Friday, 21 November 2008

Blythe House - V&A Archives

I visited Blythe House in Kensington Olympia where the V&A archives are kept, as well as items from the British Museum and also the Science Museum. I was shown the Art and Design section in which there were books and books of fabric samples, fashion forecasting books, photos, drawings etc. There were samples dating back to the 20's, however the ones that most interested me where the French fashion forecasting books from the 60's and 70's. Each page was beautifully illustrated, coloured, and full of detail. The illustrations helped to tell a story and describe the fabric sample that accompanied it. Although they were very retro looking they wouldn't have looked out of place in modern fashion illustration books. I was given a handout that explains the history behind the fashion forecasting company 'Presage'. "Presage is a highly professional fashion service which accurately forecasts fashion trends 20 months in advance. It was established in Paris in 1961. Presage is a comprehensive guide and working tool for all the fashion-related industries. Presage's presentation is never incidental. It is carefully studied for meaning and direction. This is achieved by the choice of both the quality and colour of the paper in its books, the ink used in printing, as well as the trends shown in the designs and their backgrounds. the most important advance colour is chosen for the various book covers, which change every season."

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Fashion v Sport @ The V&A

This new exhibition explores and examines the fusion between contemporary fashion and global sportswear brands and their inspiration with all things street style.  There is a collection of over 60 outfits from a wide range of designers who have playfully and creatively incorporated high-end fashion into sportswear.  There is a strong focus on customization, trying to break and blur the boundaries between what is classed as traditional sportswear and fashion wear, and where these different categories begin and end.  As well as work by fashion designers such as Stella McCartney, who have designed sportswear ranges, there are also examples of how sportswear has influenced Japanese high-end fashion designers.  

The two areas looked at in the exhibition - fashion wear and sportswear do have different philosophies behind them.  Where as sportswear is mostly designed to allow the body to move, and be at its fastest and most able, fashion can sometimes be restrictive.  This can be shown in a very obvious example that athletes would choose to wear flat trainers over high heeled shoes, but I think what the exhibition is trying to show is that the trainers need not be any less stylish then shoes you would find in a fashion boutique.  As well as just the aesthetics of the clothing, technology is a key aspect and as the V&A explains, 'function and high performance are of primary concern in the design of sportswear'.  Whilst some fashion garments may be tight, uncomfortable, slow you down etc, in sportswear the priority is on producing performance-enhancing garments and footwear that coincides with the way your body works.  Traditionally sportswear tends to be streamline, and follows the natural curves and shapes of the human body.  In contrast fashion is all about concealing, revealing, distorting and exploring how new shapes can be explored in place of the standard human form.  Whereas high fashion may only relate and be available to a selected group of people i.e. in terms of wealth, gender, age, body type and shape, sportswear is much more universally affordable.  It is comfortable, not as pretentious, cheaper, and doesn't require you to look like a supermodel to pull it off.   

'The democratisation of beauty' (text reference Susie Orbach) - 
The idea of beauty expanded, broader definitions of how women's physical beauty is visually represented.  'In attempting to democratize and make accessible to all the idea of beauty, women are eager to see a redefinition and expansion of the ideals, along the lines they see it and away from the limiting, narrowed and restricted body shapes and sizes we see in moving images and print'. - from Dove beauty report.  

In a way body shape is a form of production in what is classed as the 'ideal' body shape.  This is represented in different ways due to gender, culture and general beliefs.  However with the influence of high fashion and the media in my generation we are surrounded by images of the 'ideal' female form being tall, thin, curves in the right places and generally glossy and perfect.  With the 'ideal' form being projected onto us on a daily basis it is difficult to start to consider if any other shape is acceptable.  However, depending on how easily influenced you are this determines how much these ideals will affect you.  

Fashion affects the female silhouette in different ways; on one hand you can look at it again with the idea of the 'ideal' female form and this image we all dream to achieve.  But, on the other hand, fashion is not just form those with model figures, and the catwalk is just a starting point for how fashion is gradually distilled down to us, the general public.  A huge part of fashion is also about playfully distorting the female silhouette, shoes to make us taller, belts to make us appear thinner, trousers to make our legs longer, shoulder pads to make us broader.  This is one of the few ways left that designers rely on to still keep fashion fresh and new, mixing up the traditional shapes and proportions.  In addition for the average female figure, these manipulations of the female form created by fashion help to highlight the best parts of our bodies, and hide the worst.  

Sportswear affects the female silhouette in a different way - for example the 'ideal' body type here is more toned, not as thin, strong and powerful as opposed to fashion's waif like appearance.  Sportswear tends to be more streamline and follow the natural shape of the form.  Excess fabric and weight are only going to slow you down, and comfort is key.  It is also about protection - from dangerous sports, weather conditions, or anything that could potentially harm you.  Sportswear needs to be able to work in a variety of different situations, and tends to not be designed for one particular area exclusively.  

Customisation was a key aspect to the exhibition, which allows individuality to be expressed through subtle differences and modifications.  Homemade street adaptations - such as how laces are tied and adorned, or how tracksuits are worn - have inspired designers to reinterpret trainers and the tracksuit.  As well as the shapes and styles being reformed and reinterpreted, pattern and colour is exaggerated in a highly playful way.  Cultural influences are shown through this new era of sportswear, for example merging the idea of Native American moccasins with modern sneakers.  There is nothing too serious about this new style of sportswear, it is fun, bright, individual, witty and ironic.  

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Cildo Meireles @ Tate Modern

This exhibition was quite different to others I have seen recently, as it was mainly installations most of which were interactive and allowed you to get involved. They were large and made a big impact when you saw them in the different rooms. You didn't quite know what each was about until you walked into it/experienced it hands on and read a little about the meaning and purpose behind each. The work was inspiring, refreshing and thought provoking. It was the sort of exhibition that you do not forget, and that I would go to see again. It is also the sort of exhibition where it is not necessary to know lots of information about the artist and his life. The small explanations about each piece of work are helpful to give you a brief understanding about the reasoning behind them, but even if you didn't read these the pieces would still be impressive and enjoyable to experience. However, now I have visited the exhibition and been part of his works I would definitely like to find out more information about the artist and his ideas.

The works were displayed in a different way to an exhibition like Francis Bacon, because the type of work is different. Rather than displaying small (or even fairly large) paintings, the installations took up a whole room sp
ace, as they were extremely large. You also had to queue up to get into certain rooms, as they had restrictions on how many people were allowed in. This added to the anticipation of what was in the room and what you were going to experience. Unlike most exhibitions where you are not allowed to touch anything, this was extremely different, especially in the final room where you entered a dark room and walked barefoot in talcon powder. Even though there are limits to how much you can touch the pieces, they are not treated as preciously as others works are at galleries. The display of this exhibition is however similar to Roger Hiorns Seizure in that you are encouraged to get involved rather than view if from afar.

This installation is called Red Shift and is comprised of a large room filled with red things everywhere, from the contents inside the fridge to the clothes in the wardrobe. It is a very strange feeling inside the room, slightly spooky, and you can imagine going mad if you had to be in there for a long space of time. Meireles describes the initial concept for the work as imagining 'a place in which someone, for some reason - whether due to preference, mania, imposition or circumstance - would accumulate in a given place the greatest possible number of objects in different shades of red'. Within the second part of the work is a tiny bottle that has spilled its red liquid contents, which leads into the darkened space of the third part of the work - a wonky red stained sink floating in space. There is red liquid running from the tap giving a very spooky vibe. According to the information given at the exhibition the title 'Red Shift' refers to a cosmological phenomenon: light that travels to Earth from distant galaxies gets stretched because the space that it passes through is expanding, a process that is believed to have started with the Big Bang.

My favourite work that I saw was titled Fontes and was comprised of 6,000 rulers, 1,000 clocks and 500,000 vinyl numbers. It demonstrates the aesthetic of accumulation which is a feature of many of Meirele's installations. Along the outside of the room where the installation is situated is a wall of clocks displaying different times, and these carry on along the walls in the room of the main work. There are numbers scattered along the floor, that appear to be fallen off of the clocks, and the whole experience is very surreal. Once you enter the room there are rulers that are hanging from the ceiling, creating a maze with a small passageway you can walk into, but this gets smaller and smaller leading you nowhere and surrounded by rulers flailing everywhere. In addition to the maze like intense experience that is provided by the physical elements of the room, there is also a soundtrack of different clocks ticking in different rhythms. According to the Tate booklet information this is the explanation to this piece of work ' The structure of 'Fontes' follows the spiral formation of the Milky Way, with the centre of the work most closely hung with rulers, decreasing in density towards the edges. Like the giant cellophane ball in 'Through', the spiral embodies the infinite, the phenomena of time and space that mankind attempts to limit or measure using the very systems that Meireles subverts in 'Fontes'. In my opinion the definitions of Meireles works are a little long winded and complex, but you don't have to be educated in the meanings to have your own experience within the exhibition.

Some other interesting information I found about the artist that explain in more understandable terms what he work is about : 'The Brazilian artist is famed for his mysterious, large-scale works...he is widely recognised for one of the leaders in the international development of Conceptional art. He has been creating sculptures and installations since the 1960's. With a fascination for scale, his work ranges from tiny single objects that could fit onto a fingertip, to huge installations filling gallery spaces. Meireles's installations are often composed of familiar everyday objects, arranged in a suprising or unexpected way. His work is engaging and challenging, drawing the viewer in.'

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Sir John Soane's Museum

I didn't really know what to expect of the Sir John Soane's museum and after visiting it I still don't really know what to think of it. I liked the quirkiness of it being tucked away and having to discover where it was, and the feeling of entering someone's house and exploring their belongings. However, I found it a little dark, with a lack of information, and none of the objects really grabbed my attention, even though I can understand the importance and beauty of them.

The display is completely different from a gallery like the Tate, as within this museum it is hard to tell where the objects start and end. Some of the objects continue up the walls and onto the ceiling, and the decoration seems to all blend in. There are bookcases filled with old books amongst objects on display, and it is difficult to verify which items are more precious than others. The lighting is quite dark which in a way feels like you are stepping back in time and into John Soane's lifetime, however the further down in the house you went the darker it was, and actually quite hard to see things in detail. In a way the museum is more similar to Roger Hiorn's Seizure, as it is more about looking at the house as a whole rather than focusing on selected items on a wall like in Francis Bacon. Labelling was sparse, I couldn't make much sense of why certain things were labelled and other wern't, but if there had been more information like in the British museum I probably would have stayed longer and been more interested. The labels were hand written, which gave the sense the objects were part of a personal collection rather than plonked in a large museum. The purpose of the museum is to get a sense of who Sir John Soane's was, and as the website explains he set it up so that 'amateurs and students' in architecture, painting and sculpture could visit his house after lectures, allowing them easy access to his wonders.

In 1806 Soane began to arrange his collection so his students could begin to visit his house and his objects. In 1833 Soane negotiated an Act of Parliament to preserve the house and collection for benefit of visitors and students, and on his death in 1837 this act came into place. Since his death, each successive curator has tried their utmost to maintain Soane's arrangements and wishes.

From visiting the website, you can see that the museum is about history and telling a story. There is a link to the National Portrait Gallery to see images of Soane, and start to learn about who he was and what he did. You start to understand the context of the museum and the collections. The objects are listed, with no images, and there are larger descriptions of some particular items. As for other advertising, the museum is signposted from Holborn station, but rather discreetly.

The objects housed within the museum are all along the theme of architecture, painting and sculpture, although you could argue the house and its decoration itself are part of the collection. There were cases and cases of books, old clocks, sculptures mounting the walls and ceilings, paintings and portraits, tiles, furniture, stained glass, casts. The objects ranged vastly in where they originated from and in what time era for example Ancient Egyptian, Medieval, Renaissance, Oriental, Classical etc.

The display of the museum was in terms of room within the house. The objects were not clearly categorised like in other museums, however there were grouping of sculptures, tiles, paintings etc. I found the groupings to be quite random, but this may have been because of my lack of knowledge of the history. Unlike other museums were things are neatly displayed in casings, the items grow from the walls high up onto the ceiling. You have to keep looking around you to fully explore the collections. Some items are in glass cases, but there isn't much logic to why they are rather than others. The collection seems to have the same amount of value the way they have been displayed. The objects do flow in the way they have been displayed but it is certainly not as clear as other museums. Perhaps this is an advantage, however I would have appreciated more information.

Only selected objects have labels, which made me think perhaps these were more important and precious than others. The labelling seemed to be quite random, with hand-written brief descriptions simply displaying where the item was from and what era. There was little information about who made the item, the context and reason behind it, what it was doing before Soane collected it. It was a bit of a mystery as to what each object was about.

There was some information about how Soane acquired certain objects, such as the Astronomical clock, which explains it was bought after the death of the Duke of York (1827). However, I would have appreciated more of this type of information to understand how these objects landed in London. It is clear that Soane owns the objects, but did he get given them/buy them/in what country/from who? The website does explain this a little better, but as it has no pictures of the items it is hard to piece the two things together.

We can assume that Soane didn't make the objects as the old sculptures and Egyptian antiques are obviously before his time, but it would have been useful to find out more information about who actually did make the objects and why. However, again once you look on the website it does have descriptions of where the items were made etc. The context in which some of the objects would normally be seen and used is obviously very different to how they are displayed, for example the Egyptian items. However in the Painting room, it is far more understandable to see old paintings displayed like they would have been in an old home as apposed to a stark white modern museum.

Overall, I left the museum feeling a little confused. I would have appreciated more information about the collections, however I can understand and see why there was a lack of labelling. It is a different experience to going somewhere like the British museum, it is more of a journey and somewhere to explore for yourself. Roger Hiorn's Seizure wasn't full of labelling and information, but perhaps because I had more of a understanding about it before I went I was able to understand and appreciate it more. From an artist's point of view, the John Soane's museum is a place you can be inspired by and draw from, without worrying about the overloading information and what labels are trying to tell you, but you can interpret the items yourself.

Sunday, 2 November 2008