Objects of fashion and body-related artifacts have become an important sujet in visual arts. Since fashion design always relates to the body, it is not only a cultural artifact but also an expression of an anthropological dimension.
I argue that body-related artifacts such as Rei Kawakubos Body Meets Dress – Dress Meets Body-pieces make their way into museums not because they are extravagant examples of fashion design but because they have an expressive character sui generis.
My main question is: What is it, that turns fashion-designs into works of art? Or, phrased differently: Why do body-related objects of fashion speak to the observer in a different way than a painting or a sculpture does? My research aims at discovering the impact of fashion and body related technology (wearables) on human cognition and embodiment. My working hypothesis is that objects of fashion and dressmaking have become a medium of artistic reflection because of their close relation with the body as well as with technology.
I argue that the perceiver of these artworks undergoes a bodily experience, an immersive form of awareness that results from empathic contemplation. Objects that relate to fashion and dress evoke a special form of observation, which involves the subject as an embodied perceiver. Fashion objects share with other objects of art a rich cultural history, but they are special because they also directly relate to the body.
The body again is a twofold phenomenon: It is subject and object of experience (lived and living body, as the French philosopher Merleau-Ponty has put it) as well as it is natural and cultural at the same time. This twofoldedness of the body is addressed by fashion and its artistic expressions.
Still, fashion’s relation to art has been widely understood as additive. Fashion has integrated artistic elements such as sculpture or painting (think of Yves Saint-Laurent’s Joan Miró dresses) and vice versa. There has been a lot of research done in this field.
My work focuses on fashion as an art form. I analyze artworks as well as fashion performances and objects like those presented by Viktor&Rolf or Alexander McQueen. To understand what are the characteristics of these artifacts and performances I develop a theory of the anthropological dimensions of fashion. Special attention is given to technology and fashion, because wearables represent a new generation of body-related smart technologies, which connect the wearer with the Internet of Things (IoT). This dimension of fashion, being a medium which introduces technology to the body is relevant because it is strongly related to changing environments and life-world. The artistic exploration of these matters involves clothing, fabrics and smart objects.
I draw on methods of cultural science and philosophical theories from anthropological, humanistic and posthuman perspectives as well as on theories of embodiment and phenomenological accounts of experience. To put these findings in perspective I develop an aesthetic theory of fashion as art that interprets fashion as a form of material culture which has its fundaments in a deep-rooted human desire for expression and experimentation with possible relations of bodies, objects and culture.
The relation of fashion and art does not stop at clothes turned into artworks. Rather I take all body-related art as relevant in this context, because we actively fashion the body not only through clothes but through all kinds of cultural practices and technologies.
Since 2014 I have been cooperating with the Spanish artist and philosopher Jaime del Val (see images above) in his international project Metabody, which seeks to explore the dimension of bodily interaction with technology in novel and disaligned ways. I also have the honour of being a regular speaker in the Beyond Humanism Conference Series organized by Stefan L. Sorgner, where I present my research to a multidisciplinary audience.