An installation for School of Visual Arts’ new Design for Social Innovation program
“… please look closely at real cities. While you are looking, you might as well also listen, linger and think about what you see.” Jane Jacobs, preamble to “the Death and Life of Great American Cities”
My interest in art and urban innovation led me to accept a challenging project. I was recently asked to design a photographic mural for a new program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. This two-year graduate program provides students with the design tools and skills needed to become leaders in social innovation.
So I created a 70′ x 9′ photographic mural – “City Wall” – which would sheath the exterior wall of a 55-seat auditorium, surrounded by multifunctional spaces. The ensuing photographic composition, was printed by Visual Magnetics using innovative magnetic technology which, together with the wall’s magnetic paint, accommodates recyclable graphics. “City Wall” pioneered this new technology for SVA’s DSI program’s inauguration.
Physically the mural encircles the program’s auditorium, leading the viewer inside; symbolically, it represents the urban and cultural identity of certain neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The upper and lower sections of the mural depict the city’s diverse architectural landscapes; the middle section, separated by a double frieze of building perspectives, represents the spontaneous, direct human intervention on the city’s physical skin in a joyous expression of ownership and belonging.
What better way to inspire design students coming from various parts of the globe than to greet them with a portrait of their host city – New York, city of cities, magnet for innovative minds?
Shortly after it first opened, a friend invited me to join her on a walk along the High Line’s first few blocks. Something about moving along an extended path at 30 feet above street level made me want to reach out and touch the urban landscape stretching out on either side – I felt as if I owned the city! The color palette was particularly striking – old brick, broken glass, and the blue scaffolding of sites in construction. I felt as if my photographs were documenting history in the making.
Two years later, I photographed the High Line’s second phase, from W 20th street to W 30thstreet. I was surprised to find that the city’s color palette had changed significantly in this phase of the project, with oranges and sky blues now dominating the surrounding cityscape. Looking north towards the path’s end, one catches glimpses of the old rail tracks waiting to be transformed into phase III, and of the Trapeze School of New York’s white tent and sign: “Forget fear, worry about the addiction”.
The sheer elevation of the High Line offers a powerful experience of the city; I suddenly find myself on an equal footing with West Manhattan’s rapidly evolving architectural and urban landscape. A symbiosis with the city ensues… a strange intimacy, a new understanding. So I’m inspired to capture this feeling and – using sequential photography – I make a portrait of the city, identifying key elements that tell this story.
The resulting works have been very successful – strangers have stopped me in public places to admire and ask about my NYC High Line scarves, and I have had one even bought right off my neck! Many NYC High Line limited edition works on both paper and silk have been purchased over the last couple of years.
Paris, Spring 2012
Cities are one of my current interests; wearable art one of my recent explorations. Café Léa is my favorite neighborhood café in Paris, my regular “cantine”.
This is the story of an adventure where these elements intermingle.
CITIES In the last fifty years the rate of urbanization has been considerable, and the majority of the world’s population now lives in cities. But in all this time have we come any closer to understanding the nature of the urban experience?
The nature of the city is one of constant change and evolution – populations flow in, out, and through cities, causing the physical and cultural environment to evolve continuously.
Ordinary urban details that we take for granted enter our consciousness subliminally. As cities evolve, they produce varied urban aesthetics and create new ways of experiencing them.
ART “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” says Oscar Wilde.
Art reveals the experience of the city as unique, highly personal, innovative.
Our senses interact with the complexities of our immediate environment. The multitude of audio and visual stimuli encourages new associations to be created, promoting innovative strategies for making sense out of the chaos, for survival.
By deconstructing this chaotic sensorial environment and recomposing it in sequential grids, I am declaring a personal “ownership” or “control” over the experience of three cities I am most familiar with. In the process I discover their essence.
Can wearing clothes with urban representations actually help us better understand cities, identify with them, feel their essence?
In preparation for a special exhibit/event titled “WEARING CITIES”, I decided to test this theory.
My goal: to see my compositions come down from the wall, and evolve from two to three dimensions as they drape around a living, moving human form. No models, no runways. Rather, I imagine ordinary people working in ordinary environments wearing clothing that represent particular cities.
I want to observe how this affects the wearer, both subjectively and objectively. Would they feel the essence of a particular city they were wearing, would they “become” that city for a short spell? The clothing I prepared – a men’s shirt, a tunic, a short top, and a long dress – is designed to be as simple as possible, letting the images speak for themselves. Modularity comes from the different city compositions.
With this experiment, I intend to make a clear anti-fashion statement. Each piece of clothing is to be considered as a work of art in movement.
CAFÉ LÉA Just before it reaches the rue Mouffetard, the rue Pascal crosses the rue Claude Bernard, which then climbs towards the Jardin de Luxembourg.
The intersection of these two streets is punctuated by the coming and going of the #27 bus, of the bicycles parked right in front, of the regulars greeting each other as they head to the boulangérie near the fountain…
It is here that you can find the Café Léa, my very favorite café in the neighborhood.
With its typical Parisian woodwork tempered by the warm colors of the south, Café Léa is a friendly meeting place where the food is consistently good. My fellow atelier members, as well as many local workers and students, meet there often.
Café Léa is all about the ambience – the physical environment, the variety of people who frequent the place, the rich personalities of the people who work there. Over the years friendships have developed and it was not difficult to persuade the staff to play the game with me.
In a relaxed atmosphere of fun and spontaneity, Pierre, Melinda and Samia chose different cities to wear, continuing to work unperturbed while serving a salad, a glass of red wine or a coffee, changing city when they felt like it.
I loved watching my men’s shirts with cityscapes of Brooklyn or the High Line, moving deftly across the bar’s zinc counter top; or the New York Perspective dress leaning gracefully against a table, its urban facades softened by sun and wind.
Mathilde Fuzeau documented the ensuing tableaux with her keen observer’s eye.
Two artists – one from Korea and one from Italy – cross paths in Paris.
Their ateliers happen to be in the same neighborhood. As neighbors they have seen and admired each other’s work. They share a strong aesthetic affinity and an adventurous spirit.
Simo’s wardrobe contains many of Eunwha’s designs; and Eunwha has been intrigued by Simo’s photographic compositions on fabric.
For this first collaboration, Simo created the printed fabric, while Eunwha provided the garment’s design as well as her fashion craftsmanship.
The result is an original experiment – a unique, thematically modular silk crêpe shirt for all seasons, produced in limited edition.
The shirts are priced at 320 euros and are available at EUNHWA’s boutique, 19 Rue Claude Bernard 75005 Paris, 01 42 50 69 20.
August in Paris. Most Parisians have left, and the few that remain are relaxed and cheerful.
But everything changes, opportunities come up, and I’ve chosen this time to move my atelier of 12 years to the floor above, in the same courtyard. As I burrow through twelve years of accumulated work and archives, I uncover many a project stored and forgotten. What a test for the laws of order, organization, priorities!
I’ve been reading John Maeda’s “Laws of Simplicity” – which I’m finding quite inspiring in the perennial struggle against entropy.
“If brevity is the soul of wit, simplicity is the soul of design…” says Rob Forbes, founder of Design within Reach. I love the fact that complexity and simplicity are dynamically intertwined, our brain structuring the complexity surrounding us into patterns, systems, and words. Information overload = pattern recognition.
So everything changes. After an initial few months of testing at wholesale prices, the cost of my online limited edition artwork has graduated to retail prices. The quality of the fabric, the artisanal workmanship, the limited number available, contribute to the intrinsic value of the work.
New designs for scarves, as well as more limited edition art projects are in-the-works – scheduled for online offering in the fall. Stay tuned!