Wandering through drawing & around the body: In dialogue with Simon Thorogood
The following conversations took place at London College of Fashion, in October-November 2010, between the curators of the exhibition, Charlotte Hodes and Flavia Loscialpo, Helen Storey, Philip Delamore and Simon Thorogood.
C&F – How do you think it is possible to expand the experience of designing through the application of digital and interactive technology?
ST – One of the issues I have always tried to explore in my work deals with the fact that fashion design is still very much approached, conceived and designed in much the same way that has been for quite a long time, arguably a hundred years, maybe more than that. This is, for instance, largely a procedure of sketching ideas on paper, copying existing garments, draping fabric or cloth on the stand or around a model, and arriving at ideas and shapes in more conventional ways.
I think that I have been, along other more ‘directional’ designers, struck by the possibility of interesting, alternative, fresh, playful but no less appropriate and applicable ways of somehow finding and cultivating a sort of germinating design. This is not necessarily a technological approach. I believe it is rather a conceptual approach, an approach to an idea or a dilemma, a problem solving issue, but one that comes from a different perspective. Certainly, I have used digital media and technology simply as a tool to find ways and ideas for the design or, alternatively, in order to engage audiences so that they can play with an idea or find ways of approaching design anew.
C&F - In your work you have explored digital systems that introduce specific or random design elements that lead to unexpected results. Can you tell us a bit more about this element of randomness, which seems to be so relevant for the design?
ST – As a designer, I have long been fascinated by the possibilities of creating from accident. Of particular inspiration were the ideas outlined by the composer and artist John Cage who utilised chance, indeterminacy and chaos as speculative ways to arrive at creative outcomes. I think that perhaps I have tried to apply and continue such methodologies in fashion design. Whereas I find conventional ways of designing perfectly appropriate and legitimate, for me possibly they do not always create sufficient incentive or motivation for innovation.
What I am really interested in doing is creating shifts or permutations of my own design sensibilities, which allow me to go down little ‘creative side streets’, which ordinarily I might not have gone down, and to see what results I might arrive at by doing so. I think that, as in Cage’s application of accident, chance is actually prescribed chance, and absolutely what I try to create in my work is a prescribed, orchestrated procedure. It is not wholly concerned with pure chance, because I am not sure one can really work from that, as it is arguably beyond the realm of control. What I am trying to do is to generate a creative dichotomy where there is an element of control and an element of chaos. And it is that middle ground that I find particularly interesting, that is, the crossroads of knowing and not knowing something, or of being lost and found. That notion of randomness is, for me, the most fertile and interesting point of any artistic discipline.
C&F – How does hands on drawing come into play with the randomness, but also with the digital side?
ST – Drawing is absolutely the most fundamental starting point of my work. It is the vocabulary of what I do, the building block, however conceptually, abstractly or straightforwardly I might approach a project or a design brief. Design, or rather drawing, becomes the fundament of that: drawing is like an alphabet, a means of building more complex forms. Very often the way I draw is to strip down and edit visual information, and thereby establish the possible 18 bare essentials of something. Subsequently I am often left with a series of very basic symbols, icons or marks, which I would start to manipulate, fuse together and develop into a bigger structure or entity.
C&F – Those elements or building blocks in your work are often mechanical linear structures as opposed to the organic form of the body. What dialogue are you seeking by having two opposing structures that come together?
ST – This might be a very male thing, but I tend to see the world in quite angular, geometric terms. The elements that are at the basis of my drawing are mainly linear and sharp, although not exclusively. Often the starting point for me is this: I constantly carry a camera with me to document ‘everyday’ things, shapes, colours etc. I then use the photos to identify and isolate certain forms that I find intriguing and I feel I can utilize somehow. Thereafter, I might isolate them further and redraw them as kind of edited characters, and finally through a particular process I start to apply them to the body. I really enjoy the notion of paradox, as in my case that of applying something hard, geometrical or angular to the curvature of the female form.
C&F – Does this process engage you at some point with the randomness?
ST – Often I have to play certain ‘design games’ in which I try to orchestrate how certain bits of drawing or panels might apply to certain parts of the body. How they might work as an idea for a fastening or an opening, for instance, or to the hem of a skirt, and so on. The very first time I showed my Projextiles project, for example, what I did was placing four identical sets of the same slide images into four carousel projectors. Then, located and projecting over different parts of the body, such as the head, torso, hip shin etc., I had them all set to run at exactly the same operating speed. For the first five minutes or so, each projector would cast the same image onto the respective body part, but thereafter each carousel would start to very slowly go out of synch with one another, until after about half an hour each projector was showing a completely different slide image. As we see, even the notion of supposedly sameness or similarity can engender change and variation, which I find very interesting. Frequently too, we focus on correcting mistakes rather than on learning to exploit mistakes, and I think that error exploitation can be a wonderful and liberating thing sometimes.