Explore with your body
AestheSis ≱ AestheTic

AestheSis ≱ AestheTic

AestheSis ≱ AestheTic

Anya and I started partnering for the workshop AestheSis ≱ AestheTic, that she developed. We realised there is a lot of overlap in our research. A big part of both our research is that we want people to break free from their current mode of thinking by exploring using their senses and learning how to use their bodies as research tools. We both feel their is a lot of value to extract from working together and it also makes promoting and refining the workshops easier. It’s less nerve wracking if you have a good support system than venturing out by yourself.  Anya is theoretically and stylistically very strong, my skills are finding creative solutions to problems, writing and public speaking.  The perfect partnership 😁.

Since we both wanted to collect some data before graduation, we proactively contacted artistic academic institutions sin the Netherlands. We sent out close to 50 emails.  Here is what we wrote.

Dear ……

Nice to meet you. We are Wei-Chi Su and Lianca van der Merwe. We are second-year Master Critical Fashion Practices student at ArtEZ in Arnhem.

We are contacting you with regards to a workshop, AestheSis ≱ AestheTic (outlined below), that we host targeted at students of creative practices. We wonder if it would be interesting for you and your students to have this workshop with us in the upcoming weeks?  The duration will be about three hours and we can do it either in Arnhem or at your premises.

AestheSis ≱ AestheTic is a workshop that aims to help students decentralize contemporary aesthetics by decolonizing the senses.  Contemporary aesthetics has led to very strict formulations of beautiful and ugly, classic and vulgar, exotic and barbaric; everything that fell through normative aesthetics is ‘othered’. As Western governed, design students learned to desert the aesthesis(senses) that is deemed not modern or not qualified. 

Mignolo and Vazquez suggest seeing ‘decolonial aesthesis’ as a critique and artistic practice that aims to decolonize the senses, to liberate them from the regulations of modern aesthetics.

In this workshop, Wei-Chi leads students to reconnect to their senses by interacting with nature and exploring their bodies.  By reconnecting and revaluing our original way of sensing and perceiving, we realize everyone has different ways of sensing the world and our aesthetic is personal and incommensurable. Moreover, as aesthesis(sensing) is always personal, when the design intention stems from the position of oneself in the world, it also allows the possibility to deliver a much more meaningful and responsible design.

Through sharing these experiences, students will grow to realize and respect the differences between each other. We explore the feeling of the ‘other’ (cultural hierarchy) that contemporary aesthetics has created. As a decolonial act, the students will be asked to co-create a collective work with the aesthesis (sensing) they just regained.  

You can read more about this workshop here: weichisu.net

The workshop also features #artletics exercises by Lianca van der Merwe (@lala3xl).

#Artletics is a neologism of art and athletics. It is a creative practice that relies on somatic and performative practices to stimulate affect and expand our awareness beyond rational thinking and the traditional senses.  In workshops with choreographed movements, participants explore within the rituals associated with fashion – like getting dressed, caring for garments, or going shopping. The aim of practicing #artletics is to create access points to the agentic world and the intra-relationality that exist between us and our wardrobe.

If you are interested, we can send you a clear schedule for the workshop. This is an ongoing project and we will appreciate it if you can give us the opportunity to host a workshop with you. 

Warm regards,

Wei-Chi Su and Lianca van der Merwe

weichisu.net | @weichisu__official 

artletics.space | @lala3xl

The responses were what we expected. We received around 15 enthusiastic replies. Unfortunately most responders said our timing was a bit off and that the schedule for their students was already filled up. We did however get 2 interested parties. The jewellery department at Gerrit Rietveld Academy and the Crossmedia design Bachelors of ArtEZ in Enschede. 

Gerrit Rietveld requested a compact one hour version of our workshop, while ArtEZ are looking for dates to do the whole three hour workshop. Yay!

They also asked that we simplify our intro a but so it was accessible to the Bachelor students. Anya and I both often get this type of feedback – that our language is too complicated 🙃. We revised our email so they could circulate it amongst students to gauge interest. We were also promised payment. SWEET 🤩!

  • Have you had to adapt or change yourself in order to fit into your surroundings?
  • How did that experience make you feel?
  • How did your mind, body and senses react?
  • Have the above experiences had an impact on your design ideation? 

We all know how it feels like to be backed into a corner or put in a box.  A lot of rigid and outdated ideas are still imposed on us by society. These unrealistic expectations sometimes prohibit us from expressing ourselves freely. Even within the field of design, ideas around contemporary aesthetics has led to a very strict formulation of what is deemed beautiful or ugly, classic or vulgar, exotic or barbaric. There is a clear distinction between what is accepted and what is not. Students must often abandon their personal aspirations in order to fit into the mainstream or academic ideal. This system that exists is like colonialism, a system where a strong entity takes control over everything.

If these dominant systems didn’t exist, do you think your approach to the world, especially how you design, would be different?

How do we decolonize our aesthetics? How can aesthetics change if we ignore the influence of the contemporary system?

Wei-Chi Su and Lianca van der Merwe are critical researchers into the fashion system. They host the workshop AestheSis ≱ AestheTic where they support students in rethinking contemporary aesthetics by engaging in embodied exercises to decolonize the senses.  For this Monday talk at Rietveld Academy, they would like to introduce their methodology and lead you on an exploration of the relationship between your bodies, senses, fashion and jewelry design.

We recommend that you watch this 15min video to familiarize yourself with decolonization.

On Monday 25 April we travelled to Gerrit Rietveld Academy to present our work at 18:00. We live in weird times, and unfortunately due to illness only 5 of the 13 students managed to show up. But this gave us the opportunity for intimate interactions and sharing moment.

Workshop schedule

18:00-18:05 [INTRO]

Quick introduction Lianca and Anya. Quick summary of practices.

18:05-18:08 [WARM-UP]

Write down what aesthetics means to you on Sticky Notes and stick it on the wall.

18:08-18:13: [ACTIVATION]

Exercise: Sensorial and bodily activation


The next exercise will involve some tactile interaction. We want to 

  • Closing your eyes
  • Interact with your own clothing, jewelry and shoes.

Q: When we say interact, what does that mean to you?

Use your whole body and all your senses:

Let’s begin:

Explore at your own pace and within your own comfort zone. I’ll ask you some questions while you are exploring?

  • While you are interacting, see if you can focus on what is being activated? 
  • Are you feeling something in your body? 
  • Are emotions or memories popping into your head?
  • Now really hone in on the accessories you are interacting with.
  • Do you have an attachment to it?
  • What if this accessory could tell a story from its perspective?
  • What does this accessory say?
  • Is it communicating with words? Or is it using a different way to talk to you?
  • The accessories in your life, does your body rely on it?
  • Is it a companion, is it an annoyance?
  • Do your body and accessories support each other?

18:13-18:20: [CREATING]

Think about these two questions:

  • How do you feel when you focusing on your body and your relation to the accessory?
  • Did you sense anything between the accessory and you?

Now we would like you to design something based on the experience you just had. 

So everyone grab a pen. BUT WAIT, we are going to make it interesting. Please tape the pen to the part of your body, where you would wear the jewelry item you want to design. So tape the pen and draw the item.

18:20 -18:40 [THEORY/DISCUSSION]

Look at what you just created.

  • Is this something you would normally design? 
  • What is the difference between how you normally do it and the way you did it this time?

All these exercises might seem silly but we want you to think deeper about how your body relates to accessories and what role the accessory, and how the accessory is designed, impacts your life?

Anya, is breaking the boundaries and decolonising us from the modern colonial aesthetic.

Lianca wants you to grow more aware of the intra-actions between objects and us, their agency and affect they have on us. 

18:40-18:45: [CONCLUSION]

  • Did your sense of aesthetics change?
  • Put all the stickers on the wall
  • Sign-up for a 3 hour workshop!