Text by Anthony Thomas
Whether we like it or not, a sad reality of life is that the words ‘superficial’ and ‘society’ have become synonymous. You might consider that to be a fallacy but you’re kidding yourself. Every morning you wake up and go about your daily ritual, which I’m going to assume involves bathing and consuming a meal at some point, yes? Ok, great. I’m also going to assume that you wear clothes. It’s at this crucial point in your day that superficiality joins the party. How do you come to a decision? Design? Colour? Material? Blah blah blah. We got it. Look at it a little deeper though and you’ll discover clothing has become the tangible embodiment of our self-concept. Look even deeper and you’ll realise that ‘fashun’ has also become an indispensable tool in helping us manage society’s excessively demanding expectations and prejudice toward image, gender, culture – the list goes on. Gerwyn Davies challenges this hierarchy of expectations. Through the integration of costume design and photographic practise, Davies breaks down the notion of what you should be wearing and reconstructs it as a statement of, ‘what do you want to be wearing?’ The results breathe new life into the often tired debate surrounding self-expression. If nothing else, it’s work that acts as a catalyst for an infinitely fascinating discussion. I mean; that’s a lovely sweater you’re wearing, did you choose it? Or did society?
MM: Self-expression, why is it so important to your work?
GD: The avenues I’ve chosen to experiment with came from my observations of how repetitive and boring self-expression can be.
Why do you find it repetitive and boring? I guess it’s easier to be really descriptive and stay within barriers; safety in numbers I guess. The costumes I’ve been making are not practical and often use recycled materials. I really wanted to push the edge of that; imagine collecting everything around you and constructing yourself from that. There are obviously physical restraints on convenience and comfort that impact how people physically present themselves the way they do, but I’m interested in how people remove those limitations from themselves. The physical incarnation from people’s creative process, their aesthetic desires.
How did you get into costume design to begin with?
I just started off with a sewing machine, making my own clothes, and I got back into it through craft process, which I’ve always used that in my work; I find it really cathartic. My photographs are a really heavily constructed process. Through craft, I became interested in the recycled and found objects. For the WEARS show, the brief was simply, “React to the store itself,” so this time I wasn’t able to really deconstruct the clothing. I ended up using a digital construction process, which was different and exciting. I’ll probably keep using it, even though it feels a bit like cheating.
I always use these long and laborious processes in my work, so it feels like it’s a different kind of work. Instead of manual labour, it’s sitting in front of a computer so it feels like cheating to myself, but the results were quite interesting.
How long do the costumes take to make?
It depends. Some of them were quick and worked really easily and happened in two hours. Others were constructed, reconstructed and then abandoned and taken up again depending on the material. I’ve working an installation version of one at the moment, which has meant hand-stitching AstroTurf. I’ve only done the torso, which has been four days of work, and I’m not entirely sure I like it. So it really depends on the material.
Do the materials you use symbolise anything?
I like letting the materials choose their own form through the processes I use. I try not to have a preconceived idea of what the shape or material will be. If there was a specific colour within the series, I might seek out that colour when I go shopping but I try to use very diverse materials. So they’re random in a sense but they’re always disparate textures; I like plastic and fibrous kind of materials.
Where do you draw the line between fashion and art? Obviously they’re not wearable.
Well, it is. Of course it is. It comes back to that idea of comfort and expectations of what other people, and what you wear. They’re not exactly comfortable or practical but they’re aesthetic and honest representations of clothing. I don’t know if there is a line. I think that any fashion is art; if it’s not art, then it’s shit fashion. If it’s not interesting, it’s clothing, not fashion.
If the over-arching theme of your work is a world without expectation, what would you be wearing in that utopia?
That’s always a weird thing to reflect on. I guess it would still have to be comfortable. I think I’d wear paper. I could quickly change designs; I’d just have to run the new design off a printer. Even though I could only wear it for a day, it would be cheap!
The work you’ve done in the A Million Bucks collection is a lot brighter. Why is that?
I set out for it to be more fun and tongue-in-cheek. I got really wrapped up in my previous work; I threw myself pretty heavily into queer theory. So this time, I just wanted to make it about the physical process and the celebration of self-representation instead of this, at times, quite heavy theme. I wanted it to be humorous but a little bit uncomfortable for people to look at. The characters inability to walk or move properly is that awkwardness I wanted. It’s framed in dead white space, like a comic strip. Having said that though, the white space can be isolated. You say it has that comic strip vibe. Did you draw on any animation influences? No. I really tried to make it as automated as possible so I didn’t design anything beforehand. The work before that, like McQueen, I sketched shapes and whatnot but for this one I just wanted autonomacy. I’d make the costume, try it on and sometimes the entire thing got flipped, or legs got ripped off and put on their head.
Did you find the automatic process more fun or rewarding?
It was yes; everything was a lot more instinctual and fed back into that experimentation with self-representation. It became more honest of how I was feeling. Even as far as when the materials were a little hard to work with, you can see that coming through their awkwardness and stares. The steel wool for instance was cutting me and I was covered in blood after I did it. It was very real, that horrible stench of cheap steel-wool.
How did you get on board with WEARS?
The curator contacted me with this very exciting, loose brief. It was a slow process to get started, mainly due to procrastination, but once I started it all happened within a week. What have you got prepared? I ended up with six images all shot around West End and like I said, they’re more digitally constructed; very sculptury [sic]. Not being able to cut up the clothes and change their form meant I had to take a different angle and construct them in Photoshop.
A lot of your work is shot in the studio. How was getting out in the real world?
It’s actually something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I liked the idea of keeping it all in West End; keeping it local. A lot of my the costumes in my previous work were extremely hard to transport so it was nice to have more freedom. Definitely, I’d like to do more of in the future.
What’s next after WEARS?
I have a show coming up at Spiro Grace. That’s going to be a collection, and I’m also working on those installation/sculpture works I mentioned before. At the moment, just trying to negotiate how to make them wearable but fixed form. I’m also working on a music video for Michelle Zen, a Brisbane electro babe. We’re working on creating some costumes.