Sunday, 7 August 2011

Chalayan Art

Chalayan is an artist and designer, working in film, dress and installation art. Research Chalayan’s work, and then consider these questions in some thoughtful reflective writing.

1. Chalayan’s works in clothing, like Afterwords (2000) and Burka (1996) are often challenging to both the viewer and the wearer. What are your personal responses to these works? Are Afterwords and Burka fashion, or are they art? What is the difference?
Not all clothing is fashion, so what makes fashion fashion?

I think the nudity of Chalayan’s work Burka could offend some due to the cultural issues it challenges. The idea of a burka is to cover and conceal as a religious view and in what Chalayan has done, he has almost mocked it, reversing the concept and instead revealing more and more of the models in succession as they are seen. I personally love burkas and their cultural meanings and fabrics and how dedicated people are to their religious views in that they will even in other countries where wearing one is not required, they will still wear a burka as a sign of the morals and religious views. I like the idea of the Afterwords collection and the ideas around turning architecture into fashion. I think it is unique to create metamorphosing objects/garments that have multiple functions. Chalayan explores the “concept of portable architecture, and was inspired by the necessity for people displaced by war and invasion to carry their homes when fleeing a country and becoming nomadic” (Fogg, 2007). I think it shows many of the aspects we have discussed about post modernism and playing with art and crossing the line between many different genres of art – architecture, fashion, product, etc. However, I also think it employs many aspects of modernism in that his works in fashion are futuristic and consider what is to become of fashion not just in the here and now though his works address issues in the here and now – e.g. taking household items with you whilst you wear them for those moving around constantly i.e. during war.  I think that the works are both fashion and art. They make statements in the way that fashion does through what someone wears and how they wear it as well as a having a meaning in an artistic sense that they question our previous methods of thinking about art and fashion.
We talked about earlier in the year how art is any creative process with development and ideas behind it and fashion meets this ‘definition’. The difference between fashion and art is minimal as fashion often has an artistic meaning behind it, whether it is the print from a t-shirt that is art in fashion or a patterned fabric that has art (print design)built literally into the fabric.
Not all clothing is fashion in a sense is an odd statement as all clothing is made with a purpose and people will have their own taste in fashion and choose one thing over another according to their fashion taste, making it a fashion decision and therefore of fashion.  Pyjamas, for example, are not thought of as fashion to some but are still designed in a fashionable way that are functional and practical at the same time look good and so people wouldn’t be horrified to be seen in them. In this sense even pj’s make a fashion statement about that person though they may not generally considered fashion.

2. Chalayan has strong links to industry. Pieces like The Level Tunnel (2006) and Repose (2006) are made in collaboration with, and paid for by, commercial business; in these cases, a vodka company and a crystal manufacturer. How does this impact on the nature of Chalayan’s work? Does the meaning of art change when it is used to sell products? Is it still art?

Chalayan’s work ‘The Level Tunnel’ is a collaboration with Level Vodka which resulted in “a 15m long, 5m high installation that can be experienced from the exterior or [from being] blindfolded on the inside” (“level tunnel installation,” 5/12/08). In the piece he plays with the experience of the sense. “The viewer is blindfolded and led into the installation, where they are confronted with sound created by a flute made from a vodka bottle...

“Further on, a breeze carries the scent of lemon and cedar as the visitors moves along the leather coated railings. A heart monitor is fitted onto the visitor and a display on the outside projects their heartbeat to external viewers” (“level tunnel installation,” 5/12/08). In the work people can directly experience it inside and others can indirectly experience it from the outside which adds a new dimension to the way in which people experience his art and through it Level Vodka.
I don’t think it impacted his work in too many ways other than that he had to incorporate the vodka bottle which he did as a flute and include the smell of one of the vodka flavours as he bumped it at the viewer. In a way the company has been incorporated into the artwork but it is still Chalayan’s. The patterns of the floor, ceiling and railings, remind me of the flow of liquid out of say a vodka bottle and is another way he has incorporated the company into his work. I think it is still art as advertising does include aspects of art and design which The Level Tunnel does do.

Repose, again, is a work in collaboration with a company, this time being Swarovski. The work was about chandelier design as the company makes these products and Chalayan was told to “push the boundaries of traditional chandelier design... [to] celebrate the theme of light...[to] reinterpret the chandelier aesthetic” (“Swarovski,” 2011). Chalayan has worked with Swarovski on many occasions and together  “have tried to create a new language which combines fashion, performance and design so that [they] can create something unique every time” (Aboutaleb, 2011). The piece created, Repose, comprised of 2 separate pieces in communication with each other. “The first being an aeroplane wing which balanced against a wall, the large flap of the wing moving slowly up and down to reveal a long strip of Swarovski Elements lit by LEDs...

“..This graceful movement was linked to the second piece in the installation – a digital clock set on a timed loop, indicating speed with the movement of the wing flap. The installation simultaneously encompassed the feeling of movement and stillness” (“Swarovski,” 2011). Chalayan has merged his aesthetic of architecture and technology with that of the Swarovski Crystals of jewels and chandeliers to create a piece that is distinctly him but also meeting the needs of the company. It is still his work and true to him again in my opinion only creating a piece that is influenced by the company’s product and not totally all about them. It changes the meaning slightly into advertising for the company too but is more of a material to be used as part of in this work to end up with a chandelier piece which isn’t only a chandelier with the inclusion of a digital clock. In my opinion Chalayan already challenges the concepts of art and design using architecture, technology and other areas in his works and so why not push further to change the meaning of his work to include advertising as well as all the other elements of his usual work. It is still a beautiful piece of art.

3. Chalayan’s film Absent Presence screened at the 2005 Venice Biennale. It features the process of caring for worn clothes, and retrieving and analysing the traces of the wearer, in the form of DNA. This work has been influenced by many different art movements; can you think of some, and in what ways they might have inspired Chalayan’s approach?


Hussein Chalayan, still from Absent Presence, 2005 (motion picture)
“The Absent Presence is an enigmatic story based on identity, geography, genetics, biology and anthropology” (“Hussein Chalayan,” 2011). “The film questions whether the extent to which identities can adapt to new environments” (“the absent Presence,” 2005).The film and work, Absent Presence, by Chalayan could have been influenced by the enlightenment through the use of science and technology that makes up the ‘story’ in the film. Chalayan says that he’s been making films for the last few years that have added a new dimension to his work (“Hussein Chalayan,” 2006). The idea of taking the DNA and analysing it is very scientific and technological and the process in doing so could be seen as humanistic in the understanding of the world through scientific methods in this case to learn more about the wearer. The use of film alone is an influence from this movement in that it without it Chalayan could not make and produce his work in the media it is in without the technological advances made. This all links to the period of the scientific revolution as well with the technology and science aspects of the film and the media used as with Pipilotti Rist’s work ‘Ever is All Over’ that we looked at earlier in the year. I guess that Chalayan could also have been influenced by the industrialist movement in the way our clothes are machine made and we discard them once worn and people retrieve them for DNA extraction.  He could be pointing out how our machines that make us things are making things that don’t last long but somehow we leave an everlasting impression on them in this case our DNA being left behind. With this impressionism could also have been an influence as with the DNA traces of our uses for the clothes and what we did in them are left on the garment giving an impression to the scientist about our lives in that moment at that time.

4. Many of Chalayan’s pieces are physically designed and constructed by someone else; for example, sculptor Lone Sigurdsson made some works from Chalayan’s Echoform (1999) and Before Minus Now (2000) fashion ranges. In fashion design this is standard practice, but in art it remains unexpected. Work by artists such as Jackson Pollock hold their value in the fact that he personally made the painting. Contrastingly, Andy Warhol’s pop art was largely produced in a New York collective called The Factory, and many of his silk-screened works were produced by assistants. Contemporarily, Damien Hirst doesn’t personally build his vitrines or preserve the sharks himself. So when and why is it important that the artist personally made the piece?
“Chalayan is
an internationally regarded fashion designer who is renowned for his innovative use of materials, meticulous pattern cutting and progressive attitude to new technology” (“Hussein Chalayan,” 2006). His designs being HIS designs are the important thing in my opinion. They are his unique and original designs and art and though he may not be the one to complete them they are still his thought, concepts and ideas. Many famous paintings were not completed by the artist they are acclaimed to. Verrocchio had his pupils and apprentices finish some of his works and sometimes more was done by them than him but they are still an artwork credited under his name and of his design. For the ideas Chalayan has behind his works like many artists and designers he cannot always pull off what he wants done and the final product to look like. This is when it is right for a artist to pull in another to do some work for them to create a final work that is the best possible and correct to the idea rather than subpar due to the artist lacking skills in an area unfamiliar to them in which they wanna work with. The parts of Chalayan’s work that implements fashion, it is usual to offhand some work to others and this idea has in the last few decades become more common in art practices. Some paintings have a specific technique and way to create a painting as with Jackson Pollock which requires only the artist to be involved to get it right. The medium used also makes certain things needing to be done by one person and others by many as with silk screen prints of Andy Warhol. He does not have the equipment or time to do all of his himself as they can be on larger scales and need precise application of paint that others more experience can handle better. Areas in which artists and designers need others assistance in to help create their works is personally fine in my opinion e.g. I’m not immune to asking others on how to do something to apply to my own work.

·         Fogg, M. (2007).Couture interiors living with fashion. Laurence King. London: UK
·         “Level Tunnel installation by Hussein Chalayan”. (5/12/08)
·         Aboutaleb, B. (2001, 30th June). Hussein Chalayan’s First Retrospective.
·         Hussein Chalayan. (2011).
·         Hussein Chalayan. (2006, 6th April).,
·         Absent Presence. (2005).


  1. Although I agree with what you have said about 'Burka' I personally think that what Chalayan was trying to say in the creation of this work (as well as what you have said) is that when we bring something such as the (burka) in to the western culture instead of removing it we turn it into something we can relate to, in this case being that to westerners, nothing sells like sex.

  2. I like the point you made in question one about the nudity of Chalayans work mocking the ideas of the burka. This is a very interesting idea and I think you’re right by saying it is mocking. I like how you mentioned your thoughts on the Afterwords collection. I found this collection amazing and it made me wonder if this is how our fashion will look in the future.

    All the comments you made in question four are very relevant and I agree with what you have said. I also like your personal comment about how you’re not immune to asking others how to do something. I think this is very important in the progression of art and learning about processes previously used and also ones which still are being used.