Category ‘Exhibitions’

Waste, Fashion, Activism, Art: Discarded textiles installations

Posted in Exhibitions on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

I have been collecting information and archive material about discarded textile installations for about a year now. I’m attracted by their visual impact, and I’m obviously interested in the purpose they serve: to physically illustrate just how big the problem of clothing waste is. So this blog post has been in the making for a while, but has suddenly become that much more time sensitive, after reading the last press release on the Centre of Sustainable Fashion’s Bulletin.

The news is that later this week (Thu 24th and Fri 25th Jan) Marks & Spencer and Oxfam are opening a two-day pop-up charity shop in the M&S flagship store at Marble Arch, and the Centre for Sustainable Fashion has created three installations for the M&S Shwop Shop (which can already be found on display). The installations are in support of the ‘Gift Away, Don’t Throw Away’ campaign and are titled: ‘Transformation’, ‘Beautiful Layers’ (pictured) and ‘Gift it Away’. They are designed to encourage a new culture of ‘gifting away’ instead of throwing away, to draw on existing resources instead of wasting limited ones.

So, this is my excuse to finally show you the amazing pictures I’ve been collecting.

To begin with, let’s say London is not at all new to a discarded clothing installation.

Last spring, the M&S Shwopping campaign was launched by Joanna Lumley with a giant-scale installation in Brick Lane – and a week long lab where visitors could bring in their unwanted clothes, and take part in upcycling workshops taught by leading upcycling designers like Michelle Lowe-Holder and Gary Harvey.

Everything must Go took place in January 2012, a 3-day exhibition with workshops and talks that tells the hidden story of our unwanted clothes. Visitors were invited to bring an unwanted item of clothing and to follow its journey as it is sold for reuse and recycling across the world. Invisible global waste economies were brought into public view, as did the people involved and the impact that these businesses have upon their lives.

In 2011, Estethica celebrated its 5th birthday with a party that was also home to amazing installations created by the same designers that have had the opportunity to exhibit at London Fashion Week through this sustainable fashion platform. Estethica’s founders, Orsola De Castro and Filippo Ricci, are also the creatives behind From Somewhere, one of the pioneering upcycling brands, and have always cared to showcase brands that make use of textile waste. The party saw installations by Junky Styling, Dr. Noki, From Somewhere+Speedo (pictured, credit: Christine De Leon) and Christopher Raeburn (pictured, credit: Getty).

One of the most prolific artists working with textile waste must be Derick Melander. He explains why he uses this medium for his art: “I create large geometric configurations from carefully folded and stacked second-hand clothing. [...] As clothing wears, fades, stains and stretches, it becomes an intimate record of our physical presence. It traces the edge of the body, defining the boundary between the self and the outside world. The clothing used for these works is folded to precise dimensions with careful attention paid to the ordering of the garments. [...] Through these processes, I hope to engage the viewer and communicate the emotional resonance of second hand clothing. [...] As the layers of clothing accumulate, the individual garments are compressed into a single mass, a symbolic gesture that explores the conflicted space between society and the individual, a space that is ceaselessly broken and re-constituted.”

Guerra De La Paz also often engage with textile waste for their sculptures. They explain: “Our work is inspired by an essential familiarity with the ready-made and the archaeological qualities that found object posses. Through a common aesthetic, we create work with an universal message. Using recycled objects as a medium, and the guidance of the unrelenting amounts of information that fuels today’s mass consciousness and its subversive parallels allows us to explore ways to reinvent historic themes and classic icons while still commenting on contemporary culture.”

A major textile waste installation was curated by French artist Christian Boltanski in 2010 in New York. Titled ‘No Man’s Land’, it occupied Park Avenue Armory and was built out of of 30 tons of used clothing and 3,000 stacked cookie tins. From the New York Times (edited): “At first sight, the monumental artwork suggests nothing so much as a crane claw, the frustrating arcade game in which a player tries to pull a stuffed animal from a pile of many, and to hold on to it, with a grapple controlled by a joystick.[...] Visitors can watch the action — set to a ceaseless, reverberating soundtrack of thousands of human heartbeats — from ground level, standing amid dozens of 15-by-23-foot plots of discarded jackets that extend in all directions from the mound and that may evoke refugee or death camps. Behind the visitors, a 66-foot-long, 12-foot-high wall made from 3,000 stacked cookie tins will cut off views of the exit. A reprise of an installation called “Personnes” that was shown at the Grand Palais in Paris in January, “No Man’s Land” aims to inspire questions like “Why am I still here?”, and points to the single fact that “You can hold onto the clothes, and even the heartbeats of many, many people,” Boltanski said “But you can’t keep anybody”. Born in 1944, the third son of a Catholic Corsican mother and a father descended from Ukrainian Jews, Mr. Boltanski has a lot in his background to make sense of, and has spent a career producing vivid reminders of life’s inevitable passing.”

A smaller scale installation, Other Stuff, was produced by Catherine Delaney in Dublin last year, with discarded clothing directly donated by the public: “Employing a minimalist sculptural gesture the work invites the audience to partake in the recycling process as participants or even as accomplices in order to keep the work in constant flux. The set-up invites the public to participate in the exchange of used clothing where they in effect create the work; they attain authorship and are empowered by their participation. The cyclical depletion of the work references mortality, which is another construct emanating from the minimalist movement of the 1960’s. This sorting and taking away is a metaphor for the process of a life system, its ephemerality is left behind only in the documentation of the event.
While also embracing the post-minimalist theory of the anti-form movement or scatter art, now ubiquitous to post-modern art ,’other-stuff’ plays with the notion of the space within, challenging minimalist tropes of presence and absence. While minimalism sought to affirm the viewer’s awareness of their physical presence in relation to an object, the work ‘other-stuff’ alludes to presence through the threat of absence.”

Even though China doesn’t have fashion sustainability very high on its agenda (as explained in a report by SIX magazine Editor Alina Rätsep directly from Bejing), Hong Kong is actually an exception, home to Redress and recently launched A Boy Named Sue. In 2011, Redress had a 16-foot mountain of used garments tower over Hong Kong’s Central Star Ferry Pier, as part of the ‘Get Redressed‘ exhibit — an awareness building campaign to promote recycling in response to Hong Kong’s staggering 253 tonnes of discarded textiles. Dubbed the ’3% mountain’, in reference to the 7.5 tons of textiles required to build it, the display helped put Hong Kong’s second-hand clothing waste into perspective (from Inhabitat).

To conclude, I’d like to point you in the direction of the excellent blog written by Timo Rissanen. In two posts, he explores the efficacy of the ‘bring-back’ / recycling schemes that high-street giants are putting in place (and Swhopping by M&S is one of them). In particular, he discusses H&M’s and Primark’s initiatives. Very good read, and a lot of food for thought.

May in London – it’s Fashion Exhibitions!

Posted in Exhibitions on Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Last year I was lucky: I got to visit stunning fashion exhibitions. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Met in NYC, the Hussein Chalayan retrospective* at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris, and  Yohji Yamamoto at the V&A.

This year, I may be missing Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century and Iris Van Herpen at the Groninger Museum in Holland, and Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs at Les Arts Decoratifs (sigh..), but I am most certainly visiting the V&A again, and the Design Museum, and the Fashion and Textile Museum, and the Royal Academy… For these are hosting not one or two, but 4! fashion-themed exhibitions to look forward to – all on simultaneously at some point in May, which calls for a day off and a full immersion me thinks!

Starting off with the mighty V&A, May 19th is the official opening of Ballgowns: British glamour since 1950.

Hosted in the newly renovated Fashion Galleries, it will be all about beautiful ballgowns, red carpet evening dresses and catwalk showstoppers.  Displayed over two floors, the exhibition will cover over sixty years of a strong British design tradition, and will feature more than sixty designs for social events, by designers including Victor Stiebel, Zandra Rhodes, Jonathan Saunders, Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen, Giles Deacon, Erdem and Jenny Packham, plus a selection of royal ballgowns and dresses worn by actresses and celebrities.

Paris my be hosting an exhibition about Vuitton, but London is showcasing Hermes – albeit with a quick stint of less than three weeks. Leather forever explores the 175 year history of the French luxury accessories house, and its fascination with creating designer objects from leather. Founded by Thiery Hermes in 1837, the Parisian fashion house has a long established reputation for working with leather to create harnesses and saddles, before later moving onto (most famously) bags and shoes. Held in the Royal Academy of Art’s sister space, 6 Burlington Gardens, this is a chance for fans of the Hermes brand  to learn more about the history of the company, through six generations of artisan crafts, which has enabled them to keep on making the same objects with the same skill and dedication since the business began.

Speaking of French designers, one with fewer years of history, but an equal following of fashionistas and celebrities, Christian Loubutin is being celebrated at the Design Museum.

This exhibition celebrates Louboutin’s career to date and showcases twenty years of designs and inspiration, revealing the artistry and theatricality of his shoe design from stilettos to lace-up boots, studded sneakers and bejewelled pumps. At the core of the exhibition will be a unique exploration of Louboutin’s design process, taking the visitor through every stage of the design journey, revealing how a shoe is constructed, from the initial drawing and first prototype through to production in the factory. Looking beyond design and production the exhibition will also explore the company’s innovative store design.

But then the focus moves straight back home, with Designing Women: Post-War British Textiles at the Fashion and Textile Museum.

Britain was at the forefront of international textile design in the 1950s and 1960s. The art of textile design radically changed after the Second World War and three women artists working in England in the 1950s were pivotal in this artistic revolution. The drab days of the War were transformed by the fresh, progressive designs of Lucienne Day**, Jacqueline Groag and Marian Mahler. Designing Women: Post-war British textiles showcases more than 100 of their works.

*which came after only two years from the one at the Design Museum in London, which I also reviewed for Clique Magazine

** whose textiles I admired, together with works by husband Robin, at Pallant House in Chichester. Also in 2011 – it definitely was a good year for exhibitions!

Yohji Yamamoto retrospective at V&A Museum

Posted in Exhibitions on Friday, July 1st, 2011

A few cheeky snaps from the wonderful Yohji Yamamoto retrospective at the V&A. I wasn’t really allowed to take any pictures, but some pieces were so beautiful I couldn’t resist. Obviously these few pictures are not all that was worth recording at the exhibition! But I got told off and had to put the camera away…


Eco Home – Geffrye’s latest wow installation

Posted in Exhibitions on Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Haven’t actually been yet (it opens today), but I’m confident I can talk about a ‘wow installation’ for this one.

Eco Home is the latest themed exhibition by the Geffrye Museum, and it sounds awfully promising.

Meant to address widespread and increasing interest in the way that climate change and the state of the planet affects our homes and the way we use, decorate and inhabit them, Eco Home  will examine current ideas around eco living.

Chandelier by Madeleine Boulesteix, Graham & Brown eco wallpaper, Aspen detail and Poly-morph chair by Lou Rota

Chandelier by Madeleine Boulesteix, Graham & Brown eco wallpaper, Aspen detail and Poly-morph chair by Lou Rota

I promise to visit soon and post my impressions.

If you want to go yourself, Eco Home runs until 7 February 2010