CLOTHES THAT REMAIN STANDING WITHOUT A BODY WEARING THEM. ABSENT BODIES IS COURTNEY MAKINS' S PROJECT, STUDENT AT THE SWEDISH SCHOOL OF TEXTILES. HERE WHAT COURTNEY TOLD US ABOUT HER WORK WHICH SITS HALFWAY BETWEEN A PAINTING BY MAGRITTE AND THE MARBLES OF THE PARTHENON.
I’m curious to know what sparked the idea for “Absent Bodies”. Could you tell us about the inspiration behind it?
It all started with a course I did in the first year of my Masters degree project, which was an investigation into different and unusual materials. This is where I discovered the potential for sugar, as it could be formed in many different states, wax, crystalized, caramelized, spun and as a coating. I always liked moulding and forming with the body, so when I came to my degree work investigation I started working with the sugar coating and the body. It just worked very successfully with the material and the coating that this ended up becoming my work. So really sugar as a material was the inspiration.
In “Absent bodies” there is a recurring juxtaposition of hard and soft, a mix between traditional fabrics like houndstooth and tartan with crystalized fur and accessories. Could you tell us more about the materials you used in the making of “Absent Bodies”?
When I was looking into fabric selections for “Absent Bodies” I went through many trials with the sugar to test their different reactions. I chose a variety of fabrics from knits, woven, sheer and fur to explore a material evolution. This idea came about by repeating the same dress in different fabrics; all the sculptures made are the little black dress, which slowly transitioned traditional materials through a material evolution to a more contemporary sense.
The sculpted garments you produced really remind us of amazing artworks like Magritte’s “The Horns of Desire” and the Elgin Marbles. How were you able to achieve that incredible sculpted effect?
Ah thank you! Well it was all discovered through testing and trialling where the first sculpture was created on a mannequin. Though this dress ended up having to be cut off, as it was too stiff to remove normally. So I began to do some creative thinking and thought about different moulds and decided a collapsible one was the best option. I created 6 different moulds, 1 on a mannequin, the remaining 5 were modelled from my body, created with glad wrap and tape. The fabric treatment I used was the most crucial as it was just a combination of sugar and water. I would cut and sew the dress and prepare the mould, I would then saturate the dress in the solution and place the dress on the mould. This could be very messy and tricky because the dress would become extremely heavy. I would adjust the dress slightly depending on how I would have liked the dress to be ‘worn’, so where was a small element of hand manipulation of the dresses. But once on the mould it was left to dry. After a few days on the mould, the mould was then collapsed and removed, to let the dress dry from the inside and then left for about a week to a week and a half in front of a fan. Once dried the dresses became extremely lightweight and held shape and draping appreance well.
It’s clear that the textiles and garments you produced establish a strong tactile relationship with the wearer. I’m really interested in knowing what’s your relationship with the clothes that you daily wear and if that has played a role in the creation of “Absent Bodies” at all.
My relationship with clothes is strange and I don’t think I would say influenced my work. I tend to like men’s t-shirt and generally baggy clothes that hide my body. It is a strange contrast because I used my own body as mould for some of the sculptures in “Absent Bodies”. I work long hours at University and often get messy due to my material investigation which also impacts what clothes I wear.
The first time I stumbled upon your Instagram page your project made me immediately think about the current situation of our planet Earth. But instead of ices melting and us watching it all happen in front of our eyes, in “Absent Bodies” reality seems to be inverted with clothes surviving us and not needing a body supporting them. Was this intentional at all? Do you think about environmental issues when experimenting with new fabrics?
It was not intentional to relate my “Absent Bodies” collection to the current environmental crisis. One of the great things about fashion is it is subjective and if some people see those environmental messages in the collection then it is fantastic. However the nature of the collection has an element of sustainability through the use of natural materials in the coating, sugar and water. “Absent Bodies” was intended to be about challenging people’s perception of garments and showing other potentials of garments through the exploration of the relationships between object and garment boundaries.
You moved from Australia to Sweden and you’ve just finished your Master at the Swedish School of Textiles. What pushed you to relocate in a different country and how has the change been?
Yes I did because I wanted to study in Europe because especially coming from Perth, Australia, it’s a bit more isolated on that part of the world. It was really tough, especially at the start just moving out of home and to a country where they spoke another language. But I would do it all again because I feel I received a better education and have been open to so many more opportunities, just through my migration to Sweden. Just in fact as well you learn so much about yourself and how you can deal with different situations when you are pushed out of your comfort zone. The Swedish School of Textiles has industry relevant and state of the art facilities which has helped me learn many different skills and technologies.
Now, talking about fashion, who do you really admire in the industry?
I really admire Viktor and Rolf and Hussein Chalayan for their work. I think they really pushed the boundaries of what could be considered fashion and how it can be perceived. Though I also really like artists like Nicole Dextras who work with the environment and present textiles and garments in a new form.
Finally, what’s your biggest dream, where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
I think I would like to be a fashion artist collaborator where I could do installations for different companies. Ideas of thinking about how we all perceive clothes and how they could be presented in different ways or I would like to work for a company as a specialist in exploring new materials and technologies, to develop clothing material possibilities and potentials.
Text Edvige Valdameri