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Class of 2021: In Process

Figure wearing dress made of duck eggs
Figure wearing dress made of duck eggs
Claudia Gusella, BA Fashion: Fashion Design Womenswear
Written by
Teleri Lloyd-Jones
Published date
18 October 2021

Making offers transformation not only to the material but the concept and even the maker. Here we explore two projects that hold the meaning of making at their centre.

Researching the lives of enslaved Africans in 18th century Jamaica, Isis Dove Edwin, BA Ceramic Design, became focused on two objects. The first were yabba, vessels created by enslaved people and sold in local markets; “objects,” Isis describes, “of agency power and resistance”. The second was a series of pastoral scenes by James Hakewills, depicting manicured plantation estates, a patrician idyll hiding the inhumanity on which it was built.

The yabba were smoke-fired vessels created during brief times of the day that enslaved plantation workers had for themselves. They were practical objects made within tight technical and time constraints. Isis set about creating her own versions, hand-built using coils echoing the methods of the originals. "At the beginning I was smoothing and burnishing everything… I kept thinking ‘these look like a decorative thing in somebody's living room, that's not what I was trying to create’… Speaking with my tutor, we talked about time and how yabba reflected free time. Then I knew, I needed to put a limit on it to reflect urgency and constraint."

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    , Isis Dove-Edwin, BA Ceramic Design
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    , Isis Dove-Edwin, BA Ceramic Design
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    , Isis Dove-Edwin, BA Ceramic Design

Isis began making the pots within a two-hour timeframe altering her relationship to them; they were no longer things to be perfected. Her process was not to make copies but instead to embody their becoming. The final objects reflect how they came into being, but the process was not performative:

It shouldn't be a stage act. I would not be doing justice to their making, given the context of their incredible circumstances. Stories and details of enslavement were very much in my mind. I was constantly questioning: did this really happen?

— Isis Dove Edwin

Process was also at the centre of Claudia Gusella’s BA Fashion: Fashion Design Womenswear collection. She created her garments from the unlikeliest of things: oyster shells, duck eggs, beer cans and bioplastics made with by-products from the meat industry. Everything is Great is the personal reflection of a grieving process:

“I was grieving for an idea that I had of myself.”

While an intensely personal piece of work, the collection was made during the pandemic, itself a collective experience of trauma. The collection combines protection (chainmail and iron maidens) and intense fragility (just imagine wearing a dress made of eggshells). The visual references are Medieval because the designer was in Italy during this time and reflecting on the symbolism she found around her. Those historic symbols gave her a route beyond herself: “I needed distance to tell what I wanted to tell and 1,000 years felt like the right amount of distance.”

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    , Claudia Gusella, BA Fashion: Fashion Design Womenswear
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    , Claudia Gusella, BA Fashion: Fashion Design Womenswear
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    , Claudia Gusella, BA Fashion: Fashion Design Womenswear

The extraordinary range of material is accompanied by the range of techniques: “I'm obsessed with making. I like using my hands and my brain, that perfect unison. I'm very physical with my process. I’m told that I'm very material-oriented but I struggle to see that because I also feel concept-oriented."

Claudia was keen to make a collection that could be both fantastical and sustainable; the egg dress, for example, is entirely biodegradable:

It's possible to do something extreme in a sustainable way. You can enjoy something knowing that the planet wasn't harmed in the process.

— Claudia Gusella

Claudia’s garments are visions that embrace personal and planetary mortality in their fragility. But in Isis’ work, it is the permanence of ceramics that bring with it a material imprint of the past, a witness to histories too long unheard. Though very different in narrative, both demonstrate how hand-making makes manifest in the most human of ways.