Art for Everyone: From William Morris To Bob and Roberta Smith

A Georgian building in Walthamstow – an east London borough – dating from about 1744, the “Water House” was once the home of William Morris, artist, writer, designer, socialist, and one of the most influential figures of 19th century arts culture in Britain. The Water House is now better known as William Morris Gallery, a space dedicated to preserving and disseminating Morris’ legacy – both by looking at his own life and work, as well as by offering a compelling context for contemporary artists to show their work. Knowing even fairly little about Morris’ ethos, it doesn’t come as a surprise, thus, to see Bob and Roberta Smith’s show open at the Gallery.

“Art is Your Human Right” – an unambiguous and appropriately compelling exhibition title – is a show that follows Bob and Roberta Smith’s campaigns against the British government’s downgrading of art education. In a visually rich and engaging installation, the artists – whose real name is Patrick Brill – asks questions and offers statements on the value of art in everyday life for the widest strata of society. From work directed specifically at the former secretary for education Michael Gove that asks “where are our future designers architects craftsmen/women engineers technicians software designers and mathematicians going to come from if no one can draw?” to genuinely convincing statements such as “Art Makes People Powerful”, Bob and Roberta Smith engages in a direct and playful dialogue between life and art.

Combining film, placards, sculpture, banners and even his slogan-covered campaigning van (Brill launched the Art Party for the latest parliamentary elections), this exhibition makes the case for creativity: all schools should be art schools; music makes children powerful; art is your human right. “Art is Your Human Right” runs until 31 January 2016 at William Morris Gallery.

The Blogazine – Images courtesy of William Morris Gallery 
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Harbison – From Research to Fashion

The fashion world has always been looking for new talents, but the desire for the new seems to be even more urgent today. While this offers numerous opportunities for upcoming designers – be it through awards, apprenticeships, or endorsements – it also gives them less time to build their own voice before being pulled into complex dynamics of commercial viability and production. It is obvious, thus, that this results in a frenzied fashion climate which, in the long run, risks of harming the creative aspects of design process. Shouldn’t spending time working independently be preserved and regarded as the true moment of development in fashion? For young talents, figuring who they want to be as designers, is central to how the fashion world will be shaped in the coming decades.

One brand that has embraced its research process successfully and found its own expression is the Brooklyn based label, Harbison. In just a few years Charles Elliott Harbison, the founder and Creative Director of the brand has created a design aesthetic that feels at the forefront of all that is interesting and cool. After studying fine arts, painting, and textiles at North Carolina State University, fashion at Parsons School of Design and holding internships at Michael Kors and Jack Spade, he started his own brand in 2013. During his studies, Harbison become particularly interested in the modern movement, a frame of reference that still holds a great impact on his design. In his A/W 2015 collection, colour contrasts have played an important role, both in more graphic patterns and in combinations of materials. Perhaps mindful of the Modernist maxim ”form follows function”, his silhouettes are clean, feminine and with a strong urban feeling. Taking time to understand who he is as a designer, has resulted in work that is clear in its conception and true in its references – as should any design product be before it reaches the final fashion judges – the consumers.

Hanna Cronsjö 
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From runway to stage: How fashion shows itself today

There are many words that define the moment in which fashion is publicly presented: fashion show, catwalk, runway. Between all the semantic possibilities, which involve nuances and references both to history, to the kind of movement performed – it is difficult to chose the one which is able to define what actually goes on, every six months – or, I rather say, more and more often – on the stages that fashion colonises. To pin down the term that can actually gather all the different expressions, I’d go for fashion show, which holds together the idea of an exposition, be it still or in movement, of clothes which represent a flair, a style.

Fashion shows were actually not as ‘narrative’ as we consider them today. They were born to gather buyers and journalists and inform them of what a fashion house was producing. They are the tri-dimensional evolution of the circulation of plates and aimed mostly at enlarging the area of commercial influence. Fashion shows, for some countries – as Italy in 1951 – came up as a moment to showcase national identity; and that’s how they are seen today by the so-called upcoming fashion cities. The story behind fashion shows is complex and layered, but just stopping at the surface – that is, at their appearance as spectacle – is interesting to get some clues about the directions of design today.

What emerged as an economic tool has rapidly become advertorial, and then opened up to the myriad of possibilities that the stage offers; and what kind of ‘animal’ are fashion shows becoming now? The question arises after the latest fashion month – and, most of all, the Parisian spot – which has pushed the boundaries between fashion show and performance art, blurring the lines more and more. While most of the shows followed the ‘regular’ format of the catwalk, just reflecting upon the space in which models had to move, some designers have exploited the potential of the fashion show as a moment highly regarded by the press and the public. Rick Owens sent out couples of models-performers bounded up, one actually ‘wearing’ the other; they were not professional models though, and their bodies were informed of their profession, and far from the typical fashion silhouette. What Hussein Chalayan did was not even a catwalk: two models standing still in the middle of a crowded room were literally showered with water, which acted like a solvent on the clothes they were wearing, revealing other clothes underneath the first layer. I don’t know if the world ‘performance’ suits these kind of events, though. It is not just a matter of ‘like or hate’ anymore: fashion shows seem to be trying to become a meta-narrative operation, which waits for the reception and above all for the participation of the public to be complete. Nevertheless, they still portray something that is neither replicable nor empathic, and they present a reality that is true just within the border of fashion experimentalism. The participation of the public is surely central, above all considering the impact of social media not only on fashion as a show, but also on fashion as a product, but the positions and hierarchies are still very defined.

What is negated by these very actions that fashion practitioners are staging is indeed the materiality of fashion; it is not an economic matter anymore: fashion is a pretext to produce actions that surely do not want to be a mere showcase, nor they are meant to be just for a public of professionals; but also, they are not just highly ‘instagrammable’ moments, which get their value by the number of thumbs-up they receive on social networks. Even if, in the Chalayan show, clothes are actually the centre, we are not looking at them as a product, but as part of a process, a metaphor for the intricate relationship between instability, change and authenticity. The core problem is, then, what role do clothes have in this evolution of the runway? Does their design match with the shape of their presentation? Does it come before or after the idea of the show? What is clear is that these operations are re-defining the meaning of fashion itself as a wide platform in which clothes are just one of the elements that define design as a practice, and design as a spectacle.

Marta Franceschini 
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A Change at the Top: Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga

Even though we’ve left Paris Fashion Week behind us a couple of weeks ago, there are still some lingering news to address. About a week ago it was unexpectedly proclaimed that the co-founder of urban Parisian label Vetements, Demna Gvasalia, would replace Alexander Wang as artistic director of Balenciaga. But what could this mean for the future of Balenciaga fashion? As Wang concluded his reign over the French brand with an underwhelming final collection, it opened space for Gvasalia to bring forth a new side to Balenciaga. If we look at Gvasalia’s background, it does seem that he might have the knowledge needed to continue this great house’s legacy.

Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. After leaving the prestigious design school, he led design teams at both Maison Martin Margiela as well as Louis Vuitton. Subsequently, he launched the Vetements label in 2014, basing it on the concept of urbanity, everyday street-life and a season-less modern wardrobe – all notions that gave the brand a sought after coolness factor. Vetements quickly became a favorite among fashionistas and qualified for a nomination for this year’s LVMH Prize.

When reviewing the past work of Gvasalia, the first thing that comes to mind is an effortless edge to each look. It is a unique quality that brings streetwear to a more elevated spectrum. In Vetements’, collections there have always been looks with differing elements on the front and back, bright colours and unexpected references. Thigh high leather boots in vivid colours gave a minimalistic pencil skirt a coquettish wink. Such playful vibes can help Balenciaga attract a new clientele without alienating the old. Even though Gvasalia has yet to prove himself in the haute couture there is a clear point of view to this designer that can marry well with the Balenciaga label. Gvasalia has expressed his thoughts in not always pushing the limits of fashion by creating something crazy, but instead, creating something we could believe in. This is a clear philosophy that echoes through Cristóbal Balenciaga’s heritage. Balenciaga was famous for adding precious elements to simplicity, making it deliciously grand – an approach that Demna Gvasalia has made his own.

Victoria Edman 
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From Global to Local – the World Goes Pop

What is there to know about pop art that we haven’t already seen before? One of the most iconic art movements of the 20th century, pop art is widely associated with personal and professional exuberance of Andy Warhol, or ironic, repurposed cartoon images of Roy Lichtenstein. And yet, one must wonder whether their apparent obsession with the banality of the everyday is really the only language that pop art knows how to speak. A new show at the Tate Modern in London aims to dispel the understating of pop art as a largely North American movement, instead showing how the iconographic, visual vocabulary of pop art was appropriated around the world – from Japan to Brazil, from Yugoslavia to Spain – in the 1960s and 1970, and used to tackle issues that reach beyond critical engagement with consumerism.

“The World Goes Pop” greets you with a brightly coloured room that states that “pop was never just a celebration of Western consumerism, but was often a subversive international language for criticism and public protest across the globe.” This initial statement is further explored through thematic rooms that deal with politics, domesticity, bodies, feminism and public protests, along with three sections dedicated exclusively to the work of Eulàlia Grau and Joe Tilson, Jana Želibská, and Cornel Brudaşcu. Using well-known visual devices of US-crafted pop – and sometimes even referencing its most famous works – artists gathered in this exhibition explored issues related to political dominance of the US, the position of the female body in popular culture and the role of female figure in society, the blurry relationship between censorship and propaganda, civil rights movements, or political dictatorship.

A cacophony of references, between commercial messages and overt political critique, “The World Goes Pop” shows how artists used this visual language to “critique its capitalist origins while benefiting from its universal mass appeal and graphic power” to discuss issues that were relevant to specific geographical context in a very specific historical moment. “The World Goes Pop” runs until 24 January 2016.

The Blogazine 
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The Future of Parisian Fashion

What to say about Paris, the home of haute couture and a city that is so closely related to fashion, that they have almost become synonyms? The French capital has played an important role in fashion history and some would even go as far as calling it the birth town of fashion. Despite the fact that other cities have found their own place in the world of contemporary fashion, Paris will always have it’s history and a whole bunch of international brands. It is, therefore, also a place where many new designers choose to educate themselves and start their careers. So even though Paris has closed the Fashion week tour for this time we can’t leave the city before summarising the best upcoming designers seen last week in the French metropolis.

Lucie Brochard graduated from Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in 2005 and is now merging all her experience from traveling through Asia, America and Europe into her own brand. Her design is all about the modern, creative, elegant and spontaneous travelling women. Her collection draws inspiration from well dressed women she has seen at airports all over the globe, who succeed in dressing impeccably without compromising with comfort.

Arnaud Lazérat is a Paris-based brand that combines the traditional French handcraft with urban influences. It is both eccentric, powerful and fun – inspired by stage costumes and custom-made dresses, resulting in pieces that address both women and men and encourage free movement and comfort.

Karen Topacio is a designer who recently graduated from IFA in Paris and now has founded her own, self-titeled brand. She defined her style at her graduating show in January 2015 and has continued with that approach in her most recent collection, which can be best described as innovative, crisp and playful. She combines an architectural take with technological influences – all with the aim of creating wearable, cool and original pieces.

Jasmin Brar is another designer who recently graduated from her fashion studies at Istituto Marangoni. She is now based in Paris and makes all her pieces by hand, aiming to make luxury womenswear with focus on unexpected and at times a bit odd details – resulting in pieces that brings couture to the contemporary fashion.

Hanna Cronsjö 
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Wolfgang Tillmans: PCR

Since the beginning of his career, Wolfgang Tillmans has taken an active interest in the display of his works, using the exhibition as a distinct medium in its own right. Meticulous wall installations of photographs in greatly varying sizes, often hung unframed or taped directly to the wall, allow for a multitude of aesthetic as well as social relationships to crystallize. Each installation is arranged in dialogue with its particular space as well as the city it is in. For his latest exhibition at David Zwirner gallery in New York, Tillmans has arranged over one hundred recent works, spanning a comprehensive selection of the major themes and processes in his oeuvre.

Bringing together pictures taken across the world of friends and strangers, as well as the natural and built environment, the present exhibition addresses one of the main questions explored in Tillmans’s recent practice: as photography becomes increasingly ubiquitous, and as ever higher resolution yields unprecedented views of our surroundings, how do pictures continue to shape our knowledge of the world? The artist proposes that there is still a space for perplexity, mystery, and emotional relevance. Throughout the installation, photographs of activists in New York, Berlin, Osaka, Santiago de Chile, and St. Petersburg coexist seamlessly with glimpses into the artist’s private life, reflecting the broader tension in Tillmans’s oeuvre between the political and the personal. Extending this thematic, new nightlife pictures present underground club venues frequented by the artist as sanctuaries for free expression and even protest, offering a subtle counterpoint to the flood of uniform party pictures that now clutter social media.

PCR, the title of the exhibition and an abbreviation for “polymerase chain reaction” (a technique in molecular biology of amplifying a DNA molecule), also echoes a principle interest in Tillmans’s oeuvre. Whereas PCR can determine the overall genetic identity of an individual from a trace amount of starting material (a single hair follicle, for example), each work is for the artist a sample from a seemingly infinite pool of possible subject matter. The question of when a picture becomes a picture, and when certain developments become noticeable, has remained a central concern throughout his career. The exhibition runs through 24 October 2015.

The Blogazine – Images courtesy of David Zwirner 
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Paris Fashion Week SS16 – Trends

The wide range of Paris Fashion Week showcased the infinite possibilities looming in the future of fashion. The inspiration was everything – from punk princess to clean minimalism. However, three main trends stood out in terms of materials, technique and accessories.

Seeing Sequins – If you can think of anything to cover in sequins or mosaic – you’re on the right way to mimic what was presented at Paris Fashion Week. Dresses, cardigans, tops and bottoms were all sparkling. Loewe presented a loose fit pant with big mirror mosaic on them that added another dimension to the trend of sporty chic. Lanvin and Saint Laurent both presented sparkling dresses in combination with something more casual like a bomber jacket. Sonia Rykiel blended in sequins on long sleeved tops with a formation that created the illusion of coordinating jewelry. It was an interesting comment to the evolution of street style: adding something that was once considered appropriate only for partying to the everyday wardrobe is now the fashionable thing to do.

Pleats Please – A popular technique used when playing with shape and volume, pleats were presented at several Parisian runways as a way of adding complexity to something simple, a final extra twist to catch the eye. At Vanessa Seward A-line tops and shift dresses were made more interesting with the addition of pleats, making them stand out instead of blending in the crowd. Vionnet stayed true to its roots and experimented with a somber colour scale – letting pleats and more structured parts intertwine brought the notion of what’s going to be important in 2016. Finally Stella McCartney proved that pleats can be a fun way to play with colour and imposed an ombré effect without actually using ombré, producing, in turn, depth without moving from the surface.

In the Middle – The discussion lingering on after Rick Owens’ fashion show was focused on the human accessories hanging from some of the models, but this functioned as a humoristic or critical accent to leather details other models wore around their waist. A wide or asymmetrical obi-belt was viewed at other runways as well, like, for example, Olympia Le-Tan. At Longchamp they also presented a trompe de l’oeil version by belting a contrasting effect of the coat.

Victoria Edman 
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The Voice of Things

In an unassuming garage in Brompton Design District, sits a room apparently filled with futuristic incongruences. For London Design Festival, Platform 18 – a group of students from the Royal College of Art, led by tutors Sarah van Gameren and Philippe Malouin – presented The Voice of Things, an exhibition exploring the subject of reproduction. The Voice of Things is a celebration of Platform 18′s activity in the Design Products Department and the group of talented designers that it has nurtured. As the platform completed its third and final year, graduates from across the three years come together to complete a common brief for an exhibition curated by platform tutors.

The participating designers have been asked to find a person who can describe a functional object to them solely through spoken word. The designers cannot see, touch, smell or taste the authentic object but are expected to recreate it according to the descriptions received. Visitors to the exhibition had the opportunity to view both the originals and their interpretations, which were be presented side by side – creating unexpected juxtapositions and offering an insight into what reproduction, translation, imagination might mean.

In fact, the Voice of Things is an exhibition about description, translation and interpretation. It also aims to showcase the common qualities developed by graduates of the platform developed through the tutoring by Van Gameren and Malouin, who expected their students to be thinkers and makers; meticulous, methodical, adventurous and fanatical individuals with a sensibility to both artistic and aesthetic values.

The Blogazine 
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Paris Fashion Week SS16 – Prints

Prints in Paris – it almost sounds like the title says it all in itself. There have been a number of prints seen at the Parisian runways that, as expected, we also caught quite a few surprises.

As Clockwork, Orange – Although not a print, this solid colour was seen not only on several runways, but as a fixed feature on several fashion week runways. The Parisian take on orange was a bright shade forming the focal point of the look it was featured in. Whether it was on a jumpsuit, as seen at Mugler, or on a dress, as seen at Roland Mouret and Balmain, orange was definitely the colour of the season. Even though orange may not be the new black – it is still a strong contender.

Monochromatic Peak – Black and white is always right, and the Parisian designers were not about to change that fact for Spring/Summer 2016. Instead, several designers sent out their own versions of prints in black and white to add to the wardrobe repertoire. At Céline the standout piece of the collection was an elusive coat in a black and white print. The silhouette was of itself simple, but was raised to incredibly interesting through its print’s abstract nature. Emanuel Ungaro gave a different element to the floral print when presenting it in black and white as both a stand-alone print and in association with solids and a gated pattern. As if playing with shadows, Ann Demeulemeester revealed an abstract monochromatic look that gave an intricate illusion of fluidity.

Somewhere Over the Rinbow – In tilted or vertical stripes or through the work of color-blocking, an array of colours were present in Paris. The magnificent colour spectrum was a surprising twist to an otherwise low-key colour story when viewing many of the fashion week’s runways. Manish Arora paired a ruffled asymmetrical dress with rainbow stripes infused with some black elements. Chloé gave a dropped waist maxi dress a fun yet romantic quality by adding faded yet colorful rainbow-stripes, and Issey Miyake presented a vibrant look with the effect of a contrast dip dye. Colourful yet pragmatic is the key description.

Victoria Edman 
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