In March, I presented a keynote talk at ‘APPARITION: The (Im)materiality of Modern Surface’, a symposium at De Montfort University, Leicester, organised by Design Cultures and Fashion Research Network. The talk discussed topics that related directly to the Archaeology of Fashion Film project and extended what is meant by fashion film. Discussing Landscapes of Fashion and the Unravelled Expedition, recent pieces of work by the speculative design studio Unknown Fields Division, the talk explored the recurring topics of the factory, and folds of clothes and garments.
While there is an established and inspiring discourse about surfaces of fashion, from cinema to architecture – especially by theorists such as Giuliana Bruno, this strand of research emerging from the project outlined how this approach speaks to the post-cinematic situations that have emerged in work such as that by Unknown Fields Division. This also extends fashion film to questions of (planetary) infrastructure, as discussed in their work: how does the recurring aesthetic theme of the fold – and movement – operate across these different examples that use the stage of the factory as their catwalk? From the early fashion industry’s “factories of elegance” (a theme analysed by Caroline Evans in her The Mechanical Smile, 2013) become re-circuited into the contemporary theme about the factories of fast fashion in regions such as India? In addition, some other recent work has also been of interest. A good example is the recent film by Rahul Jain, Machines, which also featured the factory as a key site of contemporary fashion as part of the “planetary conveyor belt”, a concept used by Unknown Fields Division.
In this context, media archaeology does not merely mean historical excavations into early film seen through contemporary lenses and as “histories of the present” (in Michel Foucault’s sense) but as conditions of existence. Discussing the work of theorists such as Bruno prompts us to extend haptic surfaces to touch their architectural contexts, and allows cinematic movement to be placed in context of movement across space. The conceptual link to aesthetic ways of understanding the fold becomes one way to investigate what this other archaeology – a condition of existence – of folded clothed surfaces would be. It means moving away from internal genre readings of products such as fashion film to their contexts of emergence as part of the wider production chains of materials. Unknown Fields Division’s stylized adaptation of fashion film, my main reference point, is in itself a fold that starts to include these multiple layers of surfaces and presents a case for a critical ecology of surfaces that comes in threes: movement, cloth, fold; architecture, infrastructure, labour. The keynote will be developed into a peer-reviewed journal publication as well.
A sample of Unknown Fields Division’s work on Unravelled can be seen online:
Unknown Fields Division’s work is installed in the After the End of the World exhibition in Barcelona at CCCB.