Saturday, 28 April 2012

Memento Mori









Literature makes great use of seasons as the ultimate metaphor for the cycle of human existence. Winter is full of cold decay, while spring offers the chance for renewal. The seasons reel around and around, so marking the passing of the years.
These photos above were taken last year, when the scent of early summer hung in the fields. I needed photos of a dress I had made for a GCSE art project, to present alongside the creation itself. (Nearly a year on I've now finished my AS level in Fine Art). Time has not so much taken flight, as hopped and skipped in seven league boots through the months. Days have been measured in train journeys, homework, blog posts. They are also measured in photos – the camera charting subtle changes in my appearance throughout the year. It's hard to define exactly what is different, but it's a definite that ‘something’ has been altered.
I'm also sure that my mum doesn't look quite the same as she did last summer when she modeled for me, but because I see her every day, the alterations have been too small for me to register. It's only when comparing photos from ‘then’ and ‘now’ that transitions can be noted. But in terms of change, it's  the snapshots of my brother that are the most telling, He's at the age where he looks different every month as he grows taller and his hair hangs longer. This has been matched by his increasing willingness to engage in conversation and discussion. He asks perceptive questions about articles I've been reading, and is more than happy to hear my monologues on German history (all in the name of revision!) For, of course, ageing at any stage is not merely external – but is matched by an internal process of ripening, growing and extending both knowledge and the ability to think.

This dress that I made for my art project focused on the visible concepts of ageing and decay in the natural world. One usually leads to another, whether in the shift from a ripe peach through to a wrinkled husk, or from smooth skin to the lines that scrunch themselves across the face. It is an entirely natural process. The trees bud, blossom and drop leaves six months later, while our hair fades as the decades stack up. My primary inspirations for the project were a series of photos by Sally Mann, and a collection by designer Hussein Chayalan.
Mann, best known for her loving portraits of her family as they grew up, has an extraordinary sensitivity towards the human face in all its many variations. Her black and white portraits capture the vitality of life, while also acknowledging the presence of death. I was particularly interested in the way in which she picked up on the textures and marks that make each individual’s skin personal.
Hussein Chayalan, like Mann, is unafraid to explore the subversive. He has designed furniture that can also be worn, envelope dresses that could be folded up and sent, and, in a collection that inspired my own project, a set of garments made using fabric that had been buried in his garden for nine months. These pieces, shown on graduation, signaled the start of a long and highly innovative career that still continues. I loved the thought of the fabric waiting under the ground like entropic treasure, slowly discolouring among the roots and bugs. The addition of iron filings sped up the natural process of decay. The ground is both a place of life – a surface that potato leaves and flower heads spring from – and of death. Like the seasons, it is a symbol of renewal as cycles continue. Chayalan’s use of fabrics  recovered from the soil somehow reversed the normal lifespan of a garment, letting it fall apart before it had even been made.

The work of these two artists became the stimulus for my final piece: a dress that charted the course of changing and ageing. The photos were transferred onto the silk in a painstaking, highly irritating process involving the pasting, sticking and rubbing away of each image. I am never doing that again. The monochrome portraits – ones that I had previously taken of family and friends – ranged in the ages of the subjects from two to ninety-two. My rough plan was to represent the transition between child and great-grandmother, with the young faces at the top of the dress, graduating down to the oldest at the hem. I then set to work artificially ‘decaying’ parts of the skirt. The bodice, and the petal-like middle section emerged unscathed, but the lower sections of silk were subjected to scissors, paint and flames. I frayed the fabric with a boot brush, hacked away at holes and dripped rust coloured ink in large puddles. As with the faces, I wanted the material itself to display the passing of time. Smooth smiles change as lines and creases are added.

I used my absolutely gorgeous mum as a model for two reasons. Not only is she an expressive and captivating force in front of the camera, but the dress features a photo of her on it, meaning there was a lovely double effect in her appearing on the garment she was wearing. The way the light caught her hair leads to inevitable Pre-Raphaelite comparisons, but I think they're apt. She’s beautiful. 

37 comments:

AVY said...

I can see the Pre-Raphaelite thing, pretty cool.


/Avy

http://mymotherfuckedmickjagger.blogspot.com

Intrinsically Florrie said...

Your mum is absolutely gorgeous! She cuts such an elegant figure with a warming smile and magnificent hair! There are definitely Pre-Raphaelite comparisons to be made and I'd love to paint it myself.

You always have such a wonderful way of expressing yourself in your writing and this post is no different. I absolutely love the dress you created and all the thought behind it.

Florrie x

Natalie Suarez said...

she has such wonderful hair!! amazing :)

xx

natalieoffduty.blogspot.com

Melanie said...

First, your mother is radiant! Second, I like the end-piece as much as the process you went through to make it, the physical interaction with the fabric - burning, scouring, beating perhaps! In engineering they do shot peening where they "shoot" metal to make it stronger. In this case, the artificial accelerated destruction of the fabric seems to have the effect of shot peening; ironically, it makes the piece stronger. I wonder if you planted this garment, what would grow out of the ground?! Wonderful post.

Katrina said...

Wow - so wonderful! Your mom is so beautiful and energetic. Love it!

>'.'<

Christobel Amelia Hastings said...

This post reminded me of when I was studying for my AS levels...hard to believe it was three years ago now. I know exactly what you mean about painstaking artwork; it becomes a labour of love. I spent 3 months making a 1930's parlour maid's costume and if I didn't have the passion I would have given up.
I find it interesting how you can look back at a project in hindsight and see how much you learnt and absorbed; it all feeds into your 'life tapestry' even if you don't acknowledge it at the time.
Your mum's hair is amazing by the way! Love the corkscrew curls.
Christobel x

http://calico-casa.blogspot.co.uk

styleeast said...

This post made me smile so much! Your mum is absolutely stunning, poised and graceful. I see you in her in some of these photos, in a way I didn't so much when I saw you together. A great premise for your project, beautifully articulated and brought to life by your mum. Give her my love! x

Autumn said...

What an awesome project!!! Your Mum looks amazing!!!
~
Autumn

Willow said...

Your mum is so incredibly beautiful, the flaming red hair really captures attention - but also, her eyes and gorgeous smile.

I love the whole concept of the dress, and the way it's sort of like separate layers of age. The photos you took are absolutely stunning - especially when you see the light behind photos at the bottom of the dress.

As always, I enjoyed reading your post and love the rich words and the flow that never fails to find itself in your writing.

SACRAMENTO said...

I haven´t seen any photos more inspiring for ages. They have touched my heart. I love the light through your mother´s hair while she smiles, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
I bet she is a wonderful and proud woman having you as her daughter, and likewise.
Loving your project, and You.
Do tell her that I think she looks like a true fairy able to play with wild woolves.
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

alexandratherese said...

Having been witness to the plight of many friends panicking about their final GCSE Art pieces I am full of admiration for the time and dedication you obviously set aside for this project Roz. It's also obviously very personal for this dress to be created from the photos of the people dearest to you and your representation of ageing is both original and refreshing. Seeing this dress reminded me a little of the Gary Harvey creations which still bewitch me every time I see them; I'm still determined to make a newspaper dress at some point!

Your mum does have an ethereal quality to her which contrasts to the way she looks to be brimming with life and vitality. Her hair is amazing and she makes the perfect model. It is lovely to see her featured on the blog again.

Enjoy your Sunday - I expect we'll both be revising! Alexandra xx

Perdita said...

Your mum is a fine looking lady! I love her red hair. That dress is fabulous and does indeed convey all you intend it to!

I often look back over my blog or even Facebook, charting the subtle changes over time in faces, situations, moods. It's a poignant side effect of our digital age; a 'paper trail' of images...

Rosa Fay said...

Ahh, i was wondering when this was going to come up. It really is beautiful. And her hair! Absolutely stunning!

Emily said...

I can really see the resemblance between your mom and you! You both have such lovely hair.
I've been reading your blog for a bit and I really appreciate the insight that goes along with each post. Your blog is certainly one of the most unique I have stumbled across!

daisychain said...

Blimey, your mother is an incredible beauty x

Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

amazing, roz. AMAZING.
your mom is such a beauty!
the dress pretty incredible. well done! i LOVE this idea of "visible concepts of ageing and decay in the natural world".

AvaPilar said...

Your mum is beautiful, her hair is so lovely! You have her eyes. Brilliant dress as well.

Bella Q said...

Your mom is an absolute stunner of a woman- not only because of her titian locks but because her face conveys a sensitive, expressive intelligence. PLEASE share more photoshoots/pictures of her. I would love to see a photoshoot featuring both of you beauties! xo. -Bella Q the Citizen Rosebud

stringsandbuttons said...

Needless to say, your mother is stunning! That figure and that hair! Wow! the dress is brilliant and shows talent. I'm no artist but definitely love what I see! x

SabinePsynopsis said...

I'm sure your mum is, was and always will be absolutely gorgeous - which shows that beauty has nothing to do with age but a lot with charisma and energy (and yes, bone structure helps a bit, too). I think you chose the perfect model for your wonderful dress. xoxo

the nyanzi report said...

absolutely beautiful. I love that second to last shot.

polka dot said...

I agree: having the privilege of getting to know your mom in reality - and shooting her - I agree: she is beautiful in every sense of the word.

Uncanny that you left the comment when you did - thank you! - because I was at my friend Pia's incredible house in the country this weekend, and as we walked the grounds - possibly at the same moment you commented - I was admiring the lichen, ageing walls, and talking to Pia about the concept of 'wabi sabi', which is what you have captured so eloquently, visually and in your wonderful writing voice:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi

Even if it was an arduous process to create the dress - and especially if you're 'never doing it again' - I'm glad you did it once, and shared it with us.

It's also especially moving to know that the dress itself will be in a state of transience: it, too, will age and decay. And it's so true that you can see growth in your brother so much more quickly. We were talking about that also, this weekend, as there were children there - the fact that as girls, we just wanted to hurry up and grow up. It felt like our childhoods would last 'forever' - it's only as we get older that we realise how fleeeting life really is. And all we really have is this moment.

Beautiful. Sending you much love, Roz!

Soccer Mom Style said...

Your mom and your hand-made art project are beautiful. I can see some of her in your face.
I am also fascinated with aging. When I was little and my grandma was alive, I used to love to pat her wrinkles. I remember thinking up a painting or a photograph of a young female and an old and wrinkled female next, both beautiful in their own way. kind of like your project.. I actually still have a sketch in watercolor I made when I was little. The young female was in a rocking chair; wind playing with the lacy curtain in the backround; and also an old lady with a cane in the background as well.
xx
maya

Thea vintage said...

Your mom looks so beautiful! And her hair is fantastic! Such a beautiful woman. And lovely energy.

Izzy/Bella said...

I knew that was your mum before I read your post! You have the same poise, wavy hair and your smile is a slightly shyer version of hers.Although I don't mean "shy" precisely...can't think of the word, less wordly maybe? No... it's the difference between a woman and a girl but both beautiful and tied together with a lovely harmony reflected in these photos. Cool! x
Isabella
www.misadventuresofme.com

Lydia said...

Wow. Just wow. I love this dress, and the concept beyond it. Amazing. Your mother!!! She has the most amazing hair I have ever seen.

Jean at www.drossintogold.com said...

When I first opened your post, I saw this gorgeous woman and thought, "Oh, another wonderful friend!! She must be an artist." Of course as I continue, I find out this is your mom!! It makes complete sense; her body language is very similar to yours, she is uniquely herself but the resemblance is striking, and love is palpable in the photos.

I loved your description of the artistic process, as well. The dress is amazing. I hope you received top honors for it!

Love, Jean

Fashionistable said...

First up I totally agree, I think your Mum is beautiful too. And amazing we have both featured red heads recently. Your thoughtfulness and execution of the garment is so true to you it is wonderful. I didnt know the story of Hussein Chayalan's 1st collection. Thank you for telling it here. Thank you also for your lovely comments over at my site. Xxxx

Fashionistable said...

Ah yes and Tim Walker I was so looking forward to meeting him. But it was a very fleeting meet just to get a few snaps and off again as I was soooo busy. I had imagined having a conversation but it wasn't to be. He was so good they had to have give his talk twice he was so over subscribed the queue was amazing. I guess we are not the only ones who love him. Xxxx

Raez said...

Holy moly, your mom is a stunner! Her hair and her smile just light up your photos. She is the perfect model for creation, her pre-raphaelite hair compliments your dress very nicely!

xx

Fashion Tales.... said...

Jaw dropping! Incredible photos of your mum, she is absolutely stunning and agree such expression in just her stance alone. I like the way that you describe Chalayan's work. Have a lovely week.

Kate said...

For my GCSE I also went down the route of changing with age, as I painted my great uncle as he is now, holding a photograph of him when he was in the war, on a background of ration books with medals I made in the corners! I love your idea, especially the way you decayed the fabric by destroying some parts of it! You mum has amazing hair, and such a beautiful smile!

100%soie said...

wow, she is really beautiful, and the pictures are stunning !! I like her outfit too !!!
I can't wait for your next look !!!!
have a great evening !

http://100pour100soie.blogspot.fr/

Vix said...

Your Mum is an absolute beauty, I can see where you get your looks from. I can't think of a more perfect model for your stunning creation. xxx

Tela de AraƱa said...

Your mother is beautiful and a perfect model. I don´t know if is inherited or you have learned from her, but you both are fantastic!!!

The Foolish Aesthete said...

Your mum is as beautiful as you are. Through her, we get a glimpse of you down the road ... In fact, if you take a mental leap, this could be a blog post of you in the future that we happen to have taken a peek at through a wrinkle in time.

And I love your art project, using photo-documentation as a time gauge. I can only guess at the laborious process you undertook to distress and age the dress. Interestingly, it reminds me of the Rodarte sisters' processes, where they take beautiful fabrics and positively abuse them in fire, water, earth ... to get the desired effect! -- J xxx

The Holly Rivers Show (formerly The Fashion Turd) said...

inspiring and beautiful. your mummy is a stunner too!

www.thehollyriversshow.com