Rachel and I finished the first cycling garment just in time (nothing like a deadline) for a talk I was invited to give in Kolding, Southern Denmark on Thursday November 21st. I wasn’t quite sewing on the way there but it was close! The event was titled Fashion studies/Design culture: Convergences and Divergences and set out to explore the overlaps and more often gaps between what many would consider complimentary subjects and disciplines. It was interesting to me as my work has often rubbed against design but never with fashion. I planned to present the project whilst wearing a historic garment made from a 1890s patent, therefore making both conceptual and material links between cycling cultures of the past and present and teasing out some of the intersections between rational design and irrational fashion. It was an experiment in what was gained (or lost) in performing research in this way.
The talk had two aims: (1) theoretically, to explore some of the project content and (2) methodologically, to ask what happens when you perform research while wearing your research?
I didn’t change until the coffee break before my talk, partially for impact and partially because the auditorium was so warm. Those Danes know how to heat a room! I hadn’t completely thought through the layering factor (I was wearing three woollen garments). As I was waiting to talk I also became aware that I was adding yet another technology with the potential to malfunction to a talk – computer, powerpoint talk, projector and now dress. Part of the performance was of course the ‘reveal’ or ‘transformation’. If it didn’t work then the point would be somewhat muted.
It did work and it definitely added both to the experience of presenting and, from the feedback I received, to the overall story I was telling. In thinking about articulating this experience I remember what Les Back has written about the value of images:
‘The quality of the images operates outside of language and the conventions of The Word. Yet, at the same time, there is something to be listened to in these silent portraits. Part of what is compelling about them is that they contain voices that are present yet inaudible. We have to listen to them with our eyes.’ (Back, L. (2007) The Art of Listening, Berg Publishing. pp.100)
The dress similarly, simultaneously, contributed to the overall story and operated outside the words and images I was using. These multi-dimensional mediums entangled enabling a sensual, textual, audible and visual experience that was multi-directional. Again Les sums it up:
‘…the lens is not always about the control and fixing of subjects. To see photography as merely a governing technology misses the instability and complexity of the drama that unfolds on either side of the lens. […] It is a mistake, I think, to see the lens as only looking one way. […] Cameras in this context are like windows that look out onto the street, and through which the street looks in.’ (Back, 2007: 104)
Christmas decoration at Copenhagen airport
Guy Julier, opening the seminar
Me, talking about patents as an intersection of design and fashion