion?
PG: Growing up, I was interested in the idea of clothing, and fashion eventually became the focus of my education. I didn’t understand the notion of fashion practiced at that time. I didn’t see any real progress, or any movement. I didn’t see the difference between a shirt that was produced in one kind of cloth one season, and in another kind of cloth the second season. For me, they were the same shirt. I can’t say that my work was necessarily playful at that time, but I did at that time become aware that love was very important to me, that it brought me the most life energy, and that the closer I stayed to myself and to my own fascinations, the more vibrant my work would be.
Later, when I started teaching at Arnhem [ArtEZ, Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, Arnhem], I discovered that with the introduction of H&M and Zara, students had stopped touching their own clothes. There was this illusion that because they had access to fashionable clothes (which they could buy, because they were cheap), they were participating in fashion. So I started doing assignments with students that were very much about dressing. They had to dress themselves; they had to dress each other. They had to experiment with the notion of clothing, the power of dressing, which is a very vulnerable process. We have a lot of investment in how we dress and how we see ourselves, but something beautiful happens when we move beyond our comfort zones and everybody starts to feel vulnerable at the same time. Things become less absolute, less fixed, and people begin to feel a sense of play with their clothes and identities.
MC: On the Parsons’ website, you’re quoted as saying that you want students to “test the intersection between fashion and reality.” What do you mean by this?
PG: If I said ‘reality,’ I was probably referring to habituated reality. We live in this seemingly fixed reality, or at least we think we can trust certain things around us. With clothes, most people identify with a certain style, and they gain confidence from what they think they are and how they present themselves to the world. I did a workshop once where I compared the work of Coco Chanel to the work of Yves St. Laurent. If you really look at the work of Coco Chanel and see how it’s made – her attention to the make and finishing of the garment was amazing; how the lining was quilted into the jacket, the small metal chain against the back hem to weigh the jacket down, ever so lightly, the lack of interlining and shoulder pads, the way the sleeves fit into the body of the jacket allowing for movement and comfort – it’s very much about the person wearing the piece of clothing rather than the clothing as image, which is what I see on the catwalk and what Yves St. Laurent never escaped. Even if it’s an image of comfortable clothing, his clothing remains mostly image. Catherine Deneuve is quoted as saying that that you can wear Yves St. Laurent under any social situation because you’re protected, but I think Coco Chanel would say that clothing shouldn’t take up all the attention, that it should allow a woman to emerge as herself.
How do you engage the world? Do you engage in the world from a position of curiosity or do you engage in the world from a sense of fixed reality in which you have to protect yourself from everything that can happen? For me, of course, the first is more interesting and has a lot more potential for growth.
MC: Could you describe a workshop or project that you’ve done that encompasses these notions of curiosity, play, love – one that you’re particularly proud of?
I’ve done many projects and I always feel they’re very special. For instance, I worked one summer, as part of the Parsons’ DEED project, in Guatemala, with five students and two artisan women’s cooperatives, Ajkem’a Loy’a and Barco in San Lucas Toliman. The beauty of that was being together for a month and seeing those students for who they are, completely. There was so much love between all of us. They were so focused – taking care of each other and taking care of me – and very responsible towards the work we were doing. There was a fullness of experience, of exchange.
That’s something that I also felt when I did an intensive program in DasArts, a post-graduate program in The Netherlands for theater and performing arts. They don’t have a fixed program; they have a sequence of different artists come in and do three-month intensive workshops with twelve students. We spent whole days together. We cooked together, ate together, and were living and learning together. I structured our days so that we did yoga together in the morning and had singing lessons three times a week. There was a real exchange of knowledge, of experiencing together, of going through rough moments and very amazing moments. I love the notion of life becoming part of teaching, teaching becoming part of life.
I also created a sequence of core classes, what is now known as the Fashion Area of Study in the Integrated Design program in Parsons, and the third core class, Love, is really about this, about students recognizing that fashion is not an isolated practice. It’s about integrating that practice in your everyday life, where they live, how they eat, and in exchanges with friends. That’s the most important thing I can imagine teaching to my students, and teaching with my students, because a lot of them just naturally understand these things. […] The traditional notion of learning involves a hierarchy between the teacher (who has the knowledge) and the student (who doesn’t have the knowledge). I think that’s the first assumption that we have to abolish if we want to grow a different type of world. Everybody possesses knowledge, which is of value to us all. I know knitting, I know sewing, I know patternmaking, but I’m much more interested in seeing students teach each other how to knit. If the students are teaching, then they understand that they have the ability to teach and grow and that’s what will support them when they’re out in the world. I think that’s the most important lesson: that they can always learn, always grow. And teaching and learning, growing are definitely not confined to the classroom.
A “singing blanket” that student Daniel Anesiadou made for a public event at DasArts in Amsterdam in spring 2005.
MC: What kind of theoretical background do you share with your students?
My teaching is very much about experience, but I do include some theory in class. Last semester I wanted my students to understand the capitalist paradigm, so we read Marx and Being Singular Plural by Jean Luc Nancy, and now we’re looking at Hannah Arendt. We read Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, and we read The Gift by Lewis Hyde. We also read and look at the work of Sister Corita. Those are a few texts that I definitely use, but I don’t overwhelm them with theory. What I’ve learned in the past is that theory is more easily understood when there’s an experience to accompany the theory. The most successful theorists speak from a deep engagement with the world around them, and I think that’s very important.
Other people that are very influential to me – the way I think, teach, and practice – are people that I invite to teach. Susan Ciancolio is a very big inspiration for me. She has been teaching in the Fashion Area of Study for four years. I also have a very lively connection and exchange with Caroline Woolard, who teaches the barter class [at Parsons], and I’m very happy that Otto von Busch has joined our team. I’m very inspired by the people that I’m surrounded by.
MC: What do you hope to see your students to achieve in coming years, in fashion and beyond?
PG: At the moment, I think it’s about creating hybrid types of practices, hybrid types of life. Some of my students who graduated last year formed a business and living cooperative, building a business and growing their own food in a community garden nearby. If you support students in what they’re strong in, in what they want to do, they become more confident, more capable, more able to master their lives and make informed decisions.
I know from working, and many of my students know from working, that if you are really immersed in a dynamic relationship with your work, you will come up with unexpected insights that will result in unexpected outcomes. For me, it’s important that we constantly re-invent the forms that we engage with and relate to in order to give other possibilities for life. That’s what practice is about – constantly advancing the forms, because the forms are only ever temporary, limited, never sufficient for our ever-changing nature. We are always changing and always in a state of flux so we need to re-invent and continuously open up new possibilities for life to continue.
MC: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
PG: I love the exchange of collaboration, of growing together. I just think that cooperation is a much more natural way to live than practicing individually. It’s about care, and love, appreciating and respecting the things that we live with: the people, the objects, everything.
Pascale Gatzen is Associate Professor of the Body Garment Track at the School of Design Strategies at Parsons the New School for Design.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Performance, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, Textiles, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
May 31st, 2012
Interview with Otto von Busch: Fashion+Sustainability—Lines of Research Series
by Mae Colburn
“In your skillful hands, the sewing machine is a tool for liberation!” reads a passage on Von Busch’s website, where users can download everything from ‘zines, to toolkits, to recycling “cookbooks” such as the one featured above. Cookbook by Otto von Busch.
Otto von Busch is a craftsman, researcher, and activist. He joined Parsons’ Integrated Design Program (IDC) this past September and has since become the natural cynosure of a lively conversation about fashion and social engagement. His website,>SELF_PASSAGE<, features essays on topics ranging from mending, memory, and mindfulness, to spirituality, cyberspace, and sustainability. He speaks English with the lilting, faintly lyrical accent of a highly spirited Swede and has the remarkable ability to detect and demystify subtle metaphors buried in otherwise familiar words (fashion-able, sustain-ability). He is, in short, a master of remastry.
Mae Colburn: You completed your PhD, “Fashion-able: Hacktivism and Engaged Fashion Design,” at the School of Design and Crafts at the University of Gothenburg in 2008. Could you describe how you arrived at that topic?
Otto von Busch: I started studying different crafts at craft schools in Sweden after finishing high school. I really wanted to become a guitar builder, so I was studying carpentry and cabinet making, building guitars, restoring mandolins, banjos, and those sorts of things. Then I decided I should try something else, so I went to another prep school for printing and weaving and started taking patternmaking and sewing classes. But after a while it all felt very introverted, so I started studying art history. I thought ‘ok, I can try this for a while,’ and I got sort of stuck and studied art history for many years.
Later, I studied at a program called Material and Virtual Design (sort of interactive design and industrial design coming together) at Malmo University in Sweden, and that’s how I got into more ‘computer-ish’ thinking. That came together in trying to understand how open source, hacking, and open platforms could apply to fashion. I was recycling clothes and thinking about how I could produce fashion recycling programs (I called them ‘cookbooks’) that people could download, where people could follow my simple instructions but apply them to their own projects, like what was happening in hacking, Wikipedia, Linux, where the user was suddenly engaged as a collaborative knowledge producer – where the user’s knowledge is acknowledged.
So the question became, how could designers encourage people to become designers themselves, so that fashionable meant not only dressing people fashionably but also making them fashion-able – how could that engagement happen? And as a designer; how could you merge that sort of network thinking about open source with fashion? That’s how it came together at the end of my studies, which also became the theme for my PhD.
MC: You discuss Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and John Dewey’s Democracy and Education in your PhD. Could you go into more detail about how educational theory influenced your approach to fashion?
OVB: Of course they were influential as I tried to see how fashion could be turned from a phenomenon of passivity, or of very limited choices funneled through our socio-economic position, into a more liberating or capability-building process. I’m especially fascinated by the heritage of sloyd, the heritage of craft education, or shop class, and how that emerged in the mid 19th century – Friedrich Fröbel and the Kindergarten movement, and the birth of the Montessori school and these sorts of alternative pedagogical models that are very much about producing craft skills, hand-eye coordination, having agency in the world, agency because you are learning how to produce things, how to fix things.
It comes down to basic freedoms: if I know how to fix my bike, I have a choice that I didn’t have before. Knowing how to do something also produces another attendance to the world, another attention, another awareness. If I, as a designer, teach people to reclaim the sewing machine, they can also learn to see the complexity of the details of clothing – they can recognize good craftsmanship, and that’s an agency of empowerment, I think.
MC: I’ve noticed that you’re often described as a heretic, demagogue, hacker, subversive – kind of a ‘bad student.’ And, indeed, much of your work in fashion is about subverting, questioning the system. How does this role translate into your experiences teaching at institutions such as Parsons?
OVB: Those terms are a little provocative of course, but at the same time, as I write in my thesis, a heretic isn’t necessarily an infidel. It’s somebody who uses the system to give way for liberation. Also with demagogue, hacker, I try to put the emphasis on constructive critique, or positive change.
From a pedagogical perspective, working with social engagement in general can be very tricky within the academic industrial context, but that said, you have to create your own free space. I think it was a student of Georg Simmel who wrote about his lectures that he felt as though he was at a place where thought was being born, not where thought was being repeated. I love to do projects like that, where I’m as curious about something as my students, and I hopefully manage to convey that curiosity in a structured way. I’m lucky at Parsons that some of the courses in Integrated Design allow that space to happen. Currently, I’m leading a course called “The Gift,” where students set up Etsy stores, but also challenge the borders of what’s sold on Etsy. Could you sell services? How can you find your own independent voice within a standardized framework like Etsy?
In Otto’s Community Repair Project at the London College of Fashion (2011), students explored the social dimensions of home sewing by collaborating with community members to repair unused clothing. Garments by Rachel Clowes (top) and Renee Lacroix. Photos by Otto von Busch.
MC: You use two phrases throughout your writing that seem to define a certain pedagogy – ‘small change’ and ‘action spaces.’ Could you give us some examples of how these ideas come through in your teaching?
OVB: You’ll have to come and see. Some of the latest projects have turned out really well, such as the Community Repair project with MA students from Fashion and the Environment at London College of Fashion. We used garments in need of mending as probes for students to get to know their neighborhood and their neighbors. Instead of leaving it to the tailor or just throwing it away, how could you engage your neighbors in the repair by barter service in a site-specific way? It produces all these histories, sort of a narrative litmus paper, and brings out local qualities. Of course it’s a small change, but as a fashion designer, how could I set up a brand that would actually work exactly like that? A brand that produces new local action spaces rather than only happening within the commodity economy?
MC: Could you say a few words about how your work relates to sustainability?
OVB: I don’t talk about sustainability in my work, and if I do, I usually talk about abilities and the ability to sustain values. I think that we have to disseminate abilities, whether it’s the ability to repair, or the ability to have attention to detail, or the ability to use the sewing machine. It’s about building those capacities rather than disseminating the commodities. How do we produce the ability, the courage, to dress and interact with the fashion system differently?
Otto von Busch is Assistant Professor of Integrative Fashion at Parsons the New School for Design. He holds a PhD from the School of Design and Craft, University of Gothenburg.
Mae Colburn is an independent textile researcher based in New York City.
Posted in Designers, Fashion & Technology, Performance, Research/University Programmes, Sustainable Fashion, fashion + Sustainability: Lines of Research Series
April 26th, 2012
Interview with Tiziana Cardini-LaRinascente Fashion Director
by Simona Segre Reinach
SSR La Rinascente has often hosted events during the Salone del Mobile of Milan. This year it looks as if you want to be more involved in the actual co-production of an event. How did this develop ?
TC: This is the first time laRinascente is totally in charge of a big event. Before we just had partnerships with the likes of Interni.This time we thought that the time was right, we were ready to be part of the excitement of the city during the Salone. We have a strong heritage of relationships with the Milanese designers starting with the 50s and 60s Compassodoro and we have worked in the past with big talents like Bruno Munari, Gio Ponti etc.
SSR: Why hack?
TC: We wanted to choose a concept which crosses art, design and technology and is part of the language of design today and could be understood by today’s design community. It is also a concept that is very of the moment for the artistic community in general. Transforming a reality into something else. It’s a tool. A way of being in a relationship with the creative process.
SSR: Why Beatrice Galilee?
TC: Because she is one of the coolest and most relevant young curators today. She has a great knowledge about today’s trends and design, not to mention she’s very well connected within the design community.
SSR It is a shared idea that the Salone del Mobile (and more generally design) is an open system, which endorses participation from the public – whereas the fashion weeks are the very opposite: elitarian and selfcontained. Is the Hacked event meant to bridge/connect the two worlds – fashion and design –both very well represented at la Rinascente?
TC: No, not really. We wanted to do something really specific about the process of creating design. And we wanted to do something where people can really participate. We weren’t really thinking about working on a different scale, or creating a new relationship with fashion. That wasn’t the aim.
SSR: What does such an event mean for la Rinascente?
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Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Performance
December 1st, 2011
Andrea Diodati “Friend of the Flowers”
Andrea Diodati, Friends of the Flowers, An Absurdist Tableau
We had been meaning to continue on our artist/designer series, and we couldn’t think of a better way than to feature Andrea Diodati’s work. An inspiring young artist/designer whose work has been featured in Artforum, Andrea has worked with some of our favorites, including Susan Cianciolo and Pascale Gatzen.
In her own words:
electric love light seeks to unite feeling and object in a bespoke design practice that challenges contemporary notions of production. Handmade by artist, Andrea Diodati, each piece explores the history of materiality through local sourcing at thrift stores and flea markets. The quiet joys of an anonymously crocheted doily are relived on the body in fashions that tell our common material history.
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Posted in Designers, Fashion Shows, Performance
November 20th, 2011
Protesting in the Right Clothes
by Francesca Granata
The second issue of Fashion Projects, which focused on collaborations and collective, was partially dedicated to the topic of clothing and protest—a topic that has currently come to the forefront in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street, as well as in the context of my graduate teaching. Clothing, of course, has traditionally held an important function as a vehicle for protest, something that comes to the fore, most obviously, through the history of European carnivals.
In recent years, perhaps one of the most striking uses of clothes by protest movements was represented by the now defunct “Tute Bianche,” which had been formed in Italy in 1994 in response to the Milan mayor’s attempt to shut down the “Leoncavallo,” one of the city’s biggest squatted social centers. Their donning white overalls was, in fact, an ironic take on the mayor’s quote: “From now on, squatters will be nothing more than ghosts wandering about the city.” And it soon came to symbolize the invisibility of those excluded from capitalism.
The anti-globalization movement that began in Seattle and moved to European capitals also brought the by now well-known black bloc, but also the less known Pink movement. “Supporters of self-proclaimed frivolous tactic,” those belonging to the pink movement were armed with fans, sequins, wigs, pink paint and balloons, thus embracing a carnivalesque aesthetic. As a result of their colorful attire, they were often able to bypass security forces, particularly, in 2000, the protest in Prague on occasion of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting, where they made themselves known for the first time. (Lidia Ravviso, “Clashing Hues: European Protest Movements and Costume,” Fashion Projects 2).
And of course, clothes took on a central element at Occupy Wall Street both insofar as functionality is concerned—as with the need for certain kinds of weather specific clothes as well as the fact that a system for laundering clothing together with blankets and a free clothes swap developed, at least prior to their recent displacement from Zuccotti Park. The protesters’ clothes came to symbolize a range of meanings at time conflicting, and as has been amply documented, there was no aesthetic cohesion among the protesters or uniform of dissent. Rather, the garments worn spanned from business casual to carnivalesque costumes with anarchists’ garbs and weather-resistant clothing in-between.
Interesting discussions arose in the course of my graduate seminar, as we discussed Robert Stam’s work on Tropicalia, the carnivalesque and 1960s Brazilian protest movements. The question that came up was what the most effective garb to protest in might be. Since it was in the context of a fashion studies class, the notion of whether clothing was, in fact, relevant to protest was quickly resolved! However, the debate heated up in relation to whether protesters (functionality aside) should be wearing the more “credible” costumes of business casual even suits or outré` carnivalesque costumes. The importance of the suit to OWS was explored in the work of Suits for Wall Street, an artists’ group that, as the name suggests, provided suits to the protesters under the moniker of “ Subversive Business Outfits as Tactical Camouflage.”
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Posted in Performance, Research/University Programmes
October 7th, 2011
Daphne Guinness Exhibition at The Museum at FIT
“Daphne Guinness in Water” Los Angeles, CA 2008. Photograph by David LaChapelle.
It is rumored that Bernard-Henri Lévy originally wooed Daphne Guinness with the line, “You are no longer a person; you are a concept,” an idea that her eponymous exhibition at The Museum at FIT further solidifies. The multi-media exhibition co-created by Valerie Steele and Guinness features over 100 garments and accessories, as well as a number of short films and a floating hologram of Guinness (à la Kate Moss for Alexander McQueen’s Fall 2006 collection.)
The show begins with a concise cabinet of curiosities featuring Guinness’ trademark sky-high shoes. The gravity-defying platforms by Olivier Theyskens for Nina Ricci are on display. (Gaga fans, Daphne wore them first.) Alexander McQueen’s take on the motorcycle boot complete with a one-and-a-half inch spike jutting out like a modern-day spur is available for viewing, as is one of his baroque botany creations with flowers for platforms and leaves for heels. The first garment on display is by McQueen as well: a custom-made meticulously bejeweled catsuit with flowing cape. The cape appears ethereal, as if the fabric was somehow made out of jellyfish. Even without Daphne in it, it seems to emanate an aura.
Fine mesh screens divide the main exhibition space into themed rooms: “dandyism, armor, chic, evening chic, exoticism, and sparkle.” (The screens, a brilliant curatorial choice, allow for the mannequins to be positioned in a plethora of ways, which avoids monotony and still allows for visibility. The back of the garment may face the viewer on one side, but the front is still visible through the screen on the other side.) The “Dandyism” room shows fiercely structure ensembles. Apparently, Guinness’ balks at the renewed interest in la garçonne styles, perferring to embracing a chromophobic version of dandy masculinity. Ultimately, though, all of the outfits seem to be feminine versions of Karl Lagerfeld’s personal uniform. Not coincidentally, many of them are made by “the Kaiser” himself.
Dresses and shoes from the ARMOR. Photograph courtesy The Museum at FIT.
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Posted in Designers, Exhibitions, Museums, Performance
About Fashion Projects
Fashion Projects began in New York in 2004, with the aim to create a platform to highlight the importance of fashion — especially “experimental” fashion — within current critical discourses. Through interviews with a range of artists, designers, writers and curators, as well as through other planned projects and exhibits, we hope to foster a dialogue between theory and practice across disciplines.
We are primarily a print journal, however we also publish web-based updates and interviews (a “digest” version of which you can receive by signing up to our mailing list or via our RSS feed
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