The Relevance of Art

With the growing popularity of Street Art, I was interested to see at Wonderwalls in Port Adelaide this year, a group of writers working on a wall next to a Street Artist*.  The Street Artist listed her own name on the official program, and the others worked under a crew name, for obvious reasons, to stay incognito.

This defining difference between the establishment and the newcomer, made me reflect on art in general, and the opening up of avenues for displaying and expressing art.

Our Art Gallery of South Australia is under the direction of Nick Mitzevich, who is happy to show colonial art next to Aboriginal/First Nations cultural objects.  He follows that theme around the gallery, mixing together works that would usually be seen as opposing, as having something significant in common.  As we don’t have a formal contemporary art building (yet), Mitzevich treats our gallery as contemporary art meets the art history of the world, including representation from our Asian neighbours.

This is a challenging and exciting way of displaying art, and keeps the gallery relevant culturally and geographically.  It also makes the gallery an inspiring place to visit, as we see the old collection in a new way and the new work in the context of the old.

After spending some years now admiring and participating in street art, I feel the pristine white walls of a gallery space that shut out history, noise, and windows to the outside world, are both restricting and old in the limited atmosphere and lack of authenticity in the space.  The artist is responsible for creating these things, which can come across as contrived and like a static museum display.

When operating exclusively in a gallery setting, an artist can begin to take this for granted, and I think that impacts on the relevance of art in the real world.  Artist Alfredo Jaar says to imagine the world we want to live in, meaning to use art to push us towards that world.  The beauty of street art is that it goes to the people, the people don’t have to seek it out.  Street art also reflects the integrity of the existing surrounding, and so becomes a part of it.

I’ve said previously, I embrace all street art, including tags and sgraffiti, as relevant to the contemporary and historical art scene.  Widening our definition of art as existing in the everyday, allows us to think outside the gallery space and work alongside others who have different perspectives, and so makes what we do relevant.

As a footnote:  The Art Gallery of South Australia could be inclusive and embrace street art by opening the outside side wall(s) as free walls for any artists to participate.  Then we would have a world leading rather than a world class art gallery.

*Street Art as the new wave of painters who only work by permission to paint a wall, street art includes any form in general.

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Upcycled Fashion: Junky Styling

Junky Styling are possibly the best known upcyclers of fashion.  Designers Annika Sanders and Kerry Seager, worked from an exposed studio on a shop floor to show transparency in the entire process.  Operating from 1997 to 2012, they started out at the Kensington Markets, then shared a space with a vinyl record store, and finally opened their own shop in East London.

Junky Styling shop in East London, 2012
Junky Styling shop 

I first came across the label in the mid 2000’s.  Westwood and Kawakubo were the innovators of unconventional fit, Kawakubo and Margiela the founders of deconstruction, but Junky Styling were leaders in the modern eco movement of fashion, deliberately using second hand or surplus materials.

Junky Styling Brick Lane, London

With the boring sameness of street wear, it was exciting to see clothing that was surprising.  Junky Styling were unique and inspiring in their approach to redesigning existing clothing without losing the integrity of the original item.  As self taught designers, they approached the remaking of clothing in a clever, unorthodox way,  making good use of the hard work already done in cuffs, collars, pockets, button fronts, tie backs and any tailored detail.

Suit upcycled to hooded bomber jacket, Junky Styling
Suit upcycled to hooded bomber jacket, Junky Styling

Not restricted by the traditional approach to fit, by turning clothing upside down, inside out or sideways, they were able to invent a new silhouette out of an old design.

This video shows a knit cardigan turned upside down, sleeves taken out, and after some refitting via darts and pleats, the sleeves are reinserted the new right way up for a draped neckline shrug; scarf and short top in one.

Upside down cardigan becomes shrug with scarf, Junky Styling
Upside down cardigan becomes shrug with scarf, Junky Styling

Their use of traditional men’s suiting to create unisex street wear was both subversive and intelligent design.  By reusing existing materials and design features, they could transform the message of the ‘suit’  with women taking part, and breaking down the formality of the clothing.  Turning a tailored suit into a halter top for women or a bomber jacket with a hoodie for men, carries on the anarchistic approach of punk.

Junky Styling halter dress from men's suit jacket
Junky Styling halter dress from men’s suit jacket

Their in-house Wardrobe Surgery, offering a made to measure design service from the clients own pre-loved clothing, was the foundation for their book of the same name.

Junky Styling: Wardrobe Surgery
Junky Styling: Wardrobe Surgery

The book details their business, including patterns from some of their well loved designs.  A pattern can be reused, but the fabric is always different, so each item of clothing is unique.

Junky Styling vest and shirt
Junky Styling vest and shirt

The Junky Styling designers emphasise finding your own look, and creating what fits and suits you personally.  They also say to be brave in cutting through fabric and experimenting.  This advice is useful for anyone, including designers!

Suit halter top and recycled men's shirts skirt Junky Styling
Upcycled suit jacket halter top and men’s shirts skirt Junky Styling

Junky Styling were founding members of the Ethical Fashion Forum and the “brand aligned with Oxfam’s reuse, recycle and resell philosophy aiming to combat the 1.4 million tonnes of textile waste sent to landfill each year.”

Junky Styling inside Brick Lane shop, London
Junky Styling inside Brick Lane shop, London

Although the shop has now closed, one half of the partnership, Annika, is running her own business including upcycled custom clothing design and consulting for the re-use of waste or excess materials in the textile/fashion industry.

Sources:

vpostrel.com

oxfam.org.uk

emel.com

notjustalabel.com

bredesigned.wordpress.com

Pinterest.com

annika-n.co.uk

Junky Styling: Wardrobe Surgery

Where to next [fashion, Part Three]

As mentioned previously, the future of fashion has to be based on sustainability or it isn’t relevant.  The same applies to any industry.  So what options are available for sustainable fashion?  The materials are the main concern, followed by ethical production.

Sex Pistols T-shirt, designed by Vivienne Westwood and Jamie Reid, customised by Johnny Rotten, late 1970s. Museum no. S.794-1990
Sex Pistols T-shirt, designed by Vivienne Westwood and Jamie Reid, customised by Johnny Rotten, late 1970s. V & A Museum no. S.794-1990

Sustainable materials include natural such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, silk, linen, wool, etc;  recycled plastic based fabrics; reconstituted fabrics from broken down natural and synthetic materials and reconstructed; whole clothing or factory off cuts or seconds that are surplus or returned; used fabric or clothing that is wearable; used clothing that is falling apart or unwearable due to broken zips, holes, stains, etc.

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2016 Haute Couture Vagabond Collection. Made from clothing and fabrics from previous collections.
Viktor & Rolf Fall 2016 Haute Couture Vagabond Collection. Made from clothing and fabrics from previous collections.

Ethical production follows the trail from fabric production to the finished item of clothing, and can account for every step of the way.  This depends on transparency.  Some of the good fabric suppliers such as Pickering International or Elsegood Fabrics, are happy to assist with information.

Cut and construction can be difficult to follow with contracting and subcontracting if the process isn’t documented.  Choices for local production in Australia are limited, so can be competitive to book in, and also require scrutiny for award wages and working conditions at all levels of production.

Deconstructed and redesigned rain mackintosh by Junky Styling, 2009
Deconstructed and redesigned rain mackintosh by Junky Styling, 2009

Ideally learning how to do everything is the easiest path to ethical production, or team up with people who have complimentary skills.  Digital design through Spoonflower; learning skills in painting, dyeing and printing fabric via Kraftkolour or Dharma Trading; using hand or machine fabric manipulation techniques to customise or create fabric.  Few of my favourite designers trained in fashion design, so lack of orthodox skills leads to new ways of creating, proving great fashion is about art and imagination.

Comme des Garçons Spring 2013, clothing made from what looks like multiple toile pieces
Comme des Garçons Spring 2013, clothing made from what looks like multiple toile pieces.  Headwear by Graham Hudson, made of recycled and upcycled materials and items.