Sunday, September 23, 2012

Memories of a Dress: Weekly Reflective Journal

In practice-led research, self-reflection is an integral part of the research process. The act of stepping back from creative practice to document and self-critique the development of the work is an essential part of the protocol.

"The creative individual must reject the wisdom of the field, yet she must also incorporate its standards into a self-criticism. And for this one must learn to achieve the dialectical tension between involvement and detachment that is so characteristic of every creative process" (Csikszentmihaly qtd. in Aziz 70).

Separating one's self from one's work is never easy, especially when the act of documentation takes place in the public sphere such as I am doing on this blog. To be self-critical in a public forum makes the degree of risk seem exponential. It is in this place that my identities as blogger, researcher and curator merge. Even though Maria Luisa Frisa said "the notion of risk as implicit to the working method of the curator (171)", most academics seem to see risk as abhorrent. Risk scares me but it also excites me, because it offers up a chance to explore and grow.

In undertaking this creative project which crosses interdisciplinary boundaries, I have assumed enormous risk.  Examining the intersection of fashion curation, photography, collecting practices, and the embodiment of history and memory in clothing is a challenge. It is a messy process and not always linear. It may appear to be linear on this blog, but there is so much that happens outside of this forum. I discover something new in the Ryerson archive, see a photo of a disembodied McQueen dress by Anne Deniau, ask Andrew Bolton some questions about his curatorial process, attend the Ivy Style exhibition at FIT, and marvel at Andy Warhol's influence on contemporary art at the Met. Even at an event that I thought had nothing to do with this project (the Design Intelligence event at Parsons), I learned that emotional attachment to clothing is an implicit assumption across disciplines and considered a possible solution to reducing post-consumer waste. To make sense of all this, I make notes, create lists, draw diagrams, and clip images, which I then organize in a project binder.

I am at that place in the process where things seem chaotic. It is unsettling and uncomfortable, but I know from past experience that this is where ideas are born. Because I think by writing, much of my process work is thus in written form. Even though I can sketch, I don't often do so for this purpose - although I seem to constantly be making pictures and photographs in my head. I've also started taking test photos of the items from the Ryerson archive that fascinate me - the wisps of silk, lace and beading that are so very fragile that they require special handling with gloves. These rare and beautiful treasures are so delicate that I should define and articulate exactly what I plan to do with them before I move forward. They should only be handled once, as many of them are literally shreds of silk just waiting to disintegrate into dust.

There is much yet to do. Research is an essential part of the curatorial process if the exhibition is to be anything more than a historical display of costume. Although I could easily produce that, it is not exciting to me as it lacks the element of emotional connection. In my future research, I want to readdress curatorial perspectives in fashion as delineated by such writers as Valerie Steele, and to consider the nature of curatorial practice as seen in recent exhibitions such as the presentation of the Balenciaga archive in Paris. I want to explore the nature of fashion and death through the writings of Caroline Evans in "fashion at the edge" and its interpretation as an exhibition by Judith Clarke called "Spectres: When Fashion Turns Back".  At the same time, I will keep my eyes open and camera at the ready to capture the fragments in the collection that offer up glimpses of the spectres that wore them.


Azia, Tahera. "Shifting the frame: from critical reflective arts practice to practice-based research". Journal of Media Practice 10(1), 2009: 69-80. Print.

Frisa, Maria Luisa. "The Curator's Risk". Fashion Theory, Volume 12, Issue 2, (2008): 171-180. Print.

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