SONIC INTRUSION – New Waves: Qiuyu Yu
Royal College of Art graduate Qiuyu Yu approaches fashion through science and emotion, studying sound waves interference and negative space, and incorporates it into technically-advanced pieces in primary colours. She travelled from South-West China to Kensington via King’s Cross to identify her own definition of fashion — we asked Qiuyu Yu about her process and how to negotiate technology, conceptualism and craft in one’s practice.
“GOOD DESIGN IS NOT JUST ABOUT AN AMAZING CONCEPT AND AN EXAGGERATED OUTCOME; YOU ALWAYS NEED TO CONSIDER THE DETAILS AND FINISHING OF THE GARMENT.”
Educated in three different world-renowned institutions, Qiuyu Yu’s practice speaks a language that is technically impeccable and conceptually wide-spanning. She was born in Chongqing in the Southwest of China, famous for its spicy food and hot weather, and it was here that she enrolled at the renowned local Sichuan Fine Art Institute, where she learned basic skills like pattern cutting, illustration and relevant software. However, she also quickly realised her disagreement with tutors and students on what defines fashion and how it’s done. “I started to question whether there was a different way of doing design than at my institute,” she explains over e-mail. Pondering the question ‘what is fashion?’, Qiuyu moved to London to get a better sense of how she might move beyond just ‘making clothes’.
Qiuyu was admitted to the renowned one-year Graduate Diploma in Fashion at Central Saint Martins, a course that, directed by David Kappo, matures BA graduates and grooms them for potential MA degrees in fashion. Here, she began exploring a variety of technical methods and concepts reaching far beyond the idioms of fashion, but was also overwhelmed by the fierce atmosphere of competition at the college. “The beginning of CSM was difficult for me, because I didn’t know the meaning of research and how to develop concepts into final pieces,” she says. “I felt a big loss in my first project when I saw other people’s perfect presentations.” However, her tutor Kappo encouraged Qiuyu to go out and absorb the city: “he kept emphasizing, ‘London is a fantastic city and full of various kinds of arts. Just go out, talk and learn something.’” Qiuyu took his advice and began communicating with different people in and outside of her field. “I tried to absorb all this information from these experiences and started to build up my personal fashion aesthetics and approach.” Qiuyu expanded her view and properly realised her own definition of fashion: “I regard fashion design as a medium to present certain concepts and aesthetics – I would like to build the world on the body without thinking too much of whether it’s wearable,” she says. Kappo quickly identified Qiuyu’s interest in high technology and futuristic design, and encouraged her to apply to the MA course at the Royal College of Art.
“I FOUND THE EXOTERIC VOICES OF DIFFERENT PEOPLE’S OPINIONS TO BE AN INTERFERENCE, CONFUSING MY DECISIONS.”
The transdisciplinary methodology of RCA suited Qiuyu perfectly, as it permitted her to pursue her projects via other departments such as IDE (Innovation Design Engineering) and DI (Design Interaction). “If I regard CSM as a place of enlightenment that allowed me to develop my individual vision, I would regard RCA as a place that stretched me to become a mature designer.” Meeting the many professional technicians of the college, she realised the importance of the craft of fashion (before or beyond the concept): “Good design is not just about an amazing concept and an exaggerated outcome; you always need to consider the details and finishing of the garment.”
Qiuyu Yu presents abstract emotional themes in datalogical/technological terms, and translates them on to wearable garments. After a year of experimentation with technologically innovative techniques, her final project began to solidify at the beginning of her second year: prior, she had experimented with sound visualisation, in which technology is used to illustrate invisible sound frequencies. However, the concept was undeveloped, and she needed a much deeper personal connection the subject. Eventually, she began incorporating her insecurity and overcritical anxiety into her work, attempting to find a link between noise interference and personal emotion: “I found the exoteric voices of different people’s opinions to be an interference, confusing my decisions.”
Her response was a performance, in which Qiuyu, inspired by the research of architect Bernhard Leitner, collected sound data from a performer interacting in a space, in that way “building up a picture of the invisible noise space which we don’t usually notice”. The encounter and struggle with this invisible sound data was illustrated with partly dyed elastic strings that operated along the body. The strings become integral to the piece, functioning both as restraint and embellishment to the wearer.
The result is a collection of clean and minimal silhouettes with asymmetric cuts, kept in primary colours of red and blue, and disrupted only by the stringed structures that add a geometrical and mechanical feel. The partly dyed rubber cord strings function as hinges of leather surfaces, and illustrate the sound pattern that she developed — “like suspending data image around the body”, Qiuyu explains it. As they are worn, the pieces seem to both hold captive and strengthen the wearer, a mechanical mobility permitted by the structure of the garment. “Personally, I would like to say my collection includes both a personal fashion aesthetic and a conceptual resolution. Even though I compromised quite a lot during the exploration process. It might be seen as a development in some extent,” she says.
Qiuyu’s abstract techno-futurist fashion is imaginable equally on the street as in a more abstract design field, and she is far from done with her complex technical and conceptual investigation into the field of data visualisation. She is currently contemplating her next career move. “I could run my own business, as I enjoy pursuing my own aesthetic identity. But facing the reality, I would need financing, and more industry experience,” she concludes.