dressing bodies and space; haptic / embodied designing strategies
Gestures of cloth concealing a face, a body
A limb that softly extends and shadows lightly
and crumples transparent gauze
Pulse and concede against the light the historicity of functions and meanings woven in
implied presence, pretense in textured white, veils
An enclave between you, me and others and how we see things
Students in the final year of the Bachelor of Design (Fashion) (Honours) program participated in a workshop around the archetype of the ‘veil’ with artist Brook Andrew, facilitated by RMIT University School of Fashion and Textiles and RMIT Design Hub. Initiated by Associate Professor Robyn Healy, the program developed a series of workshops directed by leading artists and researchers to stimulate expansive, performative and critical approaches to fashion design processes. The role of the workshops was not to simply generate ideas around the direction of projects; but more so for students to be engaged through active, embodied studies and experiments. Through the actuality of doing/wearing/making/seeing/touching/ moving a lived experience casts a different type of understanding and thought process onto designing. In addition, working across disciplines encourages students to examine notions of dress, body and space in a variety of different conditions, intentions, compositions and hierarchies.
The workshops were conducted over two sessions at the Design Hub in the beginning weeks of first semester. Preceding the workshop, Brook had presented a lecture on his practice, particularly the body of work leading to the development of De Anima. Students were asked to bring in materials expressing transparency; classic archetypes of the veil such as gauze, muslin, voile, organza, chiffon but also knitted materials, papers, plastics and acetates. Minimal construction devices were requested, but students were asked to bring either materials, or examples of work that represented the essence or ‘materiality’ of their practice. The premise of the sessions was simply to explore the ideas or the synonyms for the veil or ‘veiling’, and distill down a sequence of ideas that contribute to the potency and poetics of using such simple wearable articles. In doing so it revealed by the process of engaging through materiality the simple but pertinent question of what happens when you cover the face and /or the body?
Within the field of fashion design, it is sometimes taken for granted the power and presence latent in the intimate exchanges between body, space and dress. Related to this example, it is a simple equation to cloak or conceal a figure in fabric, to veil them. However even with such simplicity – a piece of transparent fabric draped over a figure – it produces a relatively dramatic gesture and affect for both the viewer and the wearer. Brook implored the students to engage deeply with the conditions of what this affect imparted to the actions of covering, hiding, escaping, playing, seeking and also ‘seeing’. By limiting or impeding sight, the amplification of other senses occurs depending on how this experience is designed. With differing dynamics of sight; the transaction of seeing becomes a more considered process; with deficiency in one sense, others such as touch and sound are all the more noticeable. Does the veil cloak and protect, and produce its own environment? Or is it a divisive barrier between oneself and the outside world? Encountering these questions within the workshop yielded interesting responses due the distilled essence and propositions inherent in the veil.
Students worked towards the articulation of cloth, defining the subtleties of drape, and the compositions and tensions between body and cloth with respect to their own interests and practices. Within performative and engaged workshops such as these, there is a natural deviation from the formalized notions of design processes for fashion. Instructions that direct a set of conditions that empower the participant as both wearer and designer are pivotal to strategies explored in several approaches to design pedagogies from the School of Fashion and Textiles. These strategies are affiliated with art practice as there is a gradual and quiet engagement with materiality and its suggestive potential, something often neglected in design processes for fashion that omit such phases. This interaction, therefore, also prompts further and subtler questioning around the role and intention of the dressed body, how it can demarcate and articulate space and the relationships between these.
Such strategies represent emerging directions in practice based research for fashion and particularly from the School with a fundamental concern with questioning the medium itself, and naturally the processes and methods that lie central to it. Strategies for how we design and encounter the body, dress and space are key new ways to approach the design process for fashion and its outcomes. To consider these interactions in an abstract sense, prior to the articulation of form, provides fruitful questioning of the medium and its relevance to everyday lived experiences.
Ricarda Bigolin (PhD),
Designer and Lecturer,
School of Fashion and Textiles
Excerpt from De Anima - Brook Andrew Catalogue, RMIT Design Hub, 2014
Brook Andrew and Natalie Kieleithner, Horizon IV, silk organza and laser cutting, edition of 30 veils, 2014.
De Anima - Brook Andrew
RMIT Design Hub, 2014.
Natalie Kieleithner is a graduate of the Bachelor of Design (Fashion) (Honours), School of Fashion and Textiles, RMIT University.