Giving voice to the intangible forces in fashion
In my research, I explore the literal and metaphorical role the body, senses and identity play in the production of garments – and how we can create a more emotional and affective relationship between the matter that we wear and our bodily functions. I delve deeper into the intimate bidirectional relationship between the body and clothes; with a specific focus on the organic skin vs ‘second skin’ relationship.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty from The Visible and the Invisible says: “Visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things; it is caught in the fabric of the world, and its cohesion is that of a thing. But, because it moves itself and sees, it holds things in a circle around itself. Things are an annex or prolongation of my body; they are incrusted in its flesh, they are part of its full definition” (Merleau-Ponty, M., Lingis, A., & In Lefort, C., 1968). 
Is there potential for the latent information stored in our cells and microbiomes to be exposed and visualized in a way we can cognitively parse and make sense of? Can our sweat or blood be beautiful? How do we read the body in clothes or clothes on bodies?
Material agency is an absent concept, but one that is gaining traction as we discuss how to break free from the hypnotic cult of the Anthropocene. Within every molecule in the cosmos lies the potential for a big bang or a black hole. Humans are as much atoms as non-human animals, plants or even textiles, and therefore we are bound by the same rules. The law of conservation states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transferred. There is scope to consider that our clothes might be conscious.
Placing humans at the centre of the universe is ludicrous, there are a lot of subtle forces much stronger than us at play, but to subvert this reality we need to look at what is absent from our narratives. And one of the things that are absent, are the stories clothes tell.
We put the world through hell to make clothes. It’s a vicious system of suffering that affects the earth, the people, and all related processes and entities. Into our, possible sentient, garments are woven an intangible aura of discomfort and suffering.
Garments then rub against and move with us all day. We take them along on adventures and to social events. They absorb our sweat and sometimes our blood.
Regardless of how you paint it, clothes know us intimately. They know our systems and they know us. And by wearing them close to our skin, they also connect their realities with ours. On a metaphysical level, our clothes introduce their trauma into our spheres of reality.
Maybe if we knew our clothes might be conscious, we wouldn’t throw them away. Maybe if we realized our clothes know dark secrets, we wouldn’t dispose of them so quickly. Through the lens of science, biology and mysticism, I hypothesize that if we have a deeper understanding of how our clothes affect our bodies and our bodies our clothes, we will respect and cherish them more. To me, fashion has the restorative potential to undo what it has been complicit in and subvert an era of human exceptionalism.
Trusting in the fashion Materialverse
Did I discover that clothes possess consciousness? Of course, my research didn’t deliver any such proof. But I do feel that I poked enough holes in our systems for sense-making to expose that our perception of the world might be limited and that we are cognitively blinded, even through the language we speak, to the existence of other cosmologies. I am more and more growing interested in the process of myth creation -why we are instinctively drawn to certain narratives – and how the faculties we position as the authorities on truth might be the faculties that keep us from it. Our memories are terrible at remembering facts. We delete, embellish or discard. Sometimes that which is absent is what should be focused on. And there are many absent narratives in the fashion system.
Disillusioned with the precepts of a material world, which holds that all facts are causally dependant on, or reduced to mindless physical processes, humanity is looking for purpose elsewhere. Matter as the fundamental substance of our existence and happiness brought us to a point where we value our new phones more than our friends. When materialism rose to popularity it was a necessary liberator against our crippling fear of celestial damnation. When the supernatural was ‘disproven’, we were no longer subjugated to corrupt religious institutions and the deities they campaigned for. But there is no salvation in embracing such monism’s. Why are we constantly oscillating between a set of binaries? Can we adapt to embrace a more multifaceted existence?
Neither materialism nor mysticism provided a reprieve for our existential angst (the main culprit for our anxiety, according to me), but both theories epitomized some objective truths. It seems to me that the place for knowledge to settle is in the spaces in-between. In the intervals between hybrid solutions where a multifaceted and ever-expanding ecology of practices support and challenge each other. This is the only way to find balance in the world.
Humanity is entering a new epoch, where we are more comfortable reconciling with an immaterial reality, and this is in no small part due to the rise of the internet. As we dive headfirst into the metaverse, our trust in intangible systems is growing. We have faith in non-fiat currencies like Bitcoin – a monetary system with no intrinsic value like gold or silver, but one that solely exists as a system of trust. Humans thrive on being accommodated. We put faith in things. We are led by stories and narratives – and the digital narrative is compelling and has therefore garnered our trust.
Perhaps there is application for the concept of Bitcoin to be codified into an axiomatic theorem that can be applied to any situation where we need to physicalize an intangible system through the action of trust. Ie, it has value if we believe. To me, it seems no less far-fetched than any other axioms in mathematics and science. It seems no more far-fetched than Godels incompleteness theorem – about unprovable axioms. I also find it quite funny that the mechanics for religion and capitalism is essentially the same. Tell a compelling story to get them hooked. If we can trust in bitcoin it seems equally plausible that we can come to trust in, believe and value the fashion materialverse, as explained above.
We are in desperate need of new systems as our current arrangement still places humans at the centre of it all, and we can all feel how we are barreling towards our demise. Is it possible for humans to step away from our anthropomorphic existence?
Brian Massumi’s proposes that ‘a political ecology would be a social technology of belonging, assuming coexistence and co-becoming as the habitat of practices’.
What could such a model look like?
Fashion has always responded and adapted to the zeitgeist. Text and textile have a shared linguistic root ‘textere’, which means to weave. Like we weave stories with language, let’s weave stories with clothes. Fashion has always been a bridge between the pedagogic and the embodied – between knowledge and life. Fashion is fully integrated into society and politics. Fashion straddles a multitude of territories and gives us access to local traditional know-how as well as the global economy. Fabric has been used for documentation and clothes are a medium to expose intimate stories and biographies. Fashion allegorically connects us to the industrial manufacturing process. Garments can reveal invisible story properties because with dress you can communicate without words. Clothes have knowledge, clothes have affect, clothes have agency. Our vehicle towards Isabelle Stenger’s knowledge ecology is through fashion. Can fashion save the world? Probably not, but maybe it can save our souls.
I trust my body
Artists and athletes have a lot in common. They both tirelessly pursue the perfection of their craft. Both are diplomats that traverse the globe and stand as a symbol for their country and background. Both have to tread lightly and maintain diplomatic ties while navigating nuanced cultural situations. Both act as interpreters for complicated forces others don’t understand. Both are vessels into which others’ hopes and dreams are projected. People have faith in artists and athletes that are good at weaving compelling narratives. People turn to them as authority figures when things are tough or uncertain. Artists and athletes are responsible for the people around them, their environments and also themselves.
Sad though that often when you have aptitude in the one, the world automatically decides that you probably cannot hack it in the other. As a creative child, my body was ignored and disregarded. My time was better spent developing fine motor skills than muscles. I was surprised to learn, as an adult, that my body had ample capacity for both! It was a treat to grow fit and strong. I am subverting the archetype that creatives can’t be strong and athletes cannon be creative by practising a methodology called artletics.
Artletics is a portmanteau of art and athletics. It is a creative practice that relies upon the body and embodied practices to produce works of art. It is a research methodology to activate implicit, explicit and tacit knowledge that we possess because of our upbringing, culture and even our DNA. By just existing we are already imbued with this knowledge. Our bodies are powerful assets that accompany us on our everyday journey. Our bodies are more reliable tools to capture data with than our minds, for our minds can easily be corrupted. There are not too many restrictions around what constitutes an artlete practicing artletics, as long as you use your body and manifest the results in art – you are an artlete.
It is imperative though that Artletes work towards activating agency where it is absent and repairing the relationship with that which we have abjected.
I position myself as an artlete working through and with fashion as a medium. The topic I am interested in is still quite broad and multifaceted, but in the future, I would like to be a vessel/ translator through which clothes can tell their stories or through which our bodies can tell stories in clothes. Most of the time, I conduct research by participating in as many events as possible. I’m trying to reach the top of my game, hone my praxis and build stamina like a true athlete or artist ( or in this case an arlete). I also increasingly realized that I like exploring without a goal. Having a specific methodology or research question limits the potential of what I can expose and discover. To me, there is a definite disconnect between thinking and doing, as thinking can trap you in a spiral and produce unproductive results. Also, as you learn and more information becomes available the target shifts. I prefer to just explore like the transient adventurer, or travelling storyteller, never satiated. To me the process of discovery is more valuable than the goal – research doesn’t need a conclusion in my opinion
Heading towards my thesis, I have identified a range of experiments, ideas and concepts I could potentially explore.
I do still enjoy using my body for research. My body is aware, my body is producing, my body is a reader. So therefore, I would like to create a methodology for experimenting with the body:
- How the body tells stories of the body
- Performed experiments
- Exhausting myself out
- Creating through chaos
- Kannie dood (cannot die)
- Designing a language to read clothes
- Tacit publishing, embodied publishing.
- Ghosts/yokai/ invisible in fluences in our lives
- Alternative forms of communication
- Create beauty with our body
- Soliloquy – Conversations with myself
- Fuck sense making
- Fuck metrics as targets
- Unstableness & discomfort
- Clothes dancing like traumatized elephants dance
- Human’s dancing vs static clothes on a hanger
- Clothes have life, like bodies.
- Clothes moving with air or with electricity
- Emotional intelligent garment
- Material agency
- Performance enhancing clothes – because the clothes are made in an ethical way.
- We are insecure because we can’t change our skin like snakes.
- We yearn to be animals (post-human world) so therefore we overconsume
- Clothing lives longer than we do because they are plastic. Our legacy is our clothing waste.
- Mono no aware – The pathos of things (Things disappear and have a lifespan).
- Three kinds of truths: Personal truths, Political truths, Objective truths.
You think in the language you speak. Your muscles develop for the sport you practice. You embody the values of the clothes you wear. What if we didn’t have these limitations and structures imposed on us anymore? What would happen?
Joseph Campbell says we shouldn’t look for the meaning of life we should seek an experience of being alive. Perhaps Brain Masumi and Isabelle Stenger’s were wrong. The solution to our existential angst is not the knowledge ecology but the living ecology.
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