Sunday, 30 January 2011

Object Analysis Essay Proposal.

Han Chinese clothing.

I recently visited the V&A’s exhibition of Imperial Chinese Robes worn during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and was struck by their elaborate detail and craftsmanship. The imperial dress, worn only by nobility and state officials of the highest rank was extremely regulated with 5 categories of formal wear and incredible importance placed upon traditional motifs and choice of colour. The exhibition made me curious to discover whether the dress of ordinary Chinese people at this time was equally as ornate and ordered. During my research I learnt about Han Chinese clothing or Hanfu, a historical ethnic dress worn the millennia before the Qing Dynasty was established. With a history of over 3000 years, the dress played a significant role in Chinese ceremony and ritual until its abolishment by the semi-nomadic Manchus in 1644. The Hanfu was highly influential in informing the traditional dress of neighbouring Asian countries such as the Japanese Kimono. Today, it is only worn for historical re-enactments and certain festivals or ceremonies and therefore is largely unknown. Despite this, there has been recent interest in its revival in everyday life. I am eager to discover the future of the Hanfu and whether its style has impacted modern day Chinese fashion.

Imperial Chinese Robes and essay inspiration

As strange as it may sound for a girl form rural Wales, I have always had an affinity to China. I have been fortunate enough to spend a month in Shanghai on the 'Study China Program' and a few weeks with a my Chinese friend Karen in her hometown of Guangzhou and the surrounding area. I am fascinated by the culture, the people, the landscape and the language. It is so foreign and different yet at the same time welcoming and comforting. Therefore it will come as no surprise that I was extremely eager to see the Imperial Chinese Robe exhibition at the V&A. My trip to Japan and my visit to Tokyo's National History Museum also incited my interest in historical Asian dress with its magnificent display of Kimonos. The imperial Chinese Robes in the V&A's exhibition are the clothing of the emperors of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). It is so interesting to discover the link between Hanfu (the clothing worn by ordinary people before the Qing dynasty) and the Japanese Kimono. And I'm really excited to explore this link further in my essay and broaden my knowledge of a subject which is of real interest to me but of which I know so little.

The exhibition is incredible. It's the sort of thing you can't really summarize or put into words because it is an absolute feast for the eyes and a visual spectacle. Apart from my sheer admiration at the detail and exquisite craftsmanship (the weaving of a robe could take as many as a thousand days and even the smallest woven peony was depicted in at least 3 shades of violet), I also learned a considerable amount about the extreme regulation underpinning the wearing of the robes.

- There were 5 categories of formal wear: official, festive, regular, traveling and military. These were then sub-divided into summer and winter.

-Symbols and traditional motifs played an extremely important role:

* Phoenix- the bird of good omen
* Butterflies- joyful connotations and the subject of puns and stories
* Swastika- the symbol for 10,000 signifying ten thousand years to the dynasty
* Buddhist symbols- for decorative not necessarily religious purposes
* Double happiness character
* Tiger motifs- used on children's clothing to chase away evil spirits and because it sounds similar to the word for wealth
* Twelve symbol- worn by the emperor alone and to represent his supreme authority
* Dragon and wave motifs- seen on Festive Robes
* Peaches, cranes, rocks, bamboo, lingzhi fungus- symbols of longevity

Imperial concubine's festive robe
1736-1795 (Qianlong period)
Yellow silk with woven pattern
Length150 cm x width 176 cm
On loan from the Palace Museum, Beijing

The phoenix motif, traditionally a symbol of the empress, was allowed for imperial concubines and princesses as well.

The vast amount of motifs made me consider whether symbols play any importance in our clothing today? Or has the symbol been replaced by the importance of the brand? One is certainly more likely to see a t-shirt emblazoned with a Vuitton logo than a subtly incorporated four leaf clover. Perhaps the primary function of clothing used to be as an indicator of cultural identity and traditional values. Today, however it is widely used as a display of status, wealth and personal identity.

Emperor's summer court robe
1851-1861 (Xianfeng period)
Length 140 cm x width 182 cm
On loan from the Palace Museum, Beijing

This court robe is embroidered with twelve small motifs: sun, moon, constellation, mountain, dragon, flowery creature, axe head, back-to-back ji, sacrificial vessels, waterweed, flame and grain; known as the Twelve Symbols.

The symbols represented the emperor's utmost authority and were worn by him alone. The Twelve Symbols undoubtedly have ancient roots that were much older than 1644. Emperors from the previous dynasty, the Ming, also wore robes adorned with these symbols.

-The colour of the robe was also subject to regulation
* Red- the colour of weddings in China
* Bright yellow- reserved for robes worn by the empress

The colours of the Official Dress were symbolic of the following natural forces or seasonal order-
*Blue- Sacrifices at Altar of Heaven
*Yellow- Altar of Earth and reserved for grand occasions such as ascension to the throne, New Year's Day and the emperor's birthday
*Red- Altar of Sun
*Pale Blue (also known as 'moon white')- Altar of Moon

Emperor's winter court robe
1796-1820 (Jiaqing period)
Red satin with embroidered pattern
Length 144 cm x width 200 cm
On loan from the Palace Museum, Beijing

Red was the colour designated for the Altar of the Sun.

I did not realize that Zhangzhou in South China was the first city to produce velvet. It is due to this that many velvets are called "Zhang Velvet" regardless of their place of manufacture.

It was interesting to note some adaption to the robes which occurred due to influence from the west. This was responsible for informing the slimmer cut of the ladies robes. In addition Catholic nuns in the late 19th Century introduced lace making techniques to the Chinese. Despite these subtle influences, the robes remained loyal in recalling their nomadic Manchu heritage.

Imperial concubine's riding jacket (magua)
1875-1908 (Guangxu period)
Green satin with woven pattern, sable and lace
Length 80 cm x width 125 cm
On loan from the Palace Museum, Beijing

This jacket has three different borders, one made of fur, one of woven satin, and one of lace. Lace making was not a Chinese technique but one introduced by Catholic nuns in late 19th century.

Nicolas Provost- Stardust

I had not heard of the Belgian filmmaker Nicolas Provost before seeing his exhibition at the Haunch of Venison and therefore was pleasantly surprised by the highly visceral experience presented to me. I was absolutely absorbed by his film Storyteller (2010). A film of the neon lit Las Vegas skyline had been manipulated and mirrored so that it appeared as a mesmerizing moving pattern of colour and light.It exuded a dominantly artificial aura which is reminiscent of science fiction. The use of a mirrored image reminded me instantly of a photograph I took a few months ago of Battersea Power Station and its reflection in the Thames. It made me stop and reconsider beauty within the ordinary and especially the industrial or urban landscape which is often perceived as an aesthetic eyesore. From a textile point of view I could see the pattern working as a stunning fashion print!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Nottingham Contemporary

At the weekend whilst visiting friends I was lucky enough to pop into Nottingham Contemporary. The building always captures my eye due to its striking interior and exterior design. Due to its location within the area of the town historically famed for its production of lace, the whole concrete exterior of the building has a textured lace pattern.

The Gallery itself featured the work of 2 photographers- Anne Collier and Jack Goldstein.

Collier uses romantic,sentimental and often cliched images to reflect the cultural world and the mass media in which we are absorbed. Many of the images are iconic, timeless and passed on from generation to generation. Although her works often include the borrowing and reproduction of existing imagery (Appropriation Art), she also adds a touch of self-portraiture. For example a print of a close-up of her eye floating in chemicals in a developing tray. Through the presentation of stereotyped images of women she explores the sexual politics of photography.

Anne Collier, Woman With A Camera, 2009

I particularly liked the electric atmosphere that exuded from Jack Goldstein's paintings which portray the world’s last images, following natural cataclysm or even destruction from war.
“An explosive is beauty before its consequences,” he wrote.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Life Drawing

This evening I started my new term of evening life drawing classes. It was such a struggle getting back into it after such a long break and I can only hope that with more practice it will gradually become easier.

My scarf design in Topshop!

To walk into Topshop on Oxford Street and buy a scarf designed by myself was a truly surreal experience today. The scarf was designed on photoshop during my two week print block and inspired by the old rusty keys of my first pop up collection. Here I am and my flatmate Natasha wearing the scarf-

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Photography workshop




I have always been a keen and aspiring photographer but despite this have never really had the opportunity or time to gain a vast amount of skill or knowledge in this field. Therefore I was particularly excited about the day of photography as I believe that having the ability to photograph a textile in a way that captures its detail without the need for touch will be essential in my future work. We had been working on sculptural pieces inspired by our second pop-up collection, mine being my fishing flies. I wanted to somehow make the flies appear alive, to give them energy like buzzing insects. I hoped these cut out vessels with the flies emerging and escaping would evoke a sense of movement and I was eager to use lighting and shadow to enhance this feeling. I also wanted to photograph the flies themselves in a way that would make them appear large and dominating to give them power and presence and contrast with the reality of their small almost insignificant forms. I am really pleased with the amount of detail captured when photographing the flies with my digital camera. However, I was unable to get the correct focus when trying to capture the shadowed vessels. Therefore I booked a session in the photographic studio with a borrowed DSLR camera.





Wedding Culture Expo held in Nanjing, China on Saturday, March 28, 2009
The dress is composed of 2009 peacock feathers and required 8 craftsmen 2 months to finish!

Working with feathers in my weaving has got me thinking about the potential qualities feathers can bring to a garment. Ok so the wedding dress may be a little over the top, but there is no denying the stunning visual appearance of these natural objects.

Below are images of eggs and feathers collected from a farm near where I live at home in Wales.

Nippori Textile Town, Tokyo

Whilst in Tokyo I visited Nippori, otherwise known as ‘Fabric Town’. This area of the city hosts streets upon streets of unusual haberdashery and fabric stores ranging from the practical - kimono fabrics to the quirky - shops full of frills, and the truly bizarre - shops full of ferret fur. Despite it being early January and hence the majority of shops were unfortunately closed, there were still a few gems to visit. One of these was the leather store with its bags of unusual leather scraps, perfect for my material sample book and I material I feel has lots of exciting unexplored potential. One student in the Royal College’s exhibition had interestingly chosen to print on and manipulate leather which was innovative and a refreshing alternative to printing on silk or cotton.