Hendrickje Schimmel: Archiving decaying clothes
Challenging the traditional notion of functional clothing, Hendrickje experiments with institutionally archiving garments as a way of preservation, and plays with the idea of symbolic death in her latest collection “Science and Worms; Death Scenarios.” By working with found materials, she seeks to give a new life to mundane and ordinary garments. Implementing elements of ‘grossness’ in her designs, Hendrickje works with various materials, which are often disregarded and overlooked by others. Allowing the consumer to choose between the archival and functional, she willingly acknowledges that once she is finished with a piece, it begins to live an independent life: “a different context signifies a different meaning.”
“WHEN I JUXTAPOSE THESE TWO ELEMENTS, THE FROZEN MOMENTUM AGAINST THE ROTTING FIBRE, I FIND MYSELF ASKING: “HOW DO WE DETERMINE WHAT IS IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO CONSERVE AND HOW DO WE DETERMINE WHAT CAN ROT? ISN’T IT BETTER TO LET EVERYTHING ROT AWAY AND MAINTAIN NO INSTITUTIONAL ARCHIVES ALL TOGETHER?””
Where did you study before and how did you end up at the Royal College of Art?
I did my BA in the Netherlands, at ArtEZ Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, where I studied Womenswear Design. After working in the industry for a bit, I realised I wanted to take my practise elsewhere, not completely away from fashion and garments but somewhere in between art and design. I went to The Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam where I studied Dirty Arts, which was a department that wanted to erase the division between the autonomous and the applied, and stimulated its students to pursue interdisciplinary practises. I did that for a year and then realised I wanted to develop my skills as a maker more than that education could give me, and made the final switch to Mixed Media at the RCA.
What was your experience like moving to London, and how does it compare to “home”?
I lived in London before, four years ago when I did an internship at Alexander McQueen, so it wasn’t completely new. Compared to here, Amsterdam is very tame, especially creatively, and there is not much space for alternative projects. It also doesn’t have a vivid diverse subcultural climate like here. Although I have to say that when it comes to fashion, I have seen an increase in the emergence of interesting and independent labels back home in the last two years.
What are some of the things that you like to do outside of college?
I don’t really have any hobbies. I guess that everything that used be my hobby has now all moved into being a part of my practice, like reading and drawing. I don’t make much distinction between leisure and work, the domestic and the professional.
“I PERSONALLY FEEL DRAWN TO THINGS THAT ARE CONSIDERED GROSS LIKE HAIR, MUD AND DIRT, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE THEY ARE SO LOW IN THE AESTHETIC HIERARCHY.”
How would you describe your work in five words?
Archaeological, conceptual, dirty, excavation-site, and in-between.
What was your main source of inspiration for this project?
The main source of inspiration for this project derived from my ongoing research into the notion of the archive. This is a broad subject and for my current project “Science and Worms; Death Scenarios”, I particularly looked at preservation. Within the act of archiving, preservation is a crucial matter. If the aim of an archive or collection is to collect and store things for future generations, then the collected objects have to be protected from their natural process of decay. This is the point where the object’s natural life stops; it has to die symbolically, in order to become a representation of itself. So being an object in this world leaves you with two possible death scenarios: death by becoming an object of archival or scientific interest, or death in the natural way, decay.
Could you elaborate on your intentions for juxtaposing preservation and decay of clothing?
The process of conservation is one that is highly dependent on a curator. The curator, in whichever form, determines what becomes part of the archive. In other words: what is worthwhile to conserve. So some objects, in my case garments, are ‘chosen’ to be conserved and kept artificially in the same state for eternity. All the rest of the materiality in this world that is not chosen to fulfil a representative function becomes the victim of decay. It stains, wears out, fades, and rots. When I juxtapose these two elements, the frozen momentum against the rotting fibre, I find myself asking: “how do we determine what is important enough to conserve and how do we determine what can rot? Isn’t it better to let everything rot away and maintain no institutional archives all together?”
“I FIND IT ATTRACTIVE TO SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH A GARMENT THAT I FOUND. I DON’T USE PERSONAL GARMENTS OR OTHER PEOPLE’S PERSONAL GARMENTS. I JUST USE ONES THAT I FIND ON THE STREETS, IN SHOPS, AROUND THE HOUSE.”
You used the word ‘gross’ to describe a lot of your work, what fascinates you most about the ‘grossness’ of it all?
I personally feel drawn to things that are considered gross like hair, mud and dirt, especially because they are so low in the aesthetic hierarchy. In my work I try to create a visual contradiction between the garments that are ‘preserved’, and the garments that are left behind to rot. Overgrown, eaten, dirty. In my last installation in Hockney Gallery this visual contradiction became very clear: most people interpreted the garments that were ‘preserved’, caught in frames and flattened, as ‘death’ and the garments that were assembled together in a pile of dirt, overgrown with plants as ‘alive’. This illustrates the institutional death of the object very evidently: when an object becomes part of an institutional archive, in a sense, it is more death than a corpse.
What do you find attractive about archiving garments?
I find it attractive to spend a lot of time with a garment that I found. I don’t use personal garments or other people’s personal garments. I just use ones that I find on the streets, in shops, around the house. I like the fact that I don’t know what its history is, how many hands have touched it and how many people have had certain experiences with it. By not knowing about its previous life or owners I create this archive of anonymous garments that I am the curator of. In a weird way it gives me a sense of control.
You seem to work with a variety of garments, what is your favourite item of clothing to work with and why?
I prefer quite average garments, ultimately stained and faded. Ordinary garments that represent nothing special and that would never be considered relevant for an institutional archive. Unless somebody was murdered whilst wearing it and it became part of the ‘evidence’. Straight cut blue jeans, white t-shirts with the logo of an amateur sports club, and everything that’s beige.
“THE NOTION OF RECYCLING IS INTERESTING TO ME BECAUSE I FEEL WE LIVE IN SUCH A REMIX CULTURE. I DON’T REALLY BELIEVE IN AUTHORSHIP AND SO NATURALLY I FEEL THAT AN ARTWORK OR GARMENT SHOULD HAVE MORE THAN ONE LIFECYCLE.”
You use a variety of colours and patterns in your collection, are you working towards a particular colour palette?
When it comes to making a colour palette I get the same anxiety as I feel in the fabric store. I can’t plan things like that and luckily I have created a position for myself where I don’t have to. My colour palette grows organically, sometimes I feel I am hardly in control of it, but usually when I see the end result I do have quite a particular taste.
Would you say sustainability is an important aspect when it comes to your designs or do you use found materials for other reasons?
I think a lot about recycling, but more as a subject then for ideological reasons. The notion of recycling is interesting to me because I feel we live in such a remix culture. I don’t really believe in authorship and so naturally I feel that an artwork or garment should have more than one lifecycle.
A lot of your work is made from found materials, is there a particular reason why you like working with these as opposed to creating your pieces from scratch?
I find starting from scratch very scary. I get very upset in fabric stores and I’m not a very good pattern maker. Besides that, I do consider my position as an artist/designer more as a cultural post producer than as a fully autonomous creator. I think it’s a bit delusional to claim that something is made fully by one person and deny all the references, help and influences in the process. I guess it has to do with our adoration for purity, which we inherited from modernism, but today we can’t possibly claim that something is 100% original. This is why I called my brand name and artist pseudonym ‘Tenant of Culture’ as I feel I make use of a lot of things that aren’t ‘mine’.
You give the consumer the choice to keep the garments wearable vs. archival, what do you personally prefer and why?
I personally would prefer the archival; it will last longer and illustrates the concept behind the work. Also if I would be the consumer I would choose to keep it in the frame, because it’s definitely worth more money that way. It would be funny to take it out, though, because you would destroy an artwork in the process, which must be a great feeling.
“THINGS ARE BECOMING MORE FLUID, BOUNDARIES ARE BLURRY, AND WE ARE ALL DECOMPOSING INTO ONE BIG SOUP OF EVERYTHING. THE PRACTISES THAT MATTER NOW ARE THE ONES THAT SHAPE SHIFT.”
Is the consumer’s choice more important than your intentions?
Absolutely. Once a work is finished I strongly feel it is out of my control and it starts living an independent life. It is like a child that is old enough to move out. I can’t have a say in what happens to it anymore. A different context signifies a different meaning.
How do you feel about people often mistaking textiles as a subset of fashion?
I can laugh about that actually. Because everyone who takes a second to reconsider this, would realise that without textiles there would be no such thing as fashion.
What would you say sets your work apart from other textile designers?
My work process is very different from that of a ‘textile designer’. It has elements of everything in it: sometimes I work as a fine artist, sometimes as a textile designer and sometimes as a fashion designer. I am trying to construct my own understanding of what these things mean and not look at the provided standard by the industry.
Your work is quite multidisciplinary – would you want to continue working this way or specialise in one discipline in the future?
I definitely plan to pursue a multidisciplinary practise, I think I am going to radicalise being in-between even more. I think a lot of designers and artists think that it would make it easier for their careers to identify as only one and stick to it, but things are changing now. Things are becoming more fluid, boundaries are blurry, and we are all decomposing into one big soup of everything. The practises that matter now are the ones that shape shift. Institutions are crumbling, industries are being exposed, people don’t put up with shit anymore, so I feel like now is the ultimate time to formulate my own rules and live by them.
Words Grace Ahn
All images courtesy of Hendrickje Schimmel