The Irish fashion designer tells us about her first solo exhibition at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin …
This exhibition is your first solo exhibition after 25 years in fashion design. What was the impetus for the show?
This entire exhibition titled “what we carry with us” stemmed from my desire to make a personal work that reconciles the past, the present and the future. Through a selection of new clothing, archive garments, found objects and written texts, I sought to explore fictional, autobiographical and creative meaning through process, through memory, and through materiality. The exhibition is formed around extracts from fictional essays, prose, poetry and short stories.
As the exhibition is so multifaceted, how and where did you begin?
This project grew from my writing; there is a rhythm and surety to the act of writing itself, which allowed me to explore ideas and memories fully. The writing was “unformed” and this reflected what I was trying to do in my earliest fashion work.
I revisited my past – as an MA student at Central Saint Martins in 1999-2001 – especially my sketchbooks from that time, as well as visits to the college library for fashion inspiration. I recalled the work of Martin Margiela, for example, which I found so powerful at that time, which could be defined as a kind of antithesis to fashion itself.
In addition, I found myself writing about things I found – trying to get close to something, to an aesthetic. I wanted to reflect back on my devotion to making and unmaking in a sense. For example, an extract from my writing is called, “I am in this deep hem devotion.” For me, writing has become a pivotal tool to link the ingrained processes of my past work with future work that hasn’t been created yet.
Can you tell us about the framed garments in the exhibition …
I’ve included archive pieces from over 20 years of work, some of which never really fitted into fashion collections; they felt dislocated and rejected or experimental. Some were crafted as one-off things that were irreverent, or challenging to wear, or super difficult to work with in terms of the weight and fabric used, and so they stood alone as vignettes.
I liked the idea of recognising these archive pieces, some now framed in perspex boxes, that reflect the process of making, doing and unpicking. In looking back at the start of my career and some of the work I made, I am now happy that these garments were not meant for everyone but were a brave investigation that I had to go through to learn my craft, the creation of a pathway of future intentions. I write about it in the piece, ”I wanted to unmake her, I wanted to unmake myself.”
The themes of the exhibition are loss and belonging – can you explain more please?
I am interested in the relationship with memory, especially selective memories, the ones we choose to carry in us and take forward – there can be a belonging and a loss in all of that; how the fictional and the autobiographical can merge and become intertwined through objects and our bodies.
In terms of belonging, there are images and references in sketch books that I cannot part with. For example, a woman I photographed in 2001 in a purple suit, whom I called The Purple Woman. I feel a loyalty to her, I don’t know who she is or where she is now, she’s probably dead. She appeared frail and dislocated from the world around her, she wore a damaged thread-worn purple suit with a falling hem and shoulder pads askew, all of her askew, not quite right. She is one of several women I have seen who have influenced me or touched me in some way; I cannot forget them.
There are sculptural vignettes in the gallery space too – crystal bowls, hosiery, embellished vintage garments and deconstructed garments – these are an attempt to capture the vulnerability of objects. I made compositions and digital scans with these found garments and objects that I personally resonated with. This process of laying down vignettes to create an artwork was important, as a record.
The act of scanning was also a very new way for me of working in that it transformed the objects in a way a photograph cannot.
You are also fascinated by old perfume bottles …
Yes, I have written about old perfume bottles that I collect and they feature in the show. It is fascinating how perfume bottles and the marketing around perfumes has played a key role in the fashion industry. I write about scent, its richness and the memories it sparks. There are framed perfume bottles mounted on silk in gilded with extracts of writing and poetry referring to loss.
I have also included a vignette of the crystal-heeled shoes that I made in 2001 which I felt so entirely connected to. There is a sense of letting go of my archive and this has been an emotional process.
What are some of the takeaways from this project – what do you hope visitors will take away from it?
I am hoping that there are moments in the work and the writing where visitors will surf their own desires and memories and relationship with objects. I hope it triggers a connection to ourselves, our desires, our past and present, what we carry with us to connect with the idea that there is energy in the objects we surround ourselves with and that we live our lives through our bodies.
Where and how do you work?
I work mostly in silence in my studio in Wicklow. For my collections within fashion and the ongoing collections for Dunnes Stores, I have learned to compartmentalise. I work with a small team through the design process. This includes talking through collection ideas, resolving and responding to feedback, as well as what I term “sitting in” and embracing discomfort, which has been a recurring theme since I first started making things in 1996. It’s an unknown space but there are moments of real joy and elation in the process too.
For this show I spent time with the objects – trying to listen to what I needed to do with them, or what they wanted me to do with them which was sometimes to deconstruct them.
How do you juggle your multiple interests and collections?
I tend to work on instinct. This exhibition has had a process that is different to my fashion designing, but it has been personally fulfilling. One section of work feeds into the other and I am delighted that this show will generate pathways for years to come and ideas for my fashion collection with Dunnes Stores too.
Need to Know: Joanne Hynes’s exhibition “what we carry with us” runs until August 8 at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Chancery Lane, Dublin 8; www.kevinkavanagh.ie.