Tianfang Jing: Getting philosophical at Parsons MFA Fashion
The MFA Fashion students at Parsons are a smart bunch, using concepts that add other layers to the fabric of their clothes. While Katherine Mavridis’ graduate collection explored the idea of clothes being more than just wearable garments, her course mate Tianfang Jing took inspiration from the German philosopher who believed that mass culture brought about mediocrity: Nietzsche. Tianfang Skyped us from New York a couple of days before Thanksgiving celebrations were in full blast, and told us how an MA turns any calm person crazy and why she likes sticking with simple concepts.
At what point did you realize you were interested in fashion?
I have always been interested in it, especially because my father is an artist who concentrates on oil painting, so I grew up surrounded by it. He definitely influenced me. But unlike him, I sometimes can’t focus on the small details. I think that’s why I enjoy making garments, because it’s about the whole image. When I started experimenting at Parsons, I was learning what I liked and what felt natural to me. But even now, I don’t feel like a fashion designer. In fact, I like to keep a little bit of distance from fashion itself.
The concept for your thesis, ‘The Fold’ was influenced by a Nietzsche quote.
That’s right: ‘He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.’ I think I liked the way the words fell. My collection is mainly focused on the process, which I try to shorten, but still highlight in every fold. I always prefer to express my ideas directly and not overthink them. I like simple concepts.
“IT WAS SO IMPORTANT TO ME TO KEEP THINGS REALLY SIMPLE AND DEMONSTRATE MY IDEAS, BUT WITHOUT OVER-COMPLICATING THEM.”
I didn’t think people would connect Nietzsche with the word ‘simple’.
That’s what I liked about the collection. I took a quote that is really thought provoking and used it against a very straightforward design. I used the basic pattern to make it all more obvious. The words flowed together and I enjoyed the way a color gradient supported this idea of process and flow.
You say that you don’t think you’re a ‘typical fashion designer’. Why do you think that is?
During the research for my thesis, I did some typography work and practiced installation arts, so I got to play around with other mediums. I have experimented with video art a lot, which opens up this other world to explore when designing. I was always interested in fancy techniques and remember learning that when you print on transparent films, you can peel this ink layer off. Ideas started coming to me. I used a heat press machine to test and combine the colors with fabrics, so I could understand the transparency of the ink. I didn’t want my collection to be too experimental and therefore not wearable. But I also didn’t want it to be too commercialized. It needed to fall in the middle. I mean, I couldn’t just create a plastic dress. I could have, but it didn’t feel real.
How long did the whole process take you?
It’s crazy because from start to finish it took about 8 months. The time went by really quickly and I remember hating everything that was happening. It was a very up-and-down experience, which I wasn’t used to, because I’m usually a calm person. It’s so stressful, especially when you have an idea and you can’t get it out. It’s very tricky, because your confidence in your work shifts dramatically up and down. Some days you wake up confident with your work and sometimes you don’t know what to do, because it’s so abstract and you have decided you hate it. It was so important to me to keep things really simple and demonstrate my ideas, but without over-complicating them. That’s what’s so frustrating about making art and demonstrating your ideas.
“THERE IS ALWAYS ROCK AND ROLL IN NEW YORK.”
Are there any particular artists that influence your work?
There are so many artists and designers that I like and think about often. In particular, especially for my thesis, Bruce Nauman inspired me a lot. First of all, he wrote a lot of poetry and I think you can see that sort of structure in his work. He had a video installation at the Tate Modern in 2001, ‘MAPPING THE STUDIO II with color shift, flip, flop, & flip/flop (Fat Chance John Cage)’, which showed his studio at night, being filmed with the night vision setting on his video camera. You slowly see things changing, but no human beings are present, so there is this feeling of constant presence. It was meaningful to me. It made me feel like process and presence are so connected.
So you’re an MFA graduate living in New York City, not a bad start. What have you enjoyed so far about living in the ‘city that doesn’t sleep’?
I love it here. There are amazing museums and galleries everywhere you look, and whilst I’ve lived here I’ve seen some of the best concerts of my life. Recently I went to Patti Smith’s 40th anniversary of her album ‘Horses’, which was so good. You can get inspired from everything here and there is always such excitement. There is always rock and roll in New York.
If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be?
It would probably be to learn more about making clothes! It’s that simple. In the two years of the MFA program I have learned so much about craftsmanship and what people really want to wear. The relationship between artist/designer and customer is really interesting. Sometimes I was intimidated by new processes and felt I needed to know it all before I could try it. But this also meant I would begin projects with a fresh eye and new perspectives, which was both a good and a bad thing. But going back, I don’t know. You spend so much time hating yourself and suffering a lot, almost not sleeping at all, but at the end of the day, you’re proud. So enjoy it.