This is the raw manuscript/outline I used when presenting a part of my work to the members of the Textile Society of America. The talk was a part of the 14th Biennial Symposia in Los Angeles, September 2014. The title of the symposia was New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future.
The block of speakers I was in had the theme: Contemporary Artists Respond to Landscape and Sustainability.
I’m Ninna Berger and I’m a Swedish Textile Artist, I live and work in Stockholm, Sweden. In my studio in Stockholm we produce all garments and projects.
Thank you TSA for having me and I’m very happy to be here at UCLA. I make a number of different projects and today I will talk mostly about the clothing I make and my process.
The Archaeology of Restructional Clothing. Presenting a Methodological Design Process on How to Reposition the Old as New.
I work exclusively with black thrift garments as material.
I will present a practical way of working with the waste of trend and a way for limitations to be turned into possibilities. As over consumption of clothing offers a large supply of free material there is as I see it many possibilities of new directions in design and art process using this waste.
I started working with this project in 2007, it was then labelled Fashion Recycled, and was my way to find a method on how to work with fashion. I wanted to answer the question of:
How can I create a system where disposed textile material is kept alive when fashion has died?
and How do I make the old new again?
A lot has happened since 2007 – “sustainable” wasn’t a concept and the reaction I got was more of WHY am I making it so hard for myself to not just use new fabric. The answer to this is KNOWLEDGE, about the horrible environmental and labour conditions in the textile industry.
When working with clothing as original material it instantly put boundaries to my process. Cutting a garment apart gives definite shapes and a limited resource of material to work with. To me this is a great challenge and this is what makes up the rules and system as to what Restructional Clothing is. The limitations are incorporated in the design and outlook of the projects and garments.
In the piece “The Archaeology of Restructional Clothing” a de-constructed pair of trousers make up a schedule of possibilities. By re-assembling the parts of trousers a sculpture emerge.
The many folds and three-dimensional shapes appear as a result of the original cut of the trousers. The act of re-assembly creates a continuous piece of fabric, which is then ready to once again become a new garment. This work was exhibited in 2009.
This was my way of inventing a bolt of fabric, in order to solve the problem of not having a fabric by the yard to use. I have then used this fabric to create new garments.
To me having visited many thrift stores around the world it is just too overwhelming of how much clothing we have. This is also only the waste that is collected, and an observation only of the discarded.
For me this says a lot about our hold on identity and how extremely well fashion works as economy. Unfortunately in great disadvantage to the environment but foremost to us humans.
Sometimes to me if feels that we have disconnected material from clothing. It takes oil to make polyester and seeds, land and a lot of water to make cotton. When the material is bound up in fashion this is the final destination. After that it is only a matter of time until the clothing is garbage and goes in a landfill.
For me as an artist it is important to try to stay on the side of the commercial wheel turning round and to try to show a view on fashion that is subjective and to show a love and respect of material.
For me there is a distinct poetry of garments and fabric that serve us with memory and feelings. Not to mention the performative aspects of dress.
When working with thrift scent and smell is very a interesting and often surprising parameter. When ironing garments there is a hint of the prior owners life steaming up. It can be something that throws me back to my teenage years or helps me remember something I had forgotten, but also it is about human flaw as sweat and dirt. I often use the marks of wear and tear in my design; it is a patina that comes for free.
Working with thrift garments is a time consuming handicraft. These are stills from a video that you can view on my webpage that is about 5 minutes long. The video is intentionally cut so that it will be too tiresome and too long to watch. In real time it took more than 1.5 hours to create the garment, to cover a suit jacket form with scraps of textile waste. This time is excluded the patternmaking and sawing the jacket form. Garments take a long time to make but fashion is fast and easy to buy. A healthy exercise for every consumer should be to have to construct and sew his or her own t-shirt before we could buy one.
Everything that comes into my studio has to come out of the studio in a new shape. Nothing is thrown away. This is now called zero waste fashion but for me it is called a creative challenge.
In my desire to create new from dead fashion I will draw a parallel to Mary Shelley’s novell from 1818 where Frankenstein creates a monster. When it comes to material the well-preserved parts are easier to work with than the almost decomposed. The worst material I know is the thinly knitted stretch material that is used to produce the inexpensive tops that cost nothing. Polyester is to me the goddess of materials. It lasts forever and is easy to work with. Also denim and other woven materials are high on the list of good parts. Unfortunately stretch and other blends that doesn’t need to be cut to fit is the most common and most unusable in reuse activity. Quality of material and the wheel of commerce are following each other in quality.
In the same way the monster of Frankenstein is worried about its future and existence, so are we. We are talking about saving the planet but I think we instead should be talking about saving the humans.
In my practice there has always been thoughts about what makes something change so dramatically in value, and how to change this view. In this way I see my self as an archaeologist that goes thru the tracks of consumption to investigate in the habits and remains of fashion consumption and dreams. I use fashion as a tool for renewed value.
I am disguising waste material as fashion. Putting trash on the catwalk. This dress of absolute waste was shown on a catwalk in Stockholm two weekends ago.
First viewing my work may not draw thought to sustainability or consciousness first thing. It is important for me is to make an interesting visual impression and the work process and method is there to create a conversation. I think it is easier to reach to new thoughts this way. This is why art is to me the most beautiful thing. For me one new thought is enough.
In the exhibition I showed in Prague, Czech Republic December 2013. I wanted to show the full process from scrap material to the result from these given limitations. For these pieces I had collected material for a long time. I made a jacket out of lining of trousers and a dress from the absolute final textile waste.
Working with limited amount of the same material relies on constant invention on method. As I have the desire to make a garment I then have to literally dig in my cloth soil to see what is there. Often my intention is altered, as I will discover materials that I had forgotten about or I will be given garments that I would not otherwise selected to work with.
A draping method that I use and a way to harvest large pieces of material is cut out squares.
I showed a collection of these square garments during fashion week in Stockholm fall 2013. The square is used as a template and the different material is assembled side by side in a democratic way.
Showing these garments also displays my colour palette. I really don’t think of working in one colour since black has so many shades and qualities. Working with only black is a conscious decision in relation to make the garments as timeless as they can be. Black makes the clothing as free from trend and time as they can be.
Since I am a long way from home I would like to say a Thank You to all my near and dear for the love and support that they give me. And a big Thank You to the Swedish Arts Grants Comittee.
I hope you have enjoyed my work. Thank you for listening.