by Sabrina Thom
Last Thursday the Austrian Cultural Forum London opened its doors to fashion and art aficionados for the opening of Transfashional Lab. A collaboration between the London College of Fashion, the University of Applied Arts Vienna, the Polish Cultural Institute and the ACF Warsaw, this exhibition showcases work by emerging Austrian, Polish and English artists. Turning their backs on an increasingly fast-paced and superficial fashion industry, these young artists aspire to re-define and re-envision the creation, production and distribution of fashion. Combining works of designers and artists from different national and educational backgrounds, this exhibition transgresses boundaries and conventions and explores interdisciplinary approaches to fashion. Prior to the exhibition opening the young artists were invited to attend a week-long workshop at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, which gave them the opportunity to exchange ideas and pursue collaborations for this and future projects. Building bridges between nations, disciplines, educational institutions and artists, Transfashional Lab opens up a new discourse on fashion. After London the exhibition will move to Warsaw and Vienna. On the opening day I had the chance to talk to some of the artists featured in the exhibition to gain better insights into their motivation and inspiration.
It’s Thursday morning at ten and our house is already buzzing with young artists setting up the exhibition space and making last adjustments for the opening tonight. While the other artists are setting up their finished exhibits, Manora Auersperg is still creating her work of art in our salon space. She is extracting and reinserting threads of a white linen stretched on an embroidery frame. Her aim is to inscribe our floorplan and all the exhibits on this white piece of fabric connecting all the artworks with each other. Her work is interactive, responsive and susceptible to change. As a starting point for our discussion she mentions systemic family constellations since her work is deeply rooted in the basic concept of this therapeutic method. She is highly interested in where exhibits are set up in a room and how they relate to each other. The place where a person or an object is located matters to her as space adds additional meaning and thus shapes how an artwork is interpreted.
By creating her exhibit in situ she opens up a semantic field, which other artists, visitors and the ACF team can enter and contribute to at any time. Perfectly capturing the purpose of this exhibition, namely to connect artists and to exchange ideas, her work embodies communication and connection. Manora will continue to develop the artwork in Warsaw and Vienna inserting two new exhibition sites onto the fabric. Her work of art thus becomes a palimpsest-connecting different places and ideas on one piece of cloth. “Won’t the transcription become illegible at some point?”, I ask but Manora assures that it will be possible to decode the different layers of meaning at the end of the project. She specifies that reading and decoding denote different activities as the interpretation of an object is shaped by the person analyzing it. Having spoken to Manora I too will always look at her work through the filter of all the information she shared with me.
When I encounter Anna Schwarz she is wearing a dark shirt with the name of a company producing preventive security technology on it: ABUS. She immediately draws my attention to this as the name of this company, best known for their bike locks, also appears in the film installation she created together with her colleague Lisa Edi. “Things will Change” depicts ephemeral images of Anna’s Ready-to-Carry collection. Most curiously it shows a model wearing the ABUS logo. “I am the lock, I am the weapon“, Anna says hinting at the double functionality of preventive security devices. The name of this company also inevitably calls attention to the exhibition venue, a closed institutionalized space protected by numerous security devices. The exhibit thus also critically thematizes the context it appears in.
The phrase “Hopefully I can take it all”, written on a small piece of paper torn out of Anna’s fashion catalogue, is one of the most memorable image in their film installation conjuring up the desire to escape an impersonal, detached and superficial fashion industry. Interestingly, the images in this feedback loop suggest both connection and intimacy as well as violence and destruction. Anna tells me that by juxtaposing two opposite aspects she evokes contradictory narratives, opening up the potential to eliminate the old and create new meaning. By evoking an oxymoron, she explains, she creates an impasse, which forces the viewer to re-think fixed structures and regulations and which ultimately flattens out hierarchies and outdated structures.
Another artist deeply concerned with the disconcerting status quo is Lara Torres, who in her 10min film “Unmaking” expresses resistance against the dehumanizing and alienating conventions and regulations of a super-accelerated and artificial fashion industry. Her short film depicts human beings dressing and undressing, creating and destroying clothes. Often the clothes or fabrics are even absent and all the viewer gets to see is naked upper bodies challenging the notion of prêt-à-porter as there is indeed nothing ready to wear. Construction and destruction of clothes alternate between images of shoppers on Oxford Street, the epitome of consumerism and a short-lived, unsustainable and wasteful lifestyle.
The most riveting moment of the film occurs in the last part when Lara turns her back on our modern throw-away society and explores a context where clothes have considerable importance as a marker of a person’s identity. In this last part Lara uses passages based on a text by Ziyo Gafic on his visit to Tuzla after the massacre during the Bosnian War. These passages about the identification of victims in mass graves point to the potential of clothes to serve as an indexical sign for a specific individual. Functioning as an imprint of a person, these clothes indeed become “a last resort of identity”. In this way she juxtaposes a space of mindless mass consumerism with a context in which a person’s clothes are of substantial importance. The film also poetically foregrounds the body distracting attention away from actual clothes, which are at times completely absent or in the process of being “un-made”.
One of the works of arts at the exhibition opening, which invite our guests to interact with the artists and the exhibits, is “Clothing System” by Afra Kirchdorfer. The recent graduate of the University of Applied Arts Vienna is assisting guests in creating their own unique garments by using triangular-shaped pieces of linen and numerous utensils to attach them to each other, some of which, she reveals, she found in her grandmother’s sewing box. In this way, she is able to produce a wide variety of different combinations resisting conventions and rules. Her unisex clothes transgress strict boundaries which distinguish between men and women’s clothes. She places the control in the hands of the consumers who are able to move and shift the pieces of linen so that the fabric adapts perfectly to their bodies. When I address the young artist she immediately draws my attention to the importance of using locally produced materials. She makes me question if organic cotton, increasingly sold in stores, is really a sustainable choice since an excessive amount of resources are required for its production and transportation. She prefers working with hemp and linen as they are much more resource-efficient and environment-friendly. Afra’s resistance to the conventional methods of production and creation of fashion is fun and playful while simultaneously conveying a highly critical and thought-provoking message.
Afra Kirchdorfer, “Clothing System” (Harvey Shepherdson-Beck)
A fascinating installation in the narrow hallway just outside the gallery space bridges science and art. NOUS001 is a computer and camera which records the light and patters of its surroundings. The data collected at the exhibition opening feeds its “brain” with different patterns and colors of our guests’ clothes. Software engineer Bernhard Eiling, who created this installation together with graphic design student Maximilian Mauracher, mentions that one of the most interesting aspects of this project was that he could gain insights into how a child supposedly learns to differentiate between various patterns and colors. The exhibition opening at the ACF enables the computer to collect and store data thereby generating a repertoire of basic patterns and colors. “We don’t know what is going to happen next”, Maximilian reveals. Together with his colleague he is going to set up the same computer at the Centre of Contemporary Art in Warsaw, where it will scan visitors’ clothes and then project related patterns onto their clothes. So much for the plan, the outcome of this ambitious and highly interesting project is still utterly unpredictable. But we both agree that a pinch of randomness makes this project about artificial creativity all the more exciting.
Maximilian Mauracher & Bernhard Eiling, “NOUS001” (Harvey Shepherdson-Beck)
These and many more riveting artworks offering critical and innovative approaches to the fashion industry form part of our current exhibition Transfashional Lab. The exhibition is open to the public untill April 4 2017. Come and find out for yourselves and let us know your personal thoughts about the works of art.
To see more images from the exhibition and our programme follow us on instagram @acf_london.