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Life At Chelsea: Jou-an Chen – MA Textile Design  


Written by
Natalie Anastasiou
Published date
05 September 2018

In the lead up to the MA Summer Show opening on 7 September, we interview students about their life at Chelsea. We caught up with MA Textile Design student Jou-an Chen, to see how her learning experience at Chelsea has shaped her practice and led to new opportunities.

Colourful weaving of mountains with faces.

“My research is a continuation from the previous research that I started when I applied for Chelsea examining the fading culture of Taiwanese indigenous Atayal people. In 2016, my research started from a conversation with an Atayal lady who owns a souvenir shop inside the Atayal Museum in Wu Lai, Taipei.

“That conversation led me to visit four Atayal tribes in Taiwan to learn about Atayal culture first hand. When I started my course at Chelsea, I initially experimented with different textile techniques to contemporise Atayal design in order to promote it to an international market. In 2018, after I conducted in-depth interviews with five Atayal craftswomen, I decided to create a narrative textile that portrays my experiences and reflects the cultural tensions as opposed to modernizing their traditional designs.

Weaving of a character wearing a hat and blowing a horn.

“The semi-structured interviews I had with Atayal craftswomen during the Easter break became a vital turning point in my project. The interviews greatly influenced my decision for the final outcome from attempting to modernise Atayal traditional design to creating a narrative textile that introduces their culture and raises awareness for their current situation.

“For the degree show, I am creating a four-meter-long narrative textile piece, “A Conversation and Beyond”, using techniques like hand weaving with natural dyed yarns for the background and laser cutting, digital printing and digital embroidering the 3D texture pieces.

3 meter long colourful weaving of a narrative, hung on the wall.

“The various textile workshops allowed me to explore lots of possibilities in the design process. At Chelsea, they encourage us to try everything. As long as you have an idea, the technicians will help you achieve it and tackle any problems you may encounter. Although I used an arm loom for the final piece, I also learned how to use a jacquard loom and made several samples during the course.

“I want to thank Helen Elder from our academic support team, she helped me a lot with my project development. At UAL, we can book extra tutorials in addition to our main course’s and these made me feel supported and understood.

A detail of a colourful patch of weaving.

“Chelsea gave me the freedom to be as creative as I wanted to be. Every day, I see so many ideas growing within the University. The experience is priceless.

“This is my first time studying abroad, I am really glad that I chose London. London is a city you will never be bored of – there are many events everyday around London and I have participated in lots of workshops and events. Among them, I especially enjoyed London Crafts Week which was held in May. I highly recommend it!

Different colourled threads presented on the wall in wooden vessels with description tags attached.

“My ambition after graduation is to be a freelance designer/maker within the Textile industry and set up my own studio to promote more traditional crafts to the global market.

“My advice to new students would be to take advantage of the UAL services, such as Academic SupportLanguage Support, and the multiple libraries. They host lots of workshops throughout campus through which you can meet students from other courses and be inspired by each other. Every course has their own specialist librarian who can be extremely helpful when you are researching.”

A white and blue weaving with two wooden gardening tools on top.

To see more of Jou-An Chen’s work visit her Instagram page.

Find out more about the MA Summer Show.

Find out more about MA Textile Design.