The advent of fashion colliding with art is not a novel concept—in fact, the two have been in symbiosis for a long time. Art movements have always influenced the fashion zeitgeist of their time of prominence. Romanticism-inspired fabrics and loose silhouettes in the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century paved the way for empire-waist dresses and medieval-inspired details. Realism in the mid-nineteenth century promoted simpler and more practical daywear.
Aside from the one-way influence of art on fashion, relationships of mutuality have also developed between the two. Arguably one of the earliest examples of such an intersection is Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali’s collaborative work on the lobster dress in 1937. Succeeding this are the troves of fashion and art collaborations like Prada and Damien Hirst’s Entomology bags that incorporated taxidermied bugs, Longchamp and Tracey Emin’s monstrous Frankenstein bags as well as Raf Simon’s longstanding relationship with multidisciplinary artist Sterling Ruby.
Beyond this intersection of fashion and art, however, there exists a realm of artists who present fashion and textiles beyond their normative ways. Artist Judith Scott wrapped yarn and fabric around found objects like broomsticks and armchairs, often transforming them into states of unfamiliarity. Sculptor Charles LeDray explored the politics of menswear by presenting meticulously sewn and miniaturised versions of jackets, shirts and polo tops as contentions of male identity. Priya Ravish Mehra focused on craft, applying the art of Rafoogari, an ancient Indian fabric darning and repair technique in most of her works.
In Singapore, artists working with similar mediums are showing at this year’s Singapore Art Week. Trained in industrial design, Tiffany Loy employs a weaver’s approach to sculpture and explores facets of materiality in the form of colour and tension. For Natalia Tan, sustainability is at the core of her practice. Using the technique of Saori weaving, Tan works with a variety of upcycled materials, transforming them into breathtaking artworks. Liz Zhu, a trained fashion designer, desires to reframe fashion into objects that probe into the shifting identities and fluidity of social behaviours within various communities.
Below, Loy, Tan and Zhu share more about their artmaking process and ethos, as well as what we can expect from them at this year’s Singapore Art Week.
Could you tell us more about your approach when it comes to creating new work?
My work often begins with technical, material and colour explorations. However, in the process of developing the work, I consider its spatial or cultural context, such as how it will be experienced in a specific space. Installing it in the centre of a room, for example, alters the space quite differently from the corner, or within a niche, which often feels more intimate.
You often explore diffrent techniques. Why is this an important quality to you as an artist?
My background in textile weaving has had a strong influence on how I view the world, and I believe the frameworks for thinking in weaving apply to other techniques and media as well. That is why I don’t feel bound to any one mode of making; it should not define my practice. I feel more free to pursue my curiosities like this.
What are you showing at Singapore Art Week?
I have collaborated with a Japanese ceramic tile fabricator and SUPERMAMA to create sculptures from ceramic pieces. The project is titled ‘New Nanyang’. At the tail end of art week, I’ll be having a casual open studio weekend, presenting some process pieces from previous projects.
Your installations have mostly been interactive or participant-driven. Why is this your format of choice?
My artistic journey began organically while I was in fashion college. It transformed from an exploration of sustainability as I delved into the realm of transformative and multi-functional garments. The dance between the body and the garment became a focal point, serving not only as a canvas for wearability but also as a mediator of unspoken messages embedded within its folds. In my view, fashion is a canvas that invites people to connect with their senses. It is a constant dialogue between form and function, style and sustainability, where each creation carries the imprints of an artistic evolution.
What kind of work can we expect to see from you during Singapore Art Week?
I am currently having my residency with Supper House at GR.ID with eleven other artists. In my exploration, I draw a parallel between a pillar inhabiting this space and the human torso. Within the confines of its exterior, I embark on an exploration, navigating the delicate terrain of temperature and softness. This endeavour is not merely an artistic pursuit but a deliberate attempt to illuminate the social expectations of body shapes. The culmination of this exploration takes form in a visual representation, a corset crafted from the geometrical essence of the rectangular pillar. This process unfolds between anthropomorphism and mimicry, where the inanimate becomes a vessel for the animate. I seek not only to create a tangible garment but also to encapsulate a narrative that echoes the essence of societal expectations and the malleability of self-expression.
How does it differ from your previous works?
One word to describe this residency is “environmental” as my creative exploration intertwines with the floor, windows, and pillars of the space. Relocation is pivotal for my practice as I draw inspiration and energy from my surroundings. The organic residency space, coupled with the curatorial theme of Nothing But a Daydream propels my creative visions. Adopting the pillar as my new mannequin, my design language weaves between 2D and 3D development, bridging the realms of nonhuman and human structures. Engaging in upcycling poses the challenge of limited material sources, yet it offers a fresh perspective on connecting with culture and history through the exploration of materiality. I have also used a personal collection of used facial masks, thrifted curtains, and given-away wedding dresses, forming a narrative that speaks to the interconnected essence of humanity within the realm of fashion presentation.
You often utilise salvaged and upcycled materials to create your artwork. What drew you to this approach when you first started out?
Before I learned weaving in Japan in 2014, one of my hobbies was to mend and modify clothing through sewing to make them more wearable and interesting. As such, salvaged textiles were a natural choice when I started exploring materials outside of conventional yarns. I love using them as each piece of clothing that comes my way has a unique design and history. When someone donates their textiles to me, I feel like I have been entrusted with something special, even if it is stained, ripped, or otherwise considered unusable or worthless. After all, some measure of resources and labour has been devoted to the production of all things that exist physically. I also feel like I’m doing my part to keep waste from ending up in our only landfill on Pulau Semakau. In an age of mass production, we might not see our unwanted clothing as anything to cherish. But perhaps in another place or time, where garments and physical things are a lot more scarce or costly to produce or purchase, our values and behaviours may be wildly different.
You’ve recently completed a work titled ‘A Thousand Knots for Peace’ for Diptyque. How was that?
Exhilarating. I had not expected to have pulled off such a large commission in that timeframe and to have had such an amazing response from my community, the public, and Diptyque. Thanks to that project, I became involved with what PlayPan, The Glass Hut, and other creatives were doing at Peace Centre: to create a space for artists to create and play for three months in the lead-up to its demolition. The Glass Hut and PlayPan granted me space to complete ‘A Thousand Knots for Peace’ as well as to work on other textile art projects.
What kind of work can we expect to see from you during Singapore Art Week?
For the entire month of January, I’m participating in Nothing But a Day Dream, an art residency presented by Supper House on the seventh floor of GRiD, which is between the School of the Arts and Peace Centre. During this residency, I will be exploring the concept of reclamation through weaving salvaged plastic waste and facilitating community co-creation using logistics-related waste. I hope to engage with visitors from all walks of life and spark conversations about resource conservation, circular thinking, and creative repurposing. Members of the public are invited to bring any clean, dry materials that had originally been used in transportation and packaging to weave into a community-built nest and to have a go at weaving soft plastic waste into a tapestry on my weaving loom. As co-organiser of the Singapore Eco Arts Festival 2023-24, I’ll also be announcing an open call for upcycled artworks ahead of our public exhibition on sustainable art and design at the library@orchard in March and April 2024.