Saturday, September 8, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Memories of a Dress

Beginning the first page, post or sketch is the hardest part... and this post marks the beginning of my latest creative project: Memories of a Dress. If you have been a follower of this blog for a while, you might recall the series of photos about my mother's dresses called My Mother/Myself. 

In this series, I photographed dresses that belonged to my mother in the barren winter settings of a local ravine. The intent was to convey my sense of desolation and despair over my mother's decline in health and mobility from Parkinson's disease. I still have these dresses and am unable to part with them, even though they lack provenance or value, because they embody her memory.

Many women have dresses or other garments that hang at the back of their closets, long out of fashion, but imbued with memories of a person, an event or time in their life that they wish to remember (Banim and Guy 217). Disposing of that garment can be difficult, and museum curators and managers of study collections can be overwhelmed with requests to accept donations of wedding dresses, special occasion gowns and other items that have emotional significance to the wearer yet lack provenance or significance from a curatorial standpoint. In fact, I know this now firsthand since dealing with donation offers is part of my job as Collections Coordinator of the Fashion Research Collection at Ryerson University's School of Fashion.

“A single garment may be significant because of the relationship between its particular material form and the body that wears it” (Dant 86). Our clothing carries the imprints of our body, the marks and stains of living, and the rips, strains and tears of movement. Certain items of clothing, particularly ones worn for special occasions like a wedding, may be kept as a treasured memory of the event (de la Haye 14) or a loved one (Stallybrass 37). Such items can be difficult to part with, and the owner may seek to prolong the biography of the object by selling or giving the item away to validate their financial expenditure or emotional investment in the piece (Lucas 18). In becoming part of a museum or study collection, the social biography of the garment lives on beyond the life of the original owner.

The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, which was founded in 1981,  is a repository of several thousand items acquired by donation, many of which are dresses and evening gowns dating from 1860 to 1990. The goal will be to identify, research, document and create a narrative that links selected dresses from the collection as a photo-based curatorial project called “Memories of a Dress”.

This creative process journal will serve as a documentation of my curatorial process and research journey. Over the course of the next several months, I will share my thought processes, trials and tribulations, sketches, and test photos. Bill Gillham and Helen McGilp have suggested that this type of creative activity "applies in all domains of academic study but is often not reported", and is "fundamental to the kind of arts research which allocates practice a central role" (177).

Although I have used the creative process journal twice before (in fall 2011 for the project Marie Antoinette Slept Here and in winter 2012 for The Uncanny), this time it feels like the stakes are bigger. I am nervous about sharing information related to my job, and not sure how to address that. But here I go!


Banim, Maura, and Ali Guy. "Dis/continued Selves: Why do Women Keep Clothes they no Longer Wear?" Through the Wardrobe: Women's Relationships with their Clothes. Eds. Alison Guy, Maura Banim, and Eileen Green. New York: Berg, 2001. 203-219. Print.

Dant, Tim. Material Culture in the Social World. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1999. Print.

De La Haye, Amy. A Family of Fashion: The Messels: Six Generations of Dress. Eds. Lou Taylor and Eleanor Thompson. London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2005. Print.

Gillham, Bill, and Helen McGilp. "Recording the Creative Process: An Empirical Basis for Practice-Integrated Research in the Arts". International Journal of Art & Design Education. 26.2 (2007): 177-184.

Lucas, Gavin. "Disposability and Disposession in the Twentieth Century." Journal of Material Culture 5.4 (2002): 1-22. Print.

Stallybrass, Peter. "Worn Worlds: Clothes, Mourning and the Life of Things." The Yale Review 81.2 (1993): 35-50. Print.

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