One question which often crops up in student learning logs and beyond is – where does art begin and function end? Yes, lines have converged in recent years so this is a valid discussion point. Clearly, if you’re designing a product for commercial purposes the aims throughout the design process are focussed on questions of fashion, the end user, what would they pay etc? For an art piece the considerations are different, although maybe not any easier. Is the piece for a collective exhibition, a theme? Do you feel in tune with it? If its purely down to you, what is it about, how to best show this, does it work as a piece in its own right, etc?
Sometimes (and increasingly) the boundaries converge. Look at the work of Alison Willoughby, known as the skirt girl, her work is made primarily for display and constructed to take account of this. However, many collectors actually wear the skirts as well – presumably hanging them up on the wall again between wearings?
Alison’s work first became known to me when I saw this skirt of hers in an exhibition at Bilston Craft Gallery in the Midlands whist at BIAD. I was fascinated especially since I have made countless garments – to wear. I had thought of couturier fashion as Art, but here was a garment with a certain handmade look, hung as a wall piece.
Alison researched kilts for her MA in Textiles at the Royal College of Art – all her skirts are wraparound – they open out to totally flat pieces, no darts or shaping, fastening at the back with buckles. She uses any means available to her – printing, applique, quilting, slashing, recycled fabrics – to get the effect she wants. She has designed functional pieces as well; bedding for Habitat, garments for other names and fabric lengths.
Her work came to my mind after looking at the an assignment from OCA student, Sallianne Green, a postal student from Ireland. She made a very impressive skirt for the section called A Piece of Your Own at the end of Assignment 3 in Textiles 1. Before anyone on Textiles 1 panics, this project doesn’t require to finish a whole piece, but some students do complete items.
This piece is meant to be worn, but for me it has that quality of Alison’s work about it too. It was developed from the Van Gogh painting Starry Night. Actually, Sallianne had reservations at the end of this piece, thinking it should have more decorative elements – but I feel that it already has a nice balance about it; two motifs on the front and one on the back. The crunchy, shot gold fabric appliques are in fact gathered fabric manipulation. The background is hand dyed and there are some very well sourced large gold sequins which are just enough to outset the blue background, both in terms of colour and contrasting feel – glitzy against the more utilitarian linen base. In this skirt primarily made to wear, issues of comfort and wash-ability (and no bits sticking into you or catching on chairs!) have to be taken into account.
However, for me, the fact that this skirt is about something, it conveys feelings and thoughts (see some of the supporting design work below) puts it slightly towards the art category as well. The Americans coined a good term for this- Wearable Art. So yes, the lines have converged. We are lucky enough to live in exciting times with many more options open to us as textile artists and designers – or maybe a bit of both?