Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Textiles, patterns and bodies

A few years ago, at a wearable technologies conference, I gave a talk on seams and scars (pdf). It's not a great paper, but I always liked how it connects textiles, bodies and patterns to ask questions about time, beauty and goodness (i.e aesthetics and ethics).

When I was checking out the Central Saint Martins MA Design for Textile Futures programme's 2009 degree show this morning, I also saw some photos from the Fine Art - Byam Shaw degree show. It's a shame they posted photos without any descriptions or attributions, but I was really taken by this embroidered (christening? funeral?) gown:

It seems so creepy-but-pretty, like a body inside-out, a cadaver, or an old anatomical model. (That last link via the always-awesome Morbid Anatomy blog, which reminded me to also hunt down a link to Bioephemera: Art + Biology.)

On a related note, I also recently learned about Ninette van Kamp's Souffrez Pour Moi project:

"Van Kamp's pieces use artfully placed seams, beads, and textured fabric to create intimate, temporary patterns in the skin. Using luxury fabrics and materials these special jewel-encrusted undergarments explore how beauty and suffering are subtly intertwined."

I really like patterns on the skin and these temporary ones are quite lovely. Much more appealing than the pillowcase creases I find on my face most mornings, these designs remind me of dermographia, a skin condition that allows for incredibly beautiful patterns to be etched onto the skinójust check out excalipoor's arm or Ariana Page Russell's skin one and skin two series:


While it's clear that the human body is inscribed both metaphorically and physically every day, it doesn't seem difficult to further treat the body (or skin) as a canvas or living textile. In addition to a very long cross-cultural history of tattoos, branding and scarification, notable artistic explorations include Shelley Jackson's SKIN project, "a story published on the skin of 2095 volunteers," well-known examples of body painting like Veruschka's modelling work in the 1960s and Greenaway's 1996 film The Pillow Book, and the more mundane expressions collected in the Words on Skin Flickr group.

Ultimately, I think this is all interesting because it gets me back to concerns about how people and things are made. What do we flaunt, and what do we hide? What do these choices say about what we value?


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