Some time ago, in the frantic rush that was probably just graduate panic, I found myself stumbling through the blog on Kate Fletcher's website. An internet adventure that led me to discovering the Fashion & the Environment course – now reconfigured into the Fashion Futures course that I'll be undertaking soon enough. I mention this as a precursor to the post today, because I've recently been revisiting past work as a result of a prompt set a few months ago.
I'm a thinker, usually. I like ideas. Clever ones especially, that get me to question things I thought to be right and true. And one such idea, was presented in the collection of Thalia Warren, graduate of the 2013 MA Fashion & the Environment group.
Awaken! Gentle soul,
Too long you have slept,
Beneath bright stars and moonlight,
Time trickles to the next,
Ah! Fair wanderer,
Breathe deeply you are told,
For lost is but a place,
Where dustry dreams can unfold.
I often find myself wandering into introspective reflection territory, partly as a tendency of my mind, though I suppose formulating work again is a large factor too. Whilst I generally fall into the belief that things are always changing; standing without a few stable supports is a not always a productive position and it can prevent ideas being galvanised when they strike.
In these periods, I reflect more heavily on the pieces that have shaped my thinking thus far: the snippets of my story, the things I've read, the people who have left their marks on the structure of my spine. It is from this point that I start the Citations series – an attempt to unravel the multitude of influences which have paved the way to now. My naïve hope is that it helps identify those latent supports which linger at the wayside and from this understanding, push onward. Without further ado:
Cheap Date Guide to Style
We start with book from 2007: The Cheap Date Guide to Style. A book which I first read aged sixteen, from the suggestion of various blog reviews around the time. Written by Kira Jolliffe and Bay Garnett as a spin-off from Cheap Date (an 'anti-fashion' fashion magazine from the early noughties) the premise essentially revolves around encouraging readers to use clothing as a canvas for self-expression and individuality, rather than sheepishly following trend dictations or grandiose notions of taste. A quaint concept in the latter end of 2014, where fashion has since become a relative minefield of choice and we are (supposedly) inundated with options for our various sartorial expressions.
The emphasis lies heavily on 'thriftiness' and whilst it does speak of shopping from anywhere, I've always found that it is less about consumerism and more about remaining open-minded. That aspect strikes me as neither time-specific nor clothing-specific. We could sit and hyper-analyse the extent to which much imagery falls in line with norms in western fashion (specifically the binary of womenswear) but to do so would perhaps detract from the point.
The Cheap Date Guide to Style is what you read when you want an unpretentious book to remind you about the enjoyable bit in dressing up.
The book itself is just larger than A5 sized, hardback and the right thickness to not feel overwhelmed. It's divided into roughly nine sections, which does include some ideas of "basics" and "classics" - however, the overwhelming attitude is of embracing your individual spirit, experimentation and respect (of your choices and others too) making it much less prescriptive than the title alludes to. I want to say these are ideas which still exist in the fashion world at large, but I suspect that would be a lie. In some dress-related spheres possibly, but generally it seems the industry wants you vulnerable, because it needs you to keep buying variants of the same thing. It takes some sense of assurance to be less susceptible to that, if that's what you want.
I betray my current bitterness towards fashion there. Yet when I revisit the Cheap Date ethos, I do find myself remembering some of the elements that attracted me to this arena in the first place. These days, I tend to look at more art and theory than fashion imagery. At social sciences rather than contemporary ideas of good taste. It is perhaps just another way of navigating through the world, hoping to find what it is I feel comfortable standing for (if anything) and in the process, attempting to strengthen the outputs I create. Knowing a complete fashion philosophy is a back burner issue, in comparison to understanding my attitude to living right now. Though perhaps this is the underlying point of the Cheap Date guide? The two are in tandem and exploring yourself through whatever avenues for expression (whether dress or another outlet) can cause a neat feedback loop into knowing your theory of existence. They make it sound much more light-hearted than I have, of course.
For the best part of 7 years, this book has unequivocally influenced the way I think about, not only stylistic or aesthetic matters, but about creativity and expression. It doesn't often get read now, but sits on my bookshelf as an integral influence if I ever need a pick-me-up. Undoubtedly, I still struggle; because through the act of making or presenting clothing, you demonstrate concrete interpretations of aesthetics and I know I have pandered toward fashion norms, for all they can annoy me. It is very easy to do so because fashion history has created a visual language which betrays even the most avant-garde of practitioners. Like any subject, to be considered as someone in that field, using elements of a prewritten language is almost a necessity it seems.
Fundamentally, my takeaway from Jolliffe & Garnett is that not everyone will agree 'what looks good' or even on the deeper values which underlie those seemingly harmless three words. But championing an open-minded, respectful approach is something we can strive for.
Dressing up is not a rulebook, and even if it was, we have permission to rewrite it completely.
My original plan for this post, was to publish it alongside a video of the No Boundary Between piece installed at the Loft. It was a promise I'd made to several people who weren't able to make it to Birmingham for the actual exhibition – and one I was looking forward to keeping, mostly to try video editing again.
Last week however, my hard drive decided to throw a little hissy fit and being the fool of a person I can be, I'd not backed up the data. So, a year of photos and all documentation has been lost. I somehow managed to recover almost everything prior to that, but late 2013 - 2014 is a complete blank.
In a weird way, I actually didn't mind when I thought I'd lost everything. It felt quite freeing and a good jolt to remind me it's time to make new work, take new photos, have new experiences. I'd rather not have lost the documentation of my work, but my life – pah, that is happening now, right?!
Anyway, rather than let these process shots linger in the drafts, I thought let them loose. The last vestiges of this project. You can see my smiling face above which is, I have to admit, a rarity when I actually make work. Mostly it's grimaces, contemplation and quiet swearing until about a week after the end. This of course, only reflects my part of No Boundary Between – which involved folding two sheets of paper in the tessellation pattern, sandwiching the canvas fabric between, refolding (yes, using clothes pegs to help) and pressing. Chris had a distorted scanning & glitching process which sounded fascinating when he explained it to me in March. You'll have to ask him about that though.
All in all, it was a very interesting project to complete. It got me making stuff after a year of freaking out about making stuff (okay, I'm still slightly freaking out about making stuff, but less so) and it got me into thinking that maybe, I can actually channel over-ambition to other artwork and not necessarily always concede defeat to the conventions of fashion. Perhaps it's conflated ego talking, but that was quite exciting on a creative level.
My friend Emma’s family have a house in Devon. It’s nestled away next to a quiet little cove, across the water from Dartmouth castle – and it is spectacular. Especially, as you’d expect in Britain, during the Spring.
The first year we stayed coincided with one of those sunny spells that climate change has probably created. After a few hours travel from Bristol, we found ourselves gazing onto a glorious sea view, lit up by sun rays as dusk descended. Beach House wafted through the air, and my friends alternated between sipping on drinks and scrambling across rocks. I stayed watching the waves, divulging my then frazzled emotional state into a furious pen scribbling over paper.
The Southwest and I have a small catalog of connections. From my childhood best friend moving at sixteen, to former housemates and futile crushes during university; the associations lie in amusing contrast to my landlocked Brummie hometown. It’s here that I wrote. Everything and nothing, in a little nook of South Devon. Emptying the metaphorical salt from my wounds, for the simple need to do so.
Once my pen ran dry, I stole an idea garnered from stories: I folded the sheet into a boat and let mother nature wash it away. It was a kind of private ritual I suppose; one of letting go. After that, I noticed the blue glint of the neighbouring rock. The dark cracks shooting across a shallow pink one. The curves and crevices, and the strange beauty in barnacles upon a crab. Both country and city have their quirks, but the therapeutic qualities of nature are unmatched for many.
My ink-soaked paper boat probably (hopefully) disintegrated after a few days, but looking at these images transports me to that moment. It reminds me that thoughts sometimes need to occupy a space, before they can begin to disperse. That perspective is useful, and that choice is really everything.
Saltwater, in reference to Beach House, can be a cathartic action when required.
Museums are odd spaces, if you stop to think about it. Objects enclosed in glass boxes, protected from the touch, sound and breath of the general populace. We can see them, carefully presented in a dimmed artificial light, but these objects are now immune to human life – often the very thing that brought them into being in the beginning.
The continued existential question of our kind – who are we? why are we here? – is why such spaces exist. Why objects are presented, stripped bare from their original maker (except maybe recent history) and allowed to coalesce with our own consciousness. Campaigns such as Fashion Revolution day hint that this is a cultural model – a removal of the very hands that created something, to sell us an idea of who we are. An idea we piece together from the fragments we've absorbed before. Is authorship even valuable, when we feverishly impose our own meaning onto something anyway?
Stripped bare of context, the objects in glass boxes become an exercise in aesthetics. A mummified cat, sacred from what I know of Ancient Egypt, becomes reduced to a reminder of basket weave patterns. I might muse about the time/skill that went in or the beliefs of the people who made it, but as a product of this civilisation, museums can become nothing more than "inspiration" – a search for an idea to merge with my collected consciousness, and trigger the creation of something that I can embed with meaning. Potential is everywhere and over-abundance seems inevitable.
Museums are odd spaces, but I enjoy them anyway. I like the sense of stillness and the concrete answers they (try to) present, as a form of refuge from my own questioning mind. They are places where history is fixed; in everything but the stories we go on to tell.