Radical Craft – collaborating with costume
Over the last month I have been collaborating with costume designer Annelies Henny to develop new performance work ‘With Force and Noise’. This project has been about exploring the emotion of anger and has taken me too many places, costume and radical craft being a particularly inspiring one.
PERCEIVING ANGER THROUGH COSTUME
Through working with costume I was led to a world of craft and textile that opened a whole new angle on the emotion of anger. This angle is that anger motivates us to make something visible or witnessed, a possible route for this is what I am calling radical craft.
I have been particularly inspired by Chilean Arpilleras, an applique craft that documents the life of Chile in bright colour and fabrics including the torture, disappearances and imprisonments they suffer.Craft techniques such as embroidery, weaving and applique are associated with the domestic female. Through using them to document and disseminate violence suffered, the reality of anger and hurt present is witnessed.
I also became fascinated with tapestry, and the writing of history in thread. I find that tapestry carries a sense of grandeur and finality, I think this comes from its size and usual depiction of grand battles. It seems to be that history acquires a literal weight when transformed into a fabric. This weight of history in relation to anger is something I have been experiencing personally. A feeling of being under or surrounded by a long story of anger and its consequences, that switches been a stimulation or suffocation of ones own agency.
Alongside these inspirations and thoughts also lies the use of craft and costume in punk and protest, the inventiveness of rebellion that embeds radical ideas and images into clothes and banners, again to make the unrest visible. The creative design of protest is something I came across at the ‘Disobedient Objects’ exhibitions at the V&A, and this became a key place of referral for me and Annelies to discuss the relationship between anger and a resourceful use of textile/material/costume.
Another angle on anger that came through exploring costume is transformation. By looking into costume made for ritual performances, I came to understand the use of costume as a way of accessing the spiritual, an interconnectedness that goes beyond the recognisable. Anger has been understood as a kind of supernatural force, a change of the soul, or a possession of sorts. I feel that our use of costume within ritual performances allows us to summon something spiritual out of ourselves, which suggests to me that there is a constant source of emotion that lies dormant until it is unleashed, pulled out, or simply allowed to be. And it is the very experience of transforming from the recognisable to the other that we respond to. An inspiring reference for this is the Mamuthones of Sardinia, where the moment of transformation is serious and sacred.
This process has led us to make an embroidered tapestry suit, currently being made by Annelies, and some transformation prototypes to work with in the studio.
Working with a costume designer has been fascinating, fun and challenging. I found that we work best when we can talk through images and examples. It was by looking at the work of Nick Cave and his Sound Suits and the Chilean Arpilleras that we could form collaborative visual ideas. Without these images as reference points the matching of minds would of been problematic. In conversation we found that one of us would understand one word differently to the other, this made conversation really intense but worthwhile as we unpicked what we each understood. I generally would speak in concepts and purpose of costume, and Annelies would speak in real materials and images. Persisting with checking what we actually meant by the words we were using became really important. Testing things out is key to costume design, the craft comes through translating concept into material, colour and tackling logistics. Keeping an eye out for anything that may mislead the reading of the costume, what shoes, what collar, made me realise how much knowledge is held in these details, the choices completely craft a story and a set of references that will lead a viewer in a certain direction.
DRAWING A TAPESTRY
To create a costume that is essentially an embroidered tapestry I embarked on the task of drawing that tapestry. This was unexpected but extremely enjoyable. There is a fluidity to drawing that I find very freeing, the images created came with little thought or interrogation, they became responsive translations of all the research I had gathered. It offered me another mode of expression within what is already a multi-channel project (also work with film and creating a bookwork). Through drawing I was allowed to fulfill my more abstract reflections on anger, or just allow the images to remain abstract. The drawing process allowed for the myriad of thoughts I have gathered around anger to fall out as a multitude of sketches. I feel that this outcome is very true to the experience I have had around investigating anger, I am not interested in one definition (I don’t think this exists or is of any use) I am interested in the multitude of sketches that create a mass – because it is this ‘mass’ that affects me. The very variable and personal nature of emotion.
After a month of being based at Annelies’ studio drawing, talking and creating a design I will now go into the studio at Bristol Old Vic to look at how the text collides with the costume, and with my dramaturg decide how they intersect and what potentially leads the performance – the text or the costume?
This project is currently being supported by Arts Council England and Bristol Ferment.