Sunday, September 30, 2012

Memories of a Dress Weekly Reflective Journal

To single out the moment of waking something that was asleep: All creation is a repetition of that moment. A repetition of fragments....To create something good, an artist has to take the plunge, he's testing the outer limits beyond which everything falls apart.
                                                                                                 Yohji Yamamoto

Fragments are incomplete, unfinished, and/or broken off bits. It feels like my project is in fragments. I have bits of theory, pieces of artifacts, incomplete records, unfinished thoughts, incomplete process. I am trying to make sense of it all and it often feels overwhelming and chaotic.

Will Self Writing Room
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Dipping into the Archive

Cristóbal Balenciaga: Collectionneur de modes 
Although design ideas can come from anywhere, historical archives can be rich sources of inspiration. Christian Dior reinterpreted period silhouettes throughout his career, taking inspiration from the eighteenth century pannier, the full-skirted, soft shouldered and narrow-waisted silhouette of France’s Second Empire period (1852-1870), the back fullness silhouette of the 1870s, the apron-like swag of the dresses of the 1880s, and the 1910 hobble skirt. Contemporary designers have also taken inspiration from history. Azzedine Alaia, Commes des Garçons, Maison Martin Margiela, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Nicholas Ghesquiere, Thierry Mugler, Yohji Yamamoto, Olivier Theyskens, and Karl Lagerfeld have all dipped into the past for inspiration as evidenced by the 2011 exhibition presented by Musée Galliera in Versailles: The 18th Century Back in Fashion.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Regarding Warhol at the Met

Red Jackie
Andy Warhol
Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 1964
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh
Copyright 2012, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Andy Warhol is an artist that everyone thinks they know. Even though I've seen quite a few exhibitions of Warhol's work over the years, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years" presented a fresh perspective on a seemingly overdone topic.

With a clearly defined curatorial perspective of considering how Warhol impacted subsequent generations of artists, this exhibition presents five thematic groupings that showcase Warhol's work alongside contemporary artists that have been influenced by Warhol's example. The five thematic sections are titled: "Daily News: From Banality to Disaster," "Portraiture: Celebrity and Power," "Queer Studies: Shifting Identities," "Consuming Images: Appropriation, Abstraction, and Seriality," and "No Boundaries: Business, Collaboration, and Spectacle". This grouping covers the major themes of Warhol's work -- consumer society, death, celebrity, queer identity, appropriation, and spectacle -- linking them to sixty contemporary artists including Ai Weiwei, Edward Ruscha, Kelley Walker, Nan Goldin, Jeff Koons, Chuck Close, Richard Gober and others. Seeing Warhol in relation to other artists that adopted similar themes or modes of working made it clear that Warhol had a profound impact on contemporary art.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Exhibiting Absence in the Museum

Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci
When you visit a museum exhibition, do you ever think about what is not there? Do you notice when your favourite artwork or costume piece has been removed from display? After the Louvre reopened after the theft of the Mona Lisa, thousands of visitors came to gaze at the "blank space and the three nails from which the picture had formally hung" (Belting qtd. in Leahy 256).

Helen Rees Leahy wrote an article called "Exhibiting Absence in the Museum" which expores the idea of absence in a museum and the "fantasy of completion" that exists within the walls of a museum. She suggests that "absence in the museum hovers between memory (of objects lost, forgotten or beyond reach) and anticipation (of objects that will be found, returned or acquired)".  Visitors to a museum are typically presented with the illusion that a collection is complete, since most art museums create narratives around the objects that they have on hand, glossing over the gaps. The curator's knowledge of the "ones that got away" and the "reservoir of possibiities" is the fuel for future acquisitions (251-253).

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reading Between the Lines at Ivy Style

Ivy Style, an exhibition that considers the origins of the "Ivy League Look"in menswear, opened on September 14, 2012 at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. Presented thematically in vignettes that evoke an Ivy League university campus, including a quad, a dorm room, an athletic club, a chemistry lab and a university shop, the exhibition features around 60 ensembles of menswear that show the evolution of the style from the late 1910s to present day reinterpretations.

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.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sustainability is Sexy: Design Intelligence;Fashion

Design Intelligence; Fashion New York City, September 18-19, 2012

Fashion acts as a mirror of society, which is what art used to be.  It seems that fashion has supplanted art in reflecting cultural values, but has largely lacked critical reflection on its practices.  At the Design Intelligence; Fashion event which took place this week in New York, questions of how intelligent design could impact the issue of sustainability were considered. In the first day of the two-day event, the 100 “influential players” in fashion were divided into small groups of five to six people to talk through some of the issues.   The second day featured a range of speakers including Joel Towers, Hazel Clark, Gundrun Sjoden, Otto von Busch, Sarah Scaturro, and Rebecca Earley. This post summarizes my thoughts after the event.

At my table, the question posed to the group was: Emotions make us buy, whilst feelings make us keep. How do we create fashion that has a chance not only to connect emotionally, and create attachment, but also to retain it?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Fashion Images and McQueen Backstage by Anne Deniau

New York Times Style Section Page 8, Sunday, September 9, 2012
Photo by Anne Deniau
A red and white strapless evening gown by Alexander McQueen hangs on a clothes rack. The dress is reminiscent of a Dior's New Look with a skirt is so enormous that the dress takes up half the space on the rack. The dress is ready for the runway, waiting for the model who will wear this glamourous confection and fill it with life. A small head shot is visible on a runway log. Until then, the dress hangs like a disembodied form - the deep red of the bodice and skirt front reminiscent of blood. The high contrast of the lighting creates patterns of light and dark across the image, with the huge shadows from the dress filling more than a third of the frame.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Andrew Bolton and the Curatorial Process

McQueen's Raven Dress made of 2000 raven feathers
Photo by Solve Sundbro
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 2011
Andrew Bolton, curator of the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011, changed the paradigm of fashion exhibitions. Creating a multi-sensory experience akin to the charged emotional experience of being at a runway show, Bolton paid homage to McQueen as a designer with an extraordinary imagination "who challenged the idea of what is fashion". 

In a talk at New York's Pratt Institute on Monday, September 17, Andrew Bolton talked about his curatorial process in creating the McQueen exhibition. Generously sharing the credit with the McQueen team, including Sarah Burton, as well as his own staff, Bolton said that one of the reasons that the exhibition was staged so closely after McQueen's death was because it seemed possible that the team and the McQueen house might not survive the loss of their founder. Concerned about access to the archive and the possible dispersion of the team, the Met acted quickly to create the show. Bolton also "wanted to avoid revisionism" and capitalize on the "freshness, and rawness of memories". 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Reflecting On the Nature of Photography

In the absence of a specific exhibition venue, the creative component of this project will take the form of photographs, which in the end might be presented as a book or in a gallery exhibition. This constraint, seemingly limiting, serves a  purpose since it will momentarily stop the clock on the inevitable decay and death of the object. 

From the moment they are born as garments, textiles begin the inevitable creep towards decay and death, ultimately turning to dust. Dust, dirt and skin plus moisture from sweat, spills and stains, serve to hasten that process of decay. Add insects or rodents into the mix and an entire collection can be imperilled. Archival storage and gentle handling with gloves or clean hands can help preserve a garment, but it doesn't entirely halt the process. Some of the most exquisite garments from 1880-1920 were made with weighted silks and the metallic salts within the fabric hasten the decay, with the result that the garment can literally crumble on touch, becoming a health hazard. 
The photos I create will in effect stop time, marking a moment in the garment's biography as time and the processes of decay marching forward. 
In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes wrote about the emotional aspect of photography linking it to the transformation of “subject into object and even, one might say, into a museum object” (13), as well as to death and loss (92-97). Barthes defined photography as an artistic medium that was intimately linked with death as “a witness of something that is no more” (xi). Barthes also wrote that: "It is because each photograph always contains this imperious sign of my future death that each one, however attached it seems to be to the excited world of the living, challenges each of us, one by one, outside of any generality (but not outside of any transcendence) (97). 
The key to transforming these photos into something more than just a documentation of the collection will be to define a point of connection, a defining element in the threads of memory, in the traces of the wearer in the folds. 

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Tran. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1980. Print. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Links

When I discovered this beautiful ultramarine blue bodice in an unmarked bin in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection on Friday afternoon, I wanted to clap my hands with glee. The brilliance of the colour captivated me. Although it shows signs of stress and the inevitable decay, the colour has not faded at all. In fact, it looks almost as brilliant as this JCrew Schoolboy blazer that I purchased a few weeks ago for my back to school wardrobe. How uncanny is that?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Curation and Obsessions

From a curatorial perspective, finding a narrative from among the hundreds of dresses in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection that come from different donors and span over a century of fashion history is a challenge. 

Garments represent important artifacts of material culture, giving evidence of the fashions and social history of a period. Museologist Susan Pearce describes the way objects can reflect our identity: "Objects hang before the eyes of the imagination, continuously representing ourselves to ourselves and telling the stories of our lives in ways which would be impossible otherwise" (qtd. in de la Haye 12). 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Weekly Reflection

This past week, I've been documenting some of my reading on curatorial process, teasing out the fragments of how curators come up with exhibition ideas. It might not seem like creative work, but it is part of my practice-led research project called Memories of a Dress. Using the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, I am exploring the idea that a garment has a object biography and a memory of its former owner.

Practice-led research focuses on the "the nature of practice and leads to new knowledge that has operational significance for that practice." From what I can tell, there seems to be a gap in knowledge about the process of how fashion curation takes place. The articles in scholarly journals only offer hints at how curators come up with their ideas and unless I've missed something altogether, this process seems to be largely private. In undertaking this work here, I am making my process transparent  and thereby adding to the advancement of knowledge about curatorial practice.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Curation and Judith Clark continued

Judith Clark's curatorial work is so rich and so vibrant that I want to read anything I can find about her process. Although the article One Object: Multiple Interpretations (co-written with Amy de la Haye) is about a mass produced women's coat/uniform worn by the British Women's Land Army during WWII, there are fragments of her general curatorial philosophy when she writes:  It is fitting singular objects into historical continuums and possible future stories that endlessly capture my imagination. Quite simply what stands next to what and where does it stand within an infinitely renewable curatorial grammer? (159).

Clark also points out that late Diana Vreeland "very astutely identified" that the exhibition viewer had to identify with the object in some way and make a connection between "finding something desirable and finding something interesting" (159). She goes on to ask: "is curating about the clarity of connections, and if so, how are these made visual or literal? How can objects be presented as a way into different stories?" (160).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Curation and Judith Clark

Pretentious from The Concise Dictionary of Dress
Photo by Julian Abrams 2010
Judith Clark is a curator of fashion exhibitions that are often unconventional and thought provoking, including The Concise Dictionary of Dress in 2010. In this exhibition, fashionable objects or works of art relating to the clothed body were juxtaposed alongside singular words addressing the psychology of the fashioned body, such as "armoured, conformist, fashionable, plain, pretentious, provocative, tight". The setting of this exhibition was within the confines of the storage facility of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which added a degree of theatrically and exclusivity. This was a show that required advance booking. If your name was not on the security list, you were left standing at the locked gate. All belongings had to be left behind before entry and small groups of visitors were accompanied through the exhibition by a guide. Talking was not permitted and signage was virtually non-existent. In absence of a history the object or explanation of what was being presented, the dialogue was internal, challenging the viewer to create connections and links between the words and the objects. This was a show that haunts me still.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Curation and Maria Luisa Frisa

The Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language 1994 edition gives the following definition for curator:

1. the person in charge of a museum, art collection, etc.
2. a manager; overseer; superintendent.
3. a guardian of a minor, lunatic, or other incompetent, especially with regard to his property (354)."

When I first read this definition, my eyes focussed on the "lunatic",  and skipped over the words "guardian of...". I laughed, because there are times when I feel like I must be a lunatic or at least crazy to have taken on the massive project/job of editing the Ryerson Fashion Resource Collection, while also completing my graduate studies.

I am the "person in charge" of the collection, but this does not convey the essence of what curation means from a contemporary perspective. Nor does it convey the specific challenges of curating fashion.

To explore what it means to curate a fashion exhibition, I turned to a Fashion Theory article written in 2008 by curator Maria Luisa Frisa (who I met briefly in Milan at Fashion Tales 2012). In The Curator's Risk, Maria Luisa Frisa explores the idea that "fashion curating is the exercise of a critical gaze, which recognizes the multiple traces, symptoms and fragments that are around us" and identifies risks "as implicit to the working method of the curator" (171). The article is written in a reflective tone, and Frisa considers curation in general to be about "design, layout, imagining, and constructing" (172). She suggests that fashion curation allows one to "offer new points of observation" while cautioning that  it is necessary to understand "your own insights and being willing enough to take a gamble on them" (172).

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.