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Evolution/Revolution: The Arts and Crafts in Contemporary Fashion and Textiles

PROVIDENCE, RI.- The RISD Museum of Art presents Evolution/Revolution: The Arts and Crafts in Contemporary Fashion and Textiles. Organized by Joanne Ingersoll, Curator of Costume and Textiles, Evolution Revolution brings together the work of contemporary designers who share a commitment to quality of life over mass branding, as well as a mutual practice of innovation in design and exploration of new technology. The exhibition features the work of more than 20 designers, artists, and architects from the United States, Britain, Europe, Mexico, and Japan who create fashion and textiles in a spirit reminiscent of the early Arts and Crafts movement’s response to industry. Many of these contemporary designers unify technology with the creative process while also tackling social issues such as sustainable design.

These artists – socially conscious, technically literate, and possessed of a creative vision – are attempting to assert more control over how their ideas are realized in manufacture. Today, there is a veritable explosion of “cottage-industry” production in which the “cottage” may contain high-tech laser and/or digital printers, looms, and knitting machines. Advances in printing, weaving, and embroidery processes have made an unprecedented creative environment possible on a small scale.

For example, Molo Design is a group of trained architects with backgrounds in fine art and material craft. For them, hands-on “making” is fundamental, and their experience with product manufacture encourages experimentation. They continually investigate the potential of factory production and prefabrication in order to create construction methods and building systems that are less wasteful of energy and materials than previously. Their “soft” product line (represented in this exhibition) makes possible a flexible use of space through honeycomb technology. According to Molo Design, “Soft allows the user to create structures and redefine space in a dynamic and temporal way, allowing for an economy of material usage, flexibility and reusability that is unparalleled.”

Sophie Roet, known for her earlier “techno-textile” successes, is another example. She recently returned to a craft approach and developed her ideas in a commercial collaboration with R. B. Enterprises in India, through which she is addressing issues of fair trade, colonialist consumption of goods, and global interrelations in the textiles industry. Roet is the creative director, and her concepts drive manufacture executed by others, allowing for craftsmanship in mass production.

The exhibition draws attention to the ways in which issues of control over the process of manufacture and the type of materials employed connect present and past designer/reformers. Currently, microtechnologies, care for the environment, issues of sustainable production, and the social implications of global trade and economics define the reform movement, but the integration of art and life was also a hallmark of the late 19th-century Arts and Crafts movement in Britain, which spread quickly throughout Europe and the United States. Today’s resurgence is consistent with the earlier preoccupations of such reformers as Britons William Morris (1834-96), Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), Walter Crane (1845-1915). Examples of their work, drawn from the Museum’s collection, have a place in Evolution Revolution.

This exhibition is particularly relevant to RISD’s educational mission. The first of three articles stating the purpose of its 1877 incorporation is exactly on point: “The instruction of artisans in drawing, painting, modeling, and designing, that they may successfully apply the principles of Art to the requirements of trade and manufacture.” Because Rhode Island and most of southern New England was then the major area of textile production in the country, the industry’s captains – many of whom were directly related to the group of women who founded RISD – were very interested in having an available pool of trained designers and technicians. Today, RISD still emphasizes a thorough and broad-based understanding of the design process that includes hands-on experience with multiharness hand looms, computer-interfaced looms, the electronic Jacquard loom, the digital fabric printer, and knitting machines, as well as work in its dye lab and fabric screenprinting studios. State-of-the-art computers and software facilitate design for woven, printed, and knitted fabrics, but technical processes always serve artisitc expression.

The exhibition will include works from about 20 designers including Issey Miyake’s HaaT Collections; Fernando and Humberto Campagna for Design with a Conscience, Artecnica; Tess Gibberson; Claudy Jongstra; Eugene van Veldhoven; Hil Driessen; and Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin among others.

The exhibition was organized by Joanne Dolan Ingersoll, Curator and Department Head of Costume and Textiles. Ingersoll previously served at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum, New York City, where she was Associate Curator for ten years. She has taught, lectured, and written extensively over the course of her career. Ingersoll received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst and an M.A. from the State University of New York, FIT.

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