“If we were to discuss ways in which fashion is produced traditionally, key technologies are the sewing machine and loom,” Leanne Wierzba advises, perhaps plainly, over email.
“If we are talking about how fashion as an industry operates, transportation infrastructure and the printing press would be included. Digital technologies are a new media which, in many ways, connect across all of these traditional areas and also provide an additional layer.”
There is no one focus, then, when it comes to discussing technology in the arena of fashion. “They don’t just serve to augment previous capabilities,” continues Wierzba, “digital technologies are biased within their own aesthetic priorities and logic systems, in this sense their influence needs to be interrogated.”
“Whenever I would mention I was working on an exhibition about digital fashion,” she explains, “most people had a preformatted idea of what that would include, which was always really different to what I was working on.”
Titled ‘Digital Disturbances’, the new exhibition explores the influence of digital concepts and tools on the fashion industry through both static and interactive installations, clothes and films, and was developed out of another project, about digital print design, that was never fully realised.
“Digital print was a really big topic for London fashion a few years ago, with so many younger labels based in the city leading innovation and creativity in this area of design,” offers the curator, namechecking Mary Katrantzou and Peter Pilotto as examples. “There was a lot to celebrate, however when I revisited the topic today it really felt as though the subject has moved on significantly.”
On the one hand she says, digital design is more integrated, but opposing that there is a need for critical assessment and definition. “More directly, the exhibition draws on observations undertaken by proponents of The New Aesthetic, a term coined by James Bridle in 2011 to describe the increasing influence of the visual language of digital technology and the Internet.”
“The New Aesthetic is not a movement,” states Bridle on the accompanying Tumblr page, “it is not a thing which can be done. It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our distant but overlapping realities.” Clarifies Wierzba: “The term provides a framework for analysing a style of work that engages with digital technology explicitly, as a style but also as a system.”
“Following from this, the exhibition looks at the often strange effects of integrating the logic and aesthetics of the Internet into the material and visual culture of fashion, as well as some of the ethical and political implications of this – particularly in relation to identity and privacy.” In essence, she’s taken on a ridiculously big subject for a one room show, but one that, as the launch will no doubt see, is totally worthwhile touring.
Tapping designers, artists and brands like Tigran Avetisyan, Flora Miranda and ANREALAGE, the display is ‘international in scope’, with contributors from Japan, Italy, Belgium, Russia, Holland, the US and the UK; and as Leanne puts it, they all “produce work which directly investigates the current potential, limitations and desirability of integrating digital tools and concepts in fashion. Each is preoccupied with a process of translation across physical and virtual domains.”
Asked which designers or brands are using technology best today, she quells the notion that Clash has asked something straightforward. “It’s always a question of priorities; best for what and for whom?” she instead remarks, “The term ‘technology’ has such wide interpretations and applications that merits could be debated almost indefinitely.” She will however, admit to a fascination with the make-up artist Alex Box, who described the medium as a wearable technology.
“The scope is really limitless. Larger brands are hugely relevant in shaping the general trajectory of the industry on a macro level. However the type of critical work on display in the exhibition is important as it provides an opportunity to reframe the debate about meaning and values.”
Words: Zoe Whitfield
'Digital Disturbances' runs 11th September until 12th December; find more info here.