Thursday, 17 November 2016

SEW WHAT: HOW'S YOUR FRENCH KNOT?

SEW WHAT

BY: BRENNA PLADSEN

Okay, so, I’m writing in circles again. I’m still stuck on what garments mean when you put them in a museum or gallery. The exclusion of the quotient in museum spaces make any discussion of craft in galleries and museums a discourse. This time, instead of the Met, I’m pointing across the Atlantic at What I Like now on display at the NOW Gallery in Greenwich, London, England. What I Like is the latest commissioned participatory art installation in the space and its second commissioned fashion piece. As an installation, it is a striking concept; over-long and smocked dresses in transparent tulle drip down from the ceiling like a six year old girl’s neon-coloured dream. Down at ground level, embroidery thread and plastic needles facilitate visitors sewing directly onto the garments, which can be lowered by a pulley system.

One of the dresses in What I Like. Photo by Kristy Noble. (source)

First, for clarity, who is this artist/designer? Goddard is a new face on the London fashion scene. Over the last two years, she has developed a style that is reminiscent of young girlhood, both in her collections and the irreverence she shows towards the way things are done in the industry; her Spring 2016 show included sandwich making. (source) Jemima Burrill, NOW Gallery Curator, says that, after their first commissioned fashion-as-art piece (a seven foot delicate-looking garment made from 70 kg of silver beads) the gallery “... realized fashion can have an impact within NOW Gallery and a sense of sophisticated accessibility which we were interested to explore again.” (source)

As a curatorial decision, engaging the larger cultural sector by bringing in an outsider is an active decision to both burst out of the insular bubble that surrounds contemporary art in the public imagination and blur the line of what constitutes art in the first place. This exploration of the edges of art has been a continued discussion inside of this particular gallery. With What I Like, they are hoping to attract “an office worker taking a moment of meditation after work, a parent teaching their children after school or a someone with a few minutes spare before a gig at the O2” (source) into coming in and adding to the piece through craftwork. This follows a brick making project, The People’s Brick Company by architecture/art firm Something & Son, as a piece of participatory art reliant on visitor labour to complete it.

A dress lowered to be embroidered. Photo by NOW Gallery. (source)

So, what do bricks and tulle have in common? Both brick-making and embroidery share a common recent decline into novelty and obscurity, displaced by modern industrial manufacturing. In these particular incarnations, they are mobilized for the formation of an imagined collective. There are two ways this collective is created. The first is a communal labour towards a shared product, which could/will not happen without the effort of unconnected individuals. The second is through a revival of a craft. In this context, the projects are both instances of directed relearning a lost craft, the communal learning of that craft, and creation of a final symbolic object. Goddard’s particular neon-tinged nostalgic actually aligns very well with this revival; while there is a clear reference, it draws on a common experience that has been embedded into mass culture. However, it has been invoked in the creation of something new, something contemporary.

So, giving strangers a sense of communal ownership over an object without making them meet each other, reframes craft in the language of art, what does this mean for the institute that commissioned both pieces? Well, museums were created to fill a perceived deficit in education and knowledge. Can we take this move of the participatory as a sign that the NOW Gallery is bridging a new gap in the public imagination; a need for a sense of community and a validation that the traditional crafts are valuable knowledge? I would like to think that this is an effort to respond to public desires in such a way to plant the seeds of personal reflection on how we move through the world. Then again, I have a very optimistic view of art.

Works Cited

Lynn Yaeger (2015) “Spring 2016, Ready to Wear Molly Goddard.” Vogue Magazine. Retrieved from link Nov. 15, 2016.

NOW Gallery (2107) What I Like Molly Goddard [Press Release] Retrieved from link Nov. 15, 2016

Works Consulted

NOW Gallery (2015) Phoebe English – Floating | Falling | Drowning | Flying – An Introspective of Process [Press Release] Retrieved from link Nov. 15, 2016

NOW Gallery (2016) The People’s Brick Company Something & Son [Press Release] Retrieved from link Nov. 15, 2016.

Molly Goddard (n.d) Collections. Retrieved from link Nov. 15, 2016

Susanna Lau (2016) “What Molly Goddard Likes: Giant Dresses and Subversion.” AnOther Magazine. Retrieved from link Nov. 15, 2016.

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