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MA Fashion Curation students explore UAL archives for ‘Renewal’ exhibition

Sketch by Luke Moss
Written by
Published date
11 May 2016

Ahead of this week’s Im/Material: Encounters within the Creative Arts Archive conference at  Chelsea College of Arts, LCF News spoke to the four LCF MA Fashion Curation students who have been working with tutor Jeff Horsley, and students from Central Saint Martins to stage one of the exhibitions on display, as part of the conference.

Renewal is an exhibition using the UAL’s archives to explore how material and figurative thresholds help us go from one fleeting moment to another, and help us to evolve.

Of the MA Fashion Curation students interviewed  Maxime Laprade and Luke Moss previously both did a BA in Art History, Daniela Tan did a BA in Fashion Design in Singapore and Pooky Lee studied Advertising. We spoke to them about the experience of working on the exhibition, as well as how they are finding their time at LCF.

Sketch by Pooky Lee

Sketch by Pooky Lee

Let’s start by talking about the Renewal exhibition. How is it related to the MA Fashion Curation course?

Max: It is part of the collect/recollect unit on the MA. We are studying collection, collectors and collecting – this was the starting point for the exhibition. It was also inspired by Susan Sontag’s novel ‘The Volcano Lover’ – in the book she talks about a collection and we wanted to find links between the book and the UAL archives.

How have you achieved this?

Luke: In the book Sontag introduces the idea of the carnivalesque so we drew some themes out of that – the idea of feasting or banqueting for example, is one theme that has come out quite strongly across the archives. It also reflects the collaborative process.

Daniela: To begin with there was the idea of creating an exhibition based on a fiction, then the nature of the collections in the archives – a lot of them are teaching collections. There are five different archives, led by five different archivists and we paired up with CSM students and it was those collaborative conversations that brought up our ideas so it was really interesting.

What archives have you all been working on? 

Max: I worked at the LCC archive with a CSM student. We were amazed by the amount of the same item there was – like audio files from Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. There’s a huge amount of things so we are going to try to exhibit everything rather than a few things – we are going to exhibit the list of the material instead of choosing one.

Pooky: I worked with a girl from CSM on the archive at Chelsea. The archive there has lots of work by British and international artists since the 1950s. Initially I wasn’t that interested in the archive – I came from a fashion background and I had little knowledge about art and artists, but it turns out that it was really interesting. We found this intimate and close relationship between the objects. For example the process of preparing the artwork for the archive is art itself, which is very interesting and formed part of the selection process.

Luke: I’m at the Camberwell archive, which I didn’t really know what to expect from – similar to Pooky in the beginning, I was hesitant to go because I wanted to do fashion but I have absolutely loved it. The collection is really nice – it has a lot of domestic crockery and cutlery and homewares from the 1960s and early 70s. What I found from this archive and similar to what Daniela said earlier, was that there is a strong intent to educate and inspire students. When I went with my colleague on our first visit to the archive, there was a really nice student there who was scanning in some textiles and creating this digital artwork, so it was nice to witness the archive still being used in this practical way.

Daniela: I am at the CSM archive working with a girl who is also really in to fashion so we were very drawn to the dress objects in the archive. The interesting thing about the archive and the objects we took, is that even though the archive is meant to teach and inspire, it was very hard for us to access and get through the archive. Our first point of contact was the online digital archive and some of the objects don’t have pictures and we didn’t really know what kind of keywords to use – you can’t use abstract keywords you have use very factual ones like ‘shoe’ and then go through everything. We had two meetings with archivists and we had to rely a lot on them understanding what we were trying to look for. When we saw the pieces, we could already see how they were going to be displayed and we were able to link it to the theme of banquets and festivals.

Max: As for the LCF archive, two CSM students are working in that.

So you are halfway through MA, how are you finding your time at LCF?

Daniela: For me, 60% of it happens outside of class time and the 40% in class is really intense and amazing. Being in London is really inspiring, having access to dress collections and things like that is amazing. In Singapore, we don’t have those things so I couldn’t have gone anywhere else.

Max: I used to be very theoretical and I used to do lots of theoretical research but since I’ve been at LCF, I want to draw and I want to video. I had a tutorial with Professor Judith Clarke and she said that I need to go out of my comfort zone. LCF gives you the opportunity to try experiment which is great.

Pooky: Like Daniela said, it not about just coming to LCF, it’s about coming to London. You suddenly have lots of access to different people and amazing collections. You find yourself facing so many opportunities.

Luke: I grew up about an hour away from London, its part of my childhood and I love how everyone has said they feel that the course is more than LCF, it is London. I’m the complete reverse, I love the library. I’ve seen London and I love it and that Vogue archive is just insane. It has been an amazing course so far –  the resources, Judith and Amy are incredible. The course is going so quickly!

Why do you think fashion curation is becoming more popular? 

Daniela: I think it’s a way of adding value to commercial products.

Luke: Blunt response, but it is to make money. It is another debate I am very interested in actually, the good or bad cross over between retail and the ‘sacred’ museum. I see it as a mutually beneficial thing – both party’s get good out of it.

Max: It is a way for a brand to be legitimised and truly have value, and gain cultural capital. Yes it is becoming popular but not all of it is good. The work that Judith and Amy are doing is miles ahead of some of the so-called exhibitions that have been on recently

Daniela: It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors…

Where do you see it going with brands and how do you think this will affect what you consider as ‘real’ fashion exhibitions then?

Daniela: It could be good. A lot of museum funding is being cut and they are trying to stay relevant young people, so this could affect the way curators think – they may be challenged to think in different ways like perhaps trying to engage with technology even more. You could use holograms in places where people don’t have access to couture pieces for example.

Max: There have been a lot of exhibitions recently that have had huge commercial success with lots of people visiting them. They might not have been the most academic but they have got a lot of people interested in fashion and that is great. It’s great for curation, it is great for us.

What does fashion curation mean to you all?

Max: Everything and nothing!

Luke: I applied to this course because I wanted to be a curator. I love art and fashion. The course was everything I wanted but I came into it not really knowing that much about fashion curation so I think, for me, just seeing the past work that figures at LCF have done is and the future stuff is very exciting. For me I think there are 2 elements to it: I love the element that just presents pretty gowns on a mannequin – I like that, some people don’t. Then there’s is the other side that is very intellectual and in-depth.