One of my favourite items of clothes is coat that is too worn out to wear in public. It is a beige trench coat that I bought about 6 years ago on sale for $50. I was in the third or second year of my undergrad and was living on my own for the fist time in Montreal. It was late Spring, on a nice day, and I was bored so I decided to take a walk a long Rue St. Catherines to burn off some pent up energy. I ended up in a shop and started browsing with no intention of buying anything when I noticed this coat. What drew me to it was its shape and the material. It felt like it was made out of a rough cotton fabric which, when laid out on the on the floor and unfastened , was cut in an almost perfect square. The coat does not have any buttons, but fastens at the waist with a roughly tied cord rope with knotted ends and the rope detail is repeated around the lapels . After seeing and inspecting the coat for some time, I put it back down on the rack where I had picked it up, left the store and continued my walk. This is how I shop. Having had been only sporadically employed for the past two years, it was difficult for me to bring myself to buy anything that expensive without having to sleep on it first. $50 for me a the time would have been the rough equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries, but for the rest of the day, no matter what was on my mind, my thoughts would eventually drift back to that coat. By the next day I decided I would go back to that store and try it on at least, and after 10 minutes of staring at myself in the mirror with the coat on I decided that there was room in my budget for it.
It can feel silly to write about the first time you come across an article of clothing, and when I read similar pieces in magazines or blogs that I admire, I must admit that, despite empathizing with the writer, I wince. The way clothes , especially luxury brands, are talked about in fashion magazines, blogs and websites, tend to ignore how clothes make us feel – literally. Clothes can rearticulate or confuse elements about yourself that you would like the world to know or keep private. Sometimes clothes can also communicate a shared history, or possible futures or a desire to form certain kinds of relationships with specific peoples or groups, but clothes aren’t just what they symbolize visually (though that’s very important). Clothes can raise your level of consciousness in other, more haptic ways as well. Because of how we engage with clothes, they can never fully be abstracted the physical aspects of their daily contexts. How we experience clothes (and by extent fashion) is just as dependent on how they actually feel against our skin as how they look.
My trench coat, which was more of a cape with sleeves than anything else, did not make sense to me as something I wanted or felt like I needed to own until I put it on. It wasn’t the fit of the coat that sold me, but the slightly rough feeling of the heavy cotton, and the ropes around my waist and at the back of my neck. It wasn’t even that it was comfortable, though it was, it was how the fabric moved against my skin when I moved in it. It made me feel aware of myself in my surroundings in a way that was slightly different, but noticeable after I had put it on. Because of this feeling, I navigated public space differently than before. The coat forced me to pay more attention to each of my movements. When it was cold, for example, I became hyper aware of just how cold I was because the feeling of the fabric against my skin would dull a bit and so the coat would force me to realize that my skin had numbed somewhat. How the coat felt on me made me wonder how the clothes on the people around me felt to them as well. I wondered how their clothes may have influenced how they went about their days. The constant brushing of the fabric against my skin forced me to pay more attention to where I was and what I was doing in each new environment . Going to university in Montreal had been a bit disorienting for me. I moved through hallways, classrooms, and streets like I was made of smoke. I winded through people, places, and objects and sometimes did not notice who or what exactly I had passed by. Wearing this coat compelled me to make note of these things by reminding me that I was , for a few minutes anyways, a part of that physical environment each time it brushed up against my skin.
I stopped wearing the coat about a year ago , because I had worn it out. There are many wholes and tears, and the rope around the waist has begun to fray in some places. Even though I no longer feel that it is fit to wear in public, I cannot bring myself to throw it away. The material isn’t what it once was either. The cloth has become softer with wear and constant washing ( I really like doing laundry - my friends tell me that I always smell like a load that has just come out of the dryer). As a result, I do not feel the same sensation when the fabric rubs up against my skin as I did before, but I think the memory of that feeling keeps me from getting rid of it. How clothes feel still sometimes help me situate myself day to day . The memory of the feeling of the rough cotton on my skin was reassuring to some extent and I think I hang onto that coat because it.
This post is the second post in a mini-series dedicated to how clothes can help shape the way we interact with space. In part two of my interview with Hillary Predko, we discuss the importance of collaboration and how important it was to her while she was working on her backpack design project, Passaic Design. AND, we ambitiously try to untangle the complicated relationship between fashion, design, technology and over-production. Predko is based in Toronto and calls herself a maker. She is a member of Site 3, a maker based collective and besides being an artist and designer, she teaches elements of her craft in workshops held throughout the city.
Street Idle: Do you see yourself as more of a designer or a maker of things?
Hillary Predko: That’s an interesting question. If I were to identify in any way I like the term maker. I’m a member of a maker space, Site 3, which is at Bloor and Ossington. Everyone’s working in really different mediums: from machinist, to fashion designers, to carpenters. I feel like there is an overlapping ethos where we’re helping each other quite a bit. We’re sharing our ideas and are really interested in the investigation the processes of getting to an end product. There is really something that is DIY and entrepreneurial [about that] that I really identify with. I think it’s a lot of fun.
SI: Is there something about textiles that you find particularly useful in getting your ideas across?
HP: I think for me, it comes back to this idea of making things that are unapologetically feminine.
SI: Do you mind if we discuss that concept a little more? Why is it important to you to create items that are unapologetically feminine?
HP: I do believe that often times when women are striving for equality often they are leaving behind traditionally female spheres and moving into the world of business, finance, things like that. [That is] a totally legitimate choice, but I’ve never identified with those ideas or practices a lot in my life and I think it’s important to give weight and celebrate things that are viewed as extremely feminine.
SI: Do you think that there’s something about this moment we’re living in that makes it important to remember to elevate to those traditionally feminine practices or ways of creating?
HP: I don’t think this is a product of our time, but what I’m interested in doing is bringing some of these technological innovations to the sphere of fashion design. I think that it’s [clothing design] not necessarily moving as quickly as the digitization of finance [for example]. So you have some really interesting ways of tracking data that comes through the stock market, but there are not as many innovative ways of looking at clothing and body adornment [through technology]. I feel like I want to help further that.
SI: So you’re kind of merging two fields that have been traditionally seen as antagonistic, technology and clothes despite the two being intimately connected.
HP: I think my work is more in opposition to mass production than to hand work. I still do a tremendous amount of work by hand, like I would consider myself a crafts person in very many ways. Everything I make has a lot of hand finishing; it’s somewhat automated, but not nearly as automated as it could be. But I think that fashion has gone too far into the realm of absolute mass production, over-production and this is all based on people jumping the gun and having to have the next trendy object. Where if we were to go back to something that is more related to hand production, but not 100 percent, then people aren’t going to be producing as many things and more things can be made without being shipped across the entire world.
SI: Why did you choose to do backpacks for your senior thesis project?
HP: It seemed like both conceptually and materially there were questions I was interested in working out and an idea that I could run for a year with (and I definitely did). I think there are still more things I would be interested in finding out.
SI: What were some of the questions you were trying to figure out while working on this project what did some of that detail entail?
HP: I was interested in making something that had a kind of an old school look with the canvass and leather, but was innovative in the techniques it used and the fit and function. Like I have some old bags that are really heavy, but I was working with some newer textiles that were covered in the process. There is a lot of neoprene in the padding for example. I was also interested in learning about how leather works. The leather is all laser etched and then it’s treated with an oil, it’s dyed, it’s finished. It took many months to figure out the additional processes. I had to add on to the leather to start from something that was really hard and unprocessed to get to something that was malleable and beautiful. I also developed ways of waterproofing the canvass through waxing , well I didn’t develop them, it’s a really old technique, but I tweaked it and adapted and made it my own and found my own combinations of wax. In terms of the conceptual reasons why I wanted to do this, this was definitely really about this idea of one off production and having something that is customizable so there is a browser based software package that I developed with a web designer where you can add an image that would be digitally printed [onto the backpack]. And theoretically, how it would work is that you would be able to choose what would be etched on to the straps and which images are printed onto the bags.
SI: What’s preventing your backpack project from working out the way you had originally planned?
HP: What’s preventing it is a couple of hundred hours of working on the website and having enough money to pay a web developer. I’ll see how it goes for the next little while – I definitely want to change it to a full-fledged business. But the app is live on the internet, passaicdesign.com and you can actually choose and put stuff on a backpack and it’s pretty fun.
SI: This project, in a lot of ways, is a collaboration with the customer. How do you see this approach to design addressing the problem of over-consumption ?
HP: I do believe that people will keep an object longer and pay more money for it if they have a hand in it’s creation – if it’s personal to them. For my thesis, I produced three bags, one of them has a photograph of my grandmother when she was a little girl. I went to her house in Ottawa and I scanned a bunch of photos from all of the pictures she has from growing up. I chose one that I thought was beautiful and this is now become, you know, a bag that’s really quite meaningful to me. Another bag I made, has a photo of me in Tofino , British Columbia on it. That was one of the best days of my life. I designed the rest of the textile but these are all photographs [holding up the bag] of a long, long road trip to British Columbia from Ontario. We took a Greyhound bus in November and it is one of the weirdest and most insane things I have ever done. My friend and I bought an unlimited bus pass to travel across Canada, it was called a, “discovery” pass, and it was really crazy and impulsive and fantastic and I made it all the way to the ocean. Now it’s commemorated on this object in a way that I will have for a long time and it really means a lot to me. And the last bag I made, speaking of collaboration, was made in exchange for the site’s web design by [web] developer, Kate Murphy(https://kate.io/). It’s an image of a ghost ship in Greece, by Chris Kotsiopoulos. I emailed him and he gave us permission to use the photo. The straps are etched with an astrological atlas from 1815, that’s in the public domain.
SI: What role do you see technology playing in fashion in the future? Do you see more innovation in technology being used to tackle the issue of over-production?
HP: I believe that if more small designers and people who care about this stuff don’t put a concerted effort to really disrupt the fashion industry, than large companies with entrenched interest in large profits and low quality will continue to rule the industry whether or not they’re making technological advances. I can easily see a company like Forever 21 having enough money to make a very effective delivery system where you could tweak and design something that was then slapped together in a sweatshop in China. But, I think that changing technologies give us normal people the opportunity to stick a wrench in the mechanisms of powers that be. We’ve seen that a lot in the music industry, the music industry is totally blowing apart right now and lord knows where it’s going to end up [but] it’s a really exciting moment in a lot ways, and a lot of artists are able to leave labels and make money on their own. I would like to see fashion designers, jewellery designers, accessories designers, shoe designers find ways to break apart entrenched interests in the fashion industry in the same way. Like Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, LVMH, they continue to make billions and billions and billions of dollars a year and they continue to cut costs and making products a little worse and pushing designers to just produce astronomical amounts of work doing six shows a year. I don’t think it’s that interesting if the same people are pulling the strings. So I like to believe that by finding newer more interesting business models giving people what they truly want, small designers can start gobbling up people’s market shares, because we need to wear clothing and why not wear something’s that nice.
SI: I imagine that a laser cutter is not cheap. What are some of the barriers to adopting technology in fashion for smaller designers?
SI: It’s not incredibly affordable to purchase a laser cutter, no. But I don’t own one, I’m a member of a space where I can share time on one and if I was to want to start a business and have my own laser cutter it would be a $5000 investment. [But] instead of paying a machine shop to produce $5000 worth of tool and dye sets, which can only make one product, the flexibility in design means that a large investment will produce more return than traditional factory technologies would have afforded. It’s a lower barrier to entry but it’s not rock bottom.
SI: Do you think clothing produced by these new technologies will have an impact on the relationship that women who chose to wear them will have with their bodies?
HP: There’s a company called Constrvct and they will take your measurements and design a garment based around those measurements. You upload a file and it will print [the measurements] on to a dress, shirt, whatever, and you’ll get this garment that is tailored entirely to your shape without going to a tailor. It seems like a very different experience. I have never ordered anything from them myself, but I think that allows for more body acceptance in a way that you’re putting in your own measurements and not trying to fit into a standardize sizing. So if you have a hip to waist ratio that isn’t something that H&M thinks is correct, you can still access clothing that is really flattering and wonderful and fits you well. And I think the branding that kind of company is more likely to show a greater diversity of body types. So I think there is definitely the potential to have a greater level of body acceptance and less prescriptive, normative design practices.
SI: So do you see us going back to a pre-industrial age, ironically, through technology, where clothes are made on an individual basis instead of on this mass produced level?
HP: I think it’s going to be hard as a culture to accept that the level of production that we’re currently functioning at is clocking in at a level higher than our planet can sustain, but I do think that we’re going to need to accept a lower rate of production in fashion, in automotive production, across the board. All our goods are being produced at a rate that is unsustainable and to scale that back I think we need to design and produce according to need or at a reasonable level of need. People don’t need to buy thirteen outfits a year.
SI: How do you see yourself moving forward now with the new skills that you gained through these projects? How do you see technology taking you further to where you want to go?
HP: So, I have been teaching a lot since I’ve graduated. I’ve been working with a company called, Hot Pot Factory, (http://hotpopfactory.com/) teaching 3D printing classes. I was lucky enough a couple of weeks ago to volunteer and teach at a camp called Girls Learn Code (http://girlslearningcode.com/) which was really, really cool, Me and some of my friends are trying to plan a conference about women and making. Otherwise, I’ve been really interested in teaching and sharing these skills that I’ve been gaining and continuing to design and create objects and hopefully design and market them. I seem to like the making part more than the selling part, [but] I’ll get to that eventually.
This post is a continuation of a series of posts loosely dedicated to exploring how clothes can help shape the way we interact with space. I came across Hillary Predko’s work, first through OCAD’s grad exhibition (that school is getting a lot of love from me lately), but did not ask her for an interview until months later. This is part one of what is a two part interview in which Predko was nice enough to agree to talk to me about her work, leather and personal fabrication. Predko is based in Toronto and calls herself a maker. She is a member of Site 3, a maker based collective and besides being an artist and designer, she teaches elements of her craft in workshops held throughout the city.
Street Idle: How did you get into design and creating?
Hillary Predko: I was pretty young when I started sewing. My dad actually taught me how to sew, he sews and knits and he taught me the basics when I was younger. My grandmother came to stay for a weekend when I was around twelve, and she taught me to sew from scratch. We went the store and got some fabric and a pattern, and in about four hours straight I just did everything. I got really obsessed [with sewing]. And that was kind of the beginning of being obsessive about getting projects done. I’m just always thinking in three dimensions and that comes really easy to me compared to, I don’t know, [something] more abstract [like the] written word or painting. Building three dimensional objects is something that I’ve always just found really satisfying to do.
SI: Why do you find building three dimensional objects so satisfying?
HP: It’s nice to have something that exists in the real world. And it’s also something I just always found certain proclivity towards. If I tried something [like creating 3D projects], it works more often than if I tried baking. That doesn’t work for me really well at all.
SI: So you feel more at ease in that medium?
SI: What led you to explore personal fabrication and how was your earlier work, like your, “Laced Up Leather,” belt project, was informed by that concept?
HP: The belt project I produced for a class and it was called “Wearable Technology” and the class was pretty focused on embedding electronics in clothing. I was more interested in using fabrication tools. I experimented with the laser cutter because its something that I thought sounded really remarkable. I liked the idea of being able to get rather complicated work rather quickly, so I went with the idea of using lace because I feel like lace exemplifies the difficulty of handwork in many ways. Handmade lace is really expensive because it is such a laborious project to create. Its interesting to contrast this with the laser cutter; once you design something you can replicate near infinitely. I think has this sort of interesting tension between the design and the product because the personal effort involved in putting that level of decoration is really minimized by using this technology. I also like the tension between something that is extremely decorative, but also utilitarian.
SI: What is it about the, “tension between the extremely decorative and utilitarian,” that inspires or is appealing to you?
HP: I don’t know. I feel like it almost has this riot grrl ethos, of being sort of unapologetically female, which I really like. I like the idea of being the badass tank girl chick who is not trying to not be a girl, but who is totally awesome in that femininity. And sometimes if you’re tank girl you need a belt to go through the desert cause it’s hard to carry a purse on your tank.
SI: Could you elaborate a little more on the design and creation process that went into creation of the “utility belt”?
HP: A laser cutter is a CNC machine, which [stands for] Computer Numerical Control. You draw an image in a vector program, I used illustrator, and then the file will be uploaded into the machine and it will trace out the outline. And what I thought was really interesting with that is that, well for one thing, I was using leather and for leather you don’t need to finish the edges so I fit all the pieces into a 18 by 24 inch rectangle. There’s only about 2 to 4 inches of waste out of the entire layout, so everything would be stacked and sewn together to create the three dimensional object from a really tightly utilized two dimensional space.
SI: What were some of the challenges working with a laser cutter?
HP: Laser cutters make leather smell really bad. It is cow flesh and it smells like burning flesh.
SI: Why did you decide to work with leather specifically? What is it about the material that you find so interesting to work with?
HP: Leather is one of those materials that we have not been able to engineer anything synthetic that is nearly as good as the natural material. It is just really, really, beautiful and I have learned more about it since beginning this work. At first I felt kind of badly because it is an animal product and [that] makes me feel a little freaked out, but there’s a huge amount hide produced just because of this [beef] industry. So if this leather isn’t getting used then it’s going to waste. So it’s more like an industrial by-product. It’s not like fur where there is an industry that exists exclusively for fur, leather is something that exists because we have a meat industry. People obviously do want to end that, but it’s something that I think is interesting. [Also leather] ages really nicely, like a leather bag twenty years from now is going to look so much better than the day it was made.
SI: In your artist statement you mentioned that you wanted to in this project spread your ideology and I was wondering what that ideology was?
HP: I think that our society creates far too many consumer goods. There’s a huge volume of goods. There are a huge warehouses, globally that store massive volumes of goods. And with the ability to make something that is customizable and made locally, and made on demand, we can produce things that are higher quality , will last longer, and don’t need to be disposed of in the same way. I think if our culture is going to survive we have to move past having these super trend based cycles of fashion. I think that having beautiful functional objects that we wear is important, we need to shield ourselves from the elements, but the way that it is working right now, I don’t think it is very effective for peoples’ wallets, for the globe. Just I don’t think it’s very good.
SI: Going back to your artist statement I found it really interesting that you wrote, “Women are culturally discouraged from engaging in technological discourse.” How, in your opinion, does technology mediated design encourages women to engage and participate in that discourse?
HP: One machine that I use fairly frequently in my day to day life is an 85 year old industrial sewing machine. An industrial sewing machine that was made 85 years ago is basically identical to one that’s made today. I feel as though traditionally female realms, [which] are often in a private realm, related to domesticity aren’t encouraged to innovate. The fashion industry is obviously taken out of the home, but I think that by combining something that is traditionally female and also innovative and cutting edge is a good way to create a discourse around moving forward with how we think about, well in this case fashion, how we think about clothing, how we think about adornment. I think it’s important to value these realms [traditionally female] as highly as automotive engineering [for example]. I think the way we think about what we wear is as important as the way we think about how we move, but it’s not necessarily weighted equally in our culture.
SI: While we’re on the topic of movement, I want to bring up another quote from your artist statement. You wrote, “I want to design lacy utility belts for two reasons, women are encouraged to carry useless purses that limit mobility and dexterity.” How do you feel fashion mediated by technology can help change the ways that women navigate spaces and how they perceive themselves in those spaces?
HP: I wore this belt very frequently, and one thing that this was designed for is riding my bike. It has a spot to hold a u-lock so that it doesn’t hit my leg while I’m cycling. If you have ever tried cycling with a purse it is nearly impossible. It is really hard. Your leg hits it and you have to go quite a bit slower and I think by the way that this [the belt] interacts with my body, I am more mobile. I am able to navigate space more effectively and to me that’s a huge boon. Backpacks and utility belts, to me, are some things that lend themselves to, I don’t know, a greater level of bodily movement. I feel like there’s something about having a shoulder bag – I feel like there is something very limiting about that range of movement.
SI: Do you mind discussing a little bit more why you decided to create a fanny pack utility belt?
HP: My partner, when I first met him, was a bike courier and I had never really spent time around bike couriers at all, but they have really great backpacks. So I started looking at the bags that him and his friends had and [had noticed] that the design choices that were made are so hyper-functional, because there is so much obsession to detail, like there is so much attention given to the details and I just found that really fascinating to the point that I wanted to try my hand at it. And I mean, obviously, what I created was very different than something that someone would use as a courier. I would not encourage my design to be used by a courier, I don’t think that it would really make their work day any easier. But, just looking at how things were weighted and how straps were placed for comfort and to access things more quickly, it was really interesting and I just like the hyper-functionality of the backpack.
SI: Do you think that functionality and practicality is something that is missing from women’s fashion? And do you feel that technology offers a way of addressing that lack in women’s clothing right now?
HP: I think that pockets are generally lacking from women’s clothes. And I could imagine a really great online interface where you could choose where to put pockets on a dress, or add additional pockets.
SI: Going back to design, you have sited Diana Eng as an influence on work. What is it about her designs that speak to you so strongly?
HP: I think her work is very beautiful and I think she also provides a good model of a small scale design practice that is quite personal. Looking at her work online you can really get a sense of how she’s working and the way she’s reaching out to customers. She’s a really good personality a long with having the technology involved in her design practice and I think that’s something really encouraging to see. I just think her work is really beautiful and well executed.
SI: You had originally designed you project to be copied. Why did you intentionally decide to design something that could be copied, especially since stealing intellectual property is such a taboo and hot topic in fashion right now?
HP: I think better things will always come from collaboration than trying to protect your intellectual property- within in a certain threshold. I think when you’re small and you’re starting out the more you share your ideas the more you’ll get back. There’s an essay I like by an author that I admire, Cory Doctorow, it’s called, “Think like a Dandelion,” and he talks about [how] in the age of the internet it does not cost a lot to reproduce an idea. He’s an author so his ideas are words, [and] clearly there’s more involved in reproducing an object, but we have this idea that ideas are often like human children. You put so much time into them and you want to protect them, but really they’re more like dandelion seeds and the way that a dandelion propagates is to spread hundreds of thousands of seeds. Many will die on the sidewalk, but some will plant a new plant. I think that’s a really poetic and beautiful idea, that if you just put your work out there it will take root. You never know, but [an idea] is likely to be a lot more interesting, inspiring and ultimately rewarding [if spread] than if you were to be very closed fisted with it. Obviously, I’m not doing anything patentable. If I was an engineer who created a new type of motor maybe I would think about this differently, but I think by viewing an object most fashion designers , if they are skilled enough, could reproduce it, so I’m just helping someone cut a couple of hours [or] a couple of weeks of work.
*All images are the property of Hillary Predko and were posted with the artist’s permission
In June my sister graduated from OCAD and as part of her final thesis project she showcased her work at OCAD’s annual graduate exhibition. While I was checking out her project and marvelling at how well dressed all the exhibitors seemed to be, I came across artist, designer and recent OCAD grad, Anjali Jaywar’s Hybridization project. I was first attracted to the intricate patterns of her textiles, and was blown away when I found out that she not only designed the garments, but created the design patterns as well. Luckily for me Jaywar was kind enough to agree to an interview to discuss her work.
Street Idle: Tell us a bit about how you got into textiles and your project.
Anjali Jaywar: I mostly work with textile and wearable designs. I love doing prints and designs and that’s why my thesis is around prints and textiles. Also a lot of my past work has to do with my heritage and my culture. I’m Indian, but I was born in Canada so I feel some disconnect with my background. I feel a little shameful that I don’t know that much about my background, so I wanted to explore [Indian] history and mythology and Hinduism and Indian culture. Also, recently I [ began a ] relationship with a Pakistani and that’s why I did my thesis topic on the war of Kashmir that happened between India and Pakistan. With that I wanted to [represent] harmony between both regions [and] cultures.
SI: What is your creative process and what techniques did you use to create your designs?
AJ: I carry a Moleskin with me everywhere and I just start drawing. I mostly draw what I see or, when I am alone, I kind of just doodle. A lot of my drawings are towards ethnic culture [and] Indian heritage so that’s where I started off, by doing that. And then as I was approaching this project, I was looking towards Mosques and Mandirs [Hindu temples]. I have been looking at famous ones [temples and mosques] like the Blue Mosque, and the Hindu temple that’s in Toronto. [The temple] is made out of ivory, and every part was hand crafted and imported from India and they assembled it here in Toronto. I picked what is similar and what was different and combined them into a unified drawing. So I looked at geometric forms, specifically mosques, intricate designs that were in henna tattoos, Mandirs and with that I started developing my drawings. My prints are in muted colours, dark grey, close to black and white. That’s because I wanted to represent two opposite things coming together. They are opposite, but they work well together.
SI: Why did you decide to take up the conflict over Kashmir in your work?
AJ: I never really researched my culture until I began a relationship with someone [of Pakistani descent]. Being in that relationship sparked my interest in the topic. Also I wanted to go to Kashmir, but it is kind of hard to go there. There are a lot of war zones and conflicts. Kashmir is supposed to be one of the most beautiful lands in India, there are mountains and beautiful flowers, but because of the [conflict] most of it has been destroyed.
SI: How do your pattern designs tie into your themes?
AJ: In my beginning process, the prints are actually blue and white, because blue is very significant in mosques and white is significant in mandirs and so I tried to find a balance [between the blue and white], but I wanted more of a contrast between these two things [to show] these two opposites coming together into one print.
SI: You named your latest project Hybridization. What does hybridization mean to you?
AJ: While I was trying to figure out my project, a lot of professors were like you need a name and I was trying to think about a good enough name. I was having a discussion with one of my professors and I said that I really wanted to combine the two religions [Islam and Hinduism] together [in the patterns] since there is so much similar [between the two cultures] and she was like, “Oh so you’re going to have a hybrid baby!” I was like that makes so much sense because [if] the person I am in a relationship with and I get together we will have a hybrid family.
SI: Why did you choose textiles to explore the theme of hybridization over other mediums like painting or sculpture?
AJ: I do love textiles garments and wearables, that’s where my passion kind of lies at. Also I feel like when I am wearing something I want it to have meaning and have a story and not just wearing a piece of garment for the sake of how it looks.
SI: Was it important for to make the clothing wearable as well?
AJ: Yeah it was important for it to be wearable. I want it to be a wearable thing where you can go out, for example, to an art opening and wear this garment and be able to talk about, kind of like a conversation starter. I want to bring [the clothes] out to bring awareness [to the dispute over Kashmir], because clothing is something you can wear every day. For example you can wear a dress almost every day, you can’t wear a painting, you can’t wear a sculpture, it kind of hides in the background of your house. You would have to go into someone’s house to know what that painting is about, to know what that work is about and I wanted the pieces to be more of a conversation starter.
SI: Zippers are placed all over your garments, why did decide to use zippers so heavily in your work?
AJ: Zippers represent unity between these two cultures [Pakistan and India] also in the inside of the garments there is the lining of a different textile, outside of the garments are different prints, but inside all the garments have the same lining, because we used to be one land and they kind of split off. So the zippers are supposed to show, on the inside, how similar we are. It’s also about exposing the situation [in Kashmir] as well bringing more awareness. You do that by stripping everything down.
SI: What has the reaction to your work been like?
AJ: There has been some quietness, some silence [from] my family probably because we don’t discuss most of these topics – its very hush, hush. It has been mostly silence because I haven’t really meant anyone that has a strong background in Indian or Pakistani (prints).
SI: How do you negotiate being a person of Indian descent born and raised in Toronto through your work?
AJ: My parents were very lenient when it came to going to church or going to temple or celebrating holidays. I think grandparents mostly do that and I didn’t have much background. My grandparents died when I was seven years old. Grandparents teach us about all these things like your heritage and your culture and your language. I don’t think I was taught as much as I wanted to. Though I lost my grandmother when I was seven years, I still remember a few little important things, like I would watch the Mahabharata [with her]. It’s basically a religious TV show and my grandmother used to love to watch it and she would watch it every day. There are only a few glimpses I remember, and so I have taken what I remember from my grandmother and taken what I know and make textiles based on that. People usually find their identity through their culture or religion.
SI: So would it be fair to say that part of this project is you exploring your identity?
AJ: Yes, part.
SI: On your website you describe yourself as both an artist and a designer. How did you approach this project – as an artist or a designer?
AJ: I believe I’m a bit of both I’m an artist when it comes to making my textile prints, but I feel like I’m a designer when it comes to constructing the garments, just because with the textile print a lot of my prints are hand drawn and with that I feel that’s more of the artist side of me. As a designer is I’m trying to figure out what is an appropriate wearable garment for a woman. What is interesting, what pushes the envelope a little bit. The garments have somewhat of an Indian style, so I try to mix up the ethnic feel
SI: Your personal life seems to inform a lot of your work, do find that your work also influences your personal style?
AJ: I kind of move towards wearable [clothes] that have a little more of an Indian style. Also the garments that I do make have more of my colour palette – the black and the white. I like to stay in very muted colours as much as possible, so [my designs] do have my aesthetic in them. I’ve always heard that from professors, “You always choose the same colour palette they’re not very bright, their just kind of very muted, very earthy tones, or very stark black and white.” I’m someone who likes [to dress] somewhat casual, but I also like [to be able to] dress it up a little bit, that’s why my garments have such a nice fabric. It is cotton and I feel like with cotton it’s very breathable and very comfortable, but the style of the dress could be elevated into something that you could go out in.
SI: So are you designing for yourself when you make a garment?
AJ: Yeah, I design clothes that I would like.
SI: Now that you’re an OCAD graduate, what are plans going forward?
AJ: I want to work with a designer that has a similar aesthetic. I think I want to start learning how the [design] business works and it doesn’t need to be just clothing.
*All images were posted with the permission with the artist. To check out this and other projects by Anjali Jaywar check her out at her website, anjalijaywar.carbonmade.com
* Photography: Nicola Betts
*Model : Pallavi Thampi
The Toronto based art collective, Woman King, is hosting, Semblance: Even Better Than The Real Thing, “An exhibition that looks at what hides beneath the surface & the stories that are told when a hidden truth is revealed.”
And guess who’s one of the featured artist? Recent Street Idle interviewee Elija Montgomery. You’ve already got a preview of his work here, but believe me it is an altogether different and illuminating experience seeing Montgomery’s work in person. If you live in Toronto please go check it out. The exhibition is on display from August 1 through to August 12 at studio/retail space Everydayhousewife, located at 1066 Dundas Street West. For more information on the event please click on the link to the event Facebook page below.
SI: Vulnerability seems to be another important theme in your work. WAT is consistently placed in very vulnerable positions. Why did you decide to explore that theme in that way?
EM: Vulnerable is a good way to describe, “I’m scared of being happy with my life.” I had a major critique at the end the semester and there were three sentences that came out of that I put at the head of my work station to guide. One of them was, “character before material.” I wanted all of the materials and the way he [WAT] was made to be dependent on this character. [The second], “text is strength use it,” which came out of my critique [and which] I was really happy to hear because I like using text. [The last one] was, “don’t be afraid to be raw.” That was something that was said to me by my thesis supervisor after my critique was done. I was going through some personal shit and she said what you’re going through is really raw and don’t be afraid to use that, and it was again this permission to exist and not be refined and to not hide these rough edges as we so often do.
“I like my body until I put clothes on it,” is about the ways in which public spaces are not always physical environments. That one really addressed my frustration with standard sizes, the fact that shirts come in small, mediums and larges and sometimes x-small or x-large or xx-large, or that there are general sizes that we are all supposed to adhere to and it’s ridiculous. Even as a trans person who doesn’t and who has a trans body, I sometimes feel more comfortable when I am not wearing clothes than when I am, because my body is my body, but all of a sudden these clothes start to dictate what my body should be. Our bodies are not weird until they are put into, in certain contexts, clothes.
SI: To me, your photographs read like graphic novels. What do you think text adds to your project that cannot be expressed in visuals alone?
EM: I feel that authors, more than artists, really inspire me and really influence my work and I kind of approached this body of work as you would approach a novel. I really see using text as a way to say a lot while writing very little. The way I have used text in the past is a way to draw attention to writing and text itself, you can craft a sentence just as much as you can craft a physical work and a word can be just as beautiful. One of the reasons why I really love to use photographs is because they are a snapshot, and because we are all familiar with photographs and what they are and how they are created we know that there is a before and an after. For every image it’s just a snapshot so using photographs was a way to kind of co-author with the viewer , who is then invited to build the story for themselves, and to create the before and create the after based on their own actual personal experiences. So they can see this [the photograph] and think about the moments that led up to this and the moments that happened afterward. So it’s not just about what my intentions behind the sentences are, but also what that sentences means to a different person. And so, even with something as simple as like “I am a monster,” having such a bold statement like that in capitols not just “I’m a monster” but “I Am A Monster,” subtly or obviously whether you read it or not it’s saying this is my label and I embrace this label and this is who I am and I’m okay with it.
I wanted it [the text] to be there in the physical environment to kind of solidify and connect more to the character and to be specific to the environment and to the moment as well. [And so] this is how you read this [the text] in this moment, but that doesn’t mean that this is how it is in every moment. So when he’s looking into the mirror and it says, “Do you ever look into the mirror and see yourself as everyone else must see you?” That’s not what he thinks every time he looks into the mirror, but it is a thought that occurs at that moment and [the photograph] is capturing that feeling.
SI: WAT also has a pet, Rowe, and your Tumblr you describe her as a memory monster. Why did you feel that WAT needed a pet and why a memory monster specifically?
EM: Ro was created long before I had the idea for WAT. The concept behind it [Ro] directly influenced its physicality aspect, so when I was designing Rowe, originally, she had all these tentacles that kind of brought in and pushed out memories, and thoughts [and] she had three eyes that glowed which represented that past the present and the future. The glowing was because they [the eyes] dimmed overtime as memory does and she was fuzzy as memory sometimes is.
Once she was born she was her own thing. I needed to come up with a much more personal name, because I felt it needed it to be much more personal. My first and best childhood friend was Caitlyn Rodak and she moved away when I was six [SI Note: Montgomery named Ro after Rodak – as in Ro-dak].
It was an amazing challenge to go from idea, to iteration, to object. It was something I had never really done before and so then I was like I can do this and on a much bigger scale during second semester. It was kind of an idea, “Yeah he should have a pet,” and so that’s how she [Ro] became his pet.
SI: Since you’ve talked a little bit about the origins of Rowe’s name, what were the origins of WAT’s?
EM: Oddly enough, WAT had been something I was thinking about, because the initials of my great grandfather are WAT. His name was William Arris Toop, and he was part of the Australian army, and so I really liked the idea of drawing from my family’s history, but I didn’t want to draw directly from someone in particular. WAT is actually a short form of the name Walter. I had spent a lot of time looking into name databases and finding out the meaning of names. He’s[WAT] kind of a bird/ bear hybrid so I would type in bird and I came up with names that were similar, and same with bear and green, because he’s green. So his full name is Walter Eric Montgomery, but WAT for short. I just wanted him to have a full name. It just made sense and felt right which is good, and it was interesting because I legally changed my name and had to find a name for myself five years ago. What was also really interesting is that I really started from nothing with this project, so everything was a decision, was a choice, it was very challenging, not only what to leave in, but what to keep out, because [WAT] couldn’t be everything.
You can check out “I Am A Monster” at http://madebyelija.tumblr.com/post/50095796089/i-am-a-monster-is-an-exploration-of-misunderstood
*All images were reposted with the permission of the artist
I began this blog because I have profound interest in fashion, clothes and dress, but lately I have been much more interested in the latter two. Focusing on clothing and dress has granted me a degree of flexibility in what I feel I can cover for this blog, which I must admit I am revelling in right now. And so for the next few posts, I will not be talking about fashion per se, but clothes and dress, and how people use clothes or construct an aesthetic to help navigate the environments, spaces and communities that we belong to or find ourselves part of. Elija Montgomery is a Toronto based artist who’s,“I Am a Monster,” project and exhibit I was fortunate enough to come across at OCADU’s recent grad show. Montgomery explores themes of embodiment and environment through WAT, the monster that serves as the focal point of Montgomery’s project. After the show, Montgomery was kind of enough to agree to spare a Monday afternoon taking me through his project.
The Street Idle: How did you come with the idea for “I Am a Monster”?
Elija Montgomery: This past year was my thesis year, which means for my undergraduate thesis I had to pick a topic and explore it. It was a very strange process. I ended up focusing on monsters, using monsters as a narrative device to talk about the ways in which we feel other. Whether that’s public spaces that make us feel other, environments and relationships, objects, or even internally the ways in which we feel other.
I wanted to create something challenging for me as well as enjoyable. That is why I wanted to create something that was physical as well as conceptual. I wanted to explore and embrace the fact that we are so much more similar than we are different.
SI: Is WAT both a costume and a character then?
EM: The physical components are worn by a person. The character is that he’s just your average monster.
SI: Why do you choose monsters to explore the themes of “otherness” and “narrative?”
EM: Monsters have always been a way for us to categorize others, throughout history, throughout myth and legend. I wanted to create something that was very noticeably different at first glance. That was both kind of alarming and alluring visually, but then the more you get to know him and get to learn about him you realize that you’re more like him than unlike him.
I wanted people to think, “I’m not really comfortable about this” [or] “I’m not afraid of it, but I feel like I should be.” Something that is confronting you in a way and you’re not really sure how you feel about it.
SI: When I first saw WAT at the grad show, he reminded me of a muppet. He came across as something strange, but also familiar at the same time.
EI: I’ve been working very hard to give myself and others permission to exist. This has been a really great way for me to visualize things that I’ve been working on personally. I wanted to make it [the project] personal and intimate, but I did not want it to be just about me. I wanted it to be this character and, of course, this character would be highly influenced by me, because it was created by me, but I wanted to create something that others could relate to as well and others could see themselves as and connect with in a way that wasn’t necessarily connected with me. Having something that isn’t necessarily me, but another creature, it could say things that I couldn’t necessarily say. It could also say things that it believed, but I didn’t necessarily believe or that it felt, but that I didn’t always feel.
SI: What has the reaction been to WAT so far? Have you come across audience interpretations that have surprised you?
EM: I’ve put all my work on Tumblr, which was something I really enjoyed doing, but held off putting up my main photographs until after the graduate exhibition. There have been two main things that have been really interesting to have come out of that. The first, and this also came up at the grad show, is that people said he [WAT] looks like a Furby. This [reaction] is an echo of something that we as humans or people in society do all the time. We see someone that we don’t know and we know nothing about them and we say this is what you are, this is how you should react and if they don’t react or act in these ways then that person is held accountable for [it]. It is very frustrating and I have definitely been on that end where people will see me at face value, make assumptions and then hold me to those false assumptions and that is so fucked up and we just do that. And so though I still don’t it like when people make that association, it is still important to address. It’s almost like they’re proving my point.
The other interesting part is that when people re-blog the post I can see their comments and there has been a large category of people who have commented about the trans aspect of it. Which is really interesting because, yes I am trans, but in no part do I mention gender or body or trans, but I do talk about feeling other or different. Obviously I’m not going to go ahead and separate my trans identity from the rest of my identity because everything is together, it’s who I am, but I didn’t set out to make this about being trans. But, I love that trans people pick this up right away and it’s almost like this secret message from me as a trans person to another trans person. It’s [I Am a Monster] also about visibility, the good type of visibility and the bad type, being heard and seen and feeling like you stand out or that an issue is not being addressed. It kind of addresses that duality of visibility.
SI: How did documenting “I Am a Monster,” on Tumblr influence the final project?
EM: I started documenting my process and putting it on Tumblr in January 2011. Documenting all my work was a way to gain perspective [and] to be able to share my work. When you are so intimate and so involved you stop being able to see it, so when I share [my work] with my followers they would comment on it and say what they liked about it.
My physical world was very small while doing my thesis, because I live a stone’s throw away from school, I basically lived at school and slept at my house .I had no social life and basically the people I saw were in my program, but the internet and Tumblr and the digital world is massive, it’s huge. So basically every time I would get a new follower I would go and look at their Tumblr and see what they like what they’re about and where they are as well. It was great to connect with all these strangers that I could never dream of having or connect with. That’s been very impactful, because it gives, and I think I wanted to explore this in my project, a glimpse of the ways in which we are connected and the ways in which we are similar even with our differences. So the internet is a mazing for that.
And sometimes the physical world can be scary sometimes I can be very introverted and sometimes we are not always in an environment where we feel safe. So unlike a physical environment you can find digital communities where you feel a lot safer. So you can be more honest and share yourself more [than] in physical spaces.
SI: In your project WAT photographed navigating various intimate and public spaces where issues related to bodies and identification are the focus. Why did you choose the settings and scenarios you did and how are those spaces transformed by WAT being in them?
EM: I had some of these scenes in my head and some of them were still developing and came together more as he was created, but I wanted him to be photographed in very recognizable places and environments and scenarios, and accompanied with related text. Some of it[ the scenarios] were things that I have experienced myself, like the one in Darkhorse [Café]. It says, “I have changed so much in the past two years, even the baristas at my regular coffee shop have noticed.” I live around the corner, this is my regular place, everyone knows me and they know my drink order, I know people by name and we chat and stuff and they know my work – they know what I’m up to. So I came in last summer and none of them [servers] knew what had been going on in my personal life- I had not really talked about it with anybody, just a lot of internal stuff – [ The server] says to me, “You’re different,” and I was like, “How did you know?” and he said, “You just seem different. It’s good right?” and I said, “Yeah.” It was great to take that photograph in the space in which it occurred, and really kind of almost pay tribute to the safe environment which I have.
And then there is the TTC, which I hate taking for lots of reasons, but it is also a very public space and your more often surrounded by strangers than people you do know or people you would want to encounter. I do feel sometimes like people are staring at me whether it’s because I have weird crazy hair or wearing a bowtie and I’m under the age of 60. I would refer to what I have as a very queer body, which is fine, so sometimes it feels like everyone is staring at me even when they’re not. It’s that weird paranoia of feeling starred at and unfortunately that does dictate whether or not I engage in these public spaces or feel comfortable or not going with that risk. It’s [the photograph] not about if people are actually staring at me, it’s that feeling that you are, that you stand out more than anyone. It’s like being in a spotlight, it’s that feeling of being in a spotlight even though no one really does cares, it’s that tension.
You can check out “I Am A Monster” at http://madebyelija.tumblr.com/post/50095796089/i-am-a-monster-is-an-exploration-of-misunderstood
*All images were reposted with the permission of the artist