Explore with your body


The way I describe my practice has improved

Work in progress….
15 December 2021

Herewith my submission to be a Collaborator for State of Fashion – Transforming Narratives.

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 everything else, and therefore we are bound by the same rules. The law of conservation states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transferred.

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 current narratives. One such narrative is 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 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. 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 realized our clothes knew our darkest secrets, we wouldn’t throw them away. 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. 

I am an educator, storyteller and diplomat who practices artletics. Artletics is a portmanteau of art and athlete.  It isa methodology whereby I use my body as a creative vessel to explore ways to create a more emotional and affective relationship with fashion.  Artletics allows me to collect the stories of bodies, clothes and clothes in bodies.  

I would relish the opportunity to co-create a work for State of Fashion – Transforming Narratives in a team of artists and changemakers with multiple perspectives. I am no stranger to teamwork and delight in the transformative experience such opportunities provide, both for my practice and my temperament.

For the State of Fashion festival, I envision an interactive performance or installation, using clothes and textile, to stimulate the senses. Garments can reveal invisible story properties because with dress you can communicate without words. Humans put their faith in certain narratives, and for a narrative like “conscious clothes” to be plausible, participants need to experience rather than understand. To trust in the story’s clothes tell the implicit, explicit and tacit knowledge our bodies possess needs to be activated. Our bodies are a more reliable benchmark for the truth than our brains. We are cognitively blinded, even though the language we speak, to the existence of plural cosmologies.  

With this installation, I would like to draw attention to what I call the ‘Fashion material verse’ A universe where garments, and also, other material objects, are sentient. A universe where garments have agency, where they can exert power and have control over actions and the consequences of the actions.  Where clothes can communicate intimate knowledge that they read from our bodies and the industrial fashion system. A universe where we can understand them. A universe where clothes are not frivolous and disposable. 

Getting better
24 April 2022

Dear Zone 2 Source Team

Below please find my motivation for my project #artletics to form part of the School for MultiSpecies Knowledges, from May 14th to July 3, 2022.

Hello, I am Lianca van der Merwe (aka Lala3xl) a performer and educator who critically reflects on the literal and metaphorical role the body, senses and identity play in our relationship with the world. I am a 2nd year Masters student in Critical Fashion Practices at ArtEZ University of the Arts, where I developed the practice of #Artletics. I firmly believe that the answers to the issues facing humanity today – like discrimination or sustainability – lie not in strategic solutions but in embodied ones. By physicalizing ourselves in the natural world, engaging and participating, we can hopefully break down the artificial barriers that distinguish between what is ‘us’ vs. what is ‘them’. I use fashion as a subversive medium and propose that it has the restorative potential to undo what it has been complicit in. Fashion can end the era of human exceptionalism it helped establish.

#Artletics is a neologism of art and athletics. It is a creative practice that focusses on performative and spoken word activities to stimulate affect[1] and expand awareness beyond rational thinking and the traditional senses. Drawing from the rituals associated with fashion – like weaving textile or getting dressed –  choreographed movements are performed in a workshop similar to an exercise class. The aim of practising #artletics is to activate awareness of an agentic world and the intra-relationality that exists between us, other species and even objects in our world. The movements in #artletics are based on the Laban Movement Analysis (LMA)[2].Laban movement components elicit and enhance the basic emotions of anger, fear, sadness and happiness.

We put the world through hell to make clothes. It is a vicious system of suffering that impacts the earth, the people, and all related processes and entities. It’s plausible to propose that the destructive nature of the industrial manufacturing process might have a bigger impact on our lives beyond the depletion of resources and exploitation of labour.  On a physical and metaphysical level clothing could be ushering forces into our lives that our logical minds cannot immediately perceive.

Think about your body – how you might be tense and stressed out all the time. Posture and lack of movement might not be the only causes of physically felt complaints though. These ailments could be manifestations of unprocessed emotions or affects[3]. Trauma, for example, is not something that you experience with your head, but with your body. It’s an experience you embody. But how does this trauma find us? Beyond the obvious causes, I postulate a variety of avenues through which we usher negative forces into our lives. One of these is through the material objects we interact with. Specifically, fashion, an item that lies close to our skins and comes into direct contact with many bodies – farmers, garment workers, sales people and eventually our bodies. The bidirectional exchange of affects[4] between clothing and bodies are innumerable. Are we sure the negative energy accumulated from the industrial fashion process, a very exploitative system, is not reaching us through our garments and lodging itself in our bodies? And if it affects our body, perhaps we can also use our body to process it.

‘Affect theory’[5] suggests that perception is shaped by broader phenomena like the dynamic interactions between the brain, body, and both our physical and social environments.  This shift in perspective pushes us beyond human autonomy and towards acknowledging our entanglement with an agentic world – the relationship between other people, things, space, and time.  In my research, I explore different cosmologies, especially one in which we experience clothing as events and not as inanimate things.  I hypothesize our clothes can influence how we act, perceive and think.

For the School for MultiSpecies Knowledges, I propose designing an #artletics workout routine that focuses on growing and processing raw materials for textile and how to connect to the disembodied bodies in the fashion system. These workshops can be presented as participatory outdoor events in which the public can come to move and explore within and with the various dimensions of fashion.  Even though I normally work within the context of fashion I do feel there is scope to apply #artletics to other themes as well. As long as, the body is used as a research tool you can practice #artletics.

We need to break free from the hypnotic cult of the Anthropocene and acknowledge the agency of the world around us. By participating in the School for MultiSpecies Knowledges I hope to learn more about accessing and explaining the affective potential of the world around us, how to build and change our current relationships and how to disseminate the message that the world and all it’s species are not frivolous and disposable.

Thanks for your consideration
Lianca van der Merwe


[1] “Latent potential that exists (neutral “force”)   →   to experience arousal →  intensity of, not the effect it produces →   first it’s a physiological experience   →   then it’s cognitively registered   →  there is an interplay between body and embodied.”: My summary of affect from ‘The Affect Theory Reader’- Gregg, M. & Seigworth, G.J. (2010). The Affect Theory Reader. Duke University Press.

[2] Tsachor, R.P. &  Shafir, T. (2017). A Somatic Movement Approach to Fostering Emotional Resiliency through Laban Movement Analysis. Front Hum: Neurosci. [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00410

[3]Latent potential that exists (neutral “force”)   →   to experience arousal →  intensity of, not the effect it produces →   first it’s a physiological experience   →   then it’s cognitively registered   →  there is an interplay between body and embodied.: My summary of affect from ‘The Affect Theory Reader’- Gregg, M. & Seigworth, G.J. (2010). The Affect Theory Reader. Duke University Press.

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  Ibid.