Multidisciplinary artist Daniela Raytchev is a double University of the Arts London (UAL) alumna; having graduated from the Foundation course at Central Saint Martins (CSM) in 2006, she went on to study BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development at London College of Fashion (LCF) graduating in 2011.
Here Daniela speaks to us about her upcoming exhibition, ‘Are We Human or Are We Spam’, part of the Start 2020 Art Fair at the Saatchi Gallery (21-25 October), which confronts the aftermath and recovery of sexual assault.
You’ve graduated from both CSM and LCF; what was your experience at UAL like?
My experience was very mixed. I was fulfilling my dream being part of such a great creative community, whilst on a personal level, I was battling my insecurities. I loved art and fashion since I was a child and as much as that was the only thing I wanted to do, I had the imposter syndrome of not being good enough.
I had an ongoing eating disorder that affected my academic results… and the consequences from it follow me in certain areas of my life to this day, to be honest! That said, all the way throughout the course, the support from tutors and technicians was amazing. St Martins really pushed me in terms of conceptualising my art, LCF helped me to develop technical skills and I really enjoyed participating in Erasmus exchange too, which I highly recommend. I found some lifelong friendships at UAL, and I am very grateful for that!
How did the Colleges differ? Were there any similarities?
It will be almost 10 years since I graduated, so anything I share applies to the time when I was there. A lot might have changed since!
I loved CSM’s free spirit, in the way they actively encouraged us to think outside of the box and not limit ourselves with any learnt preconceptions. I think if I was to continue my studies I would consider going back there. LCF was a little bit more practical in terms of learning the technical aspects of the fashion design process. The course I studied also had a business element to it and that’s why I chose it. I cannot compare the two as I studied at each college at a different level. That said I was satisfied and the support I received matched my expectations.
You studied Fashion Design and Development at LCF; how did you find the course?
I really enjoyed the practical element of the course where we had to develop our own business plans and marketing campaigns.
I was less keen on the making of the garments haha... I think I was a little bit naive thinking that fashion design was going to be about pretty illustrations.. whereas there is a huge element of craft, understanding technical qualities of different materials, and pattern cutting, that every fashion designer needs to master. I am the sort of person who wants things to be done yesterday. I was very impatient when I attended LCF, so I struggled with this aspect of it. Great designs take time. I think painting helped me to nurture that side of me as great paintings (same as great anything else in life really) take a lot of time too.
You’re a mental health campaigner as well as a multidisciplinary artist; can you tell us more about your work and your practice.
Sure. My practice is very varied. I don’t like to limit myself by a particular medium. It's a choice that depends on the individual project and what I am trying to communicate or capture. I usually start with the theme and don’t worry about the final outcome.
After graduating from LCF I spent one year in South Africa where I started painting again. Art gave me more conceptual freedom to address social stigmas I felt passionate about. I thought maybe this way I could help, so I chose to follow that career path instead. I try to use my time here, and my creativity, to contribute. I think that’s my purpose… at least for now.
I recently became an ambassador for the charity Safeline. They are an independent charity that helps prevent sexual abuse and rape and provides free, specialist, tailored non-time limited support, for anyone affected including friends and family. They recently started a national male survivors helpline too. I am very excited about our collaboration and I hope this way more people who need support can hear about them.
Still, I feel like a campaigner is a very strong word! As much as I share about mental health on my social media, during talks and interviews, and it’s an essential part of my work, I am not sure if I can call myself a campaigner as such, as there are so many people who have more active presence! For example, one of the participants I interviewed for my ‘Progress not Perfection’ project campaigns within criminal justices system, to create better support for inmates with mental health issues, or another close friend of mine just became an ambassador for Samaritans and her documentaries have national reach... For now, I am doing so mainly via my artwork.
You’re upcoming exhibition, ‘Are We Human or Are We Spam’ dismantles the truth around stranger danger; and it confronts the aftermath and recovery of sexual assault. Can you tell us more about your work in this exhibition.
There is still a lot of stigmas attached to rape, and what it is. This project addresses complex issues surrounding the rape culture and it’s suppressed, sometimes even incoherent truths. There is no ‘typical' victim or ‘standard’ response scenario.
I focus this project on women (I would love to interview a male participant in near future also) where the incident wasn’t necessarily violent, or career-driven, yet left huge emotional scars and it was a blatant breach of personal boundaries and freedoms. A lot of the time these survivors felt complicit after the incident and it took them years to come to terms of what actually happened and why it affected them the way it did.
I know this subject can make people feel uncomfortable.. but it’s only because we are not used to talking about these things. This was actually one of the reasons why I chose to work on this theme. Rape is real, sexual assault happens.. and closing our eyes to what’s happening around is not going to help anyone in the long term.
I started playing around in my head about this theme around 3 years ago. Back then I participated in a group exhibition 'Angry Women' for New York gallery group Untitled Space. It was a reaction to a lot of misogynistic messages that were shared by several prominent public figures at the time. One of the artists there shared about her experience of being sexually assaulted. I found her openness very inspiring. I knew at that point I would like to work on a project like this one day. About a year later I was applying for various artist residencies and I was ready to create proposals based on this theme. I got accepted to NARS Foundation residency in New York where I developed the start of this project. I researched the original transcripts of the rape trial of Artemisia Gentileschi, and it amazed me how similar it was to the current issues women and/or men face. I also used my personal experience and interviews with survivors as an inspiration. I incorporated it all into a range of paintings, sculptures and an installation that was part of the group exhibition at the end of the residency. My artwork uses a lot of layering, symbolism and figurative representations of feelings and emotions.
The exhibition is part of the Start Art Fair at the Saatchi Gallery; what does that mean for you and your work?
This is the second time I am exhibiting at the at Start at Saatchi and I am very excited! A couple of small works from the first part of the project have been chosen by Chase Contemporary gallery in New York. It’s also been featured as part of the Zero Experiment - an online platform/gallery that organises virtual openings, but this is the first time this project will be shown here in London. I have been working on some new pieces since being back in London and I am looking forward to seeing how people respond.
Being part of a platform such as Start is an amazing opportunity, especially given the nature of my work. My art addresses social stigmas and is community-driven, so the more people hear about it, the better.
You also run art and healing workshops; how did these come about? What is involved in these workshops and do they link to your practice?
Yes. I teamed up with Neverfade Factory, a fashion and art concept store in Soho, London and we recently stared running ‘Art and Healing’ webinars. I used to run workshops in the past and was already thinking about starting again when Neverfade approached me. It came off the back of the pandemic; we wanted to create a safe space for people to get grounded and just enjoy themselves. We include 5-10 minutes of mindfulness meditation or exercises at the beginning and the end of each session. There is no previous experience necessary and we try and personalise the content to everyone’s personal needs, which I think make the sessions very special. There are a couple of other artists on board and we are looking to get more involved, to have a nice variety of presenters and topics to cover. I am leading a second series that started on 20 August, you should join us!
What is next for you?
At the moment I am working on a very little capsule collection of sustainable one off up-cycled designs and I am working on some moving image and video work. I also just started a collaboration with a fashion designer Sarah Hollebon, also LCF graduate. We are in the process of combining our practices and addressing the theme of sexual abuse. I am looking forward to seeing where this collaboration goes.
And as of the future only the time will tell! Everything changes so fast at the moment that I am just trying to enjoy every day as it comes and not worry too much about what will happen far down the road. I think it’s important to stay open minded and flexible, and most importantly, love what you do from the bottom of your heart.