Week 1 Ideas Factory: Research


Chiharu Shiota

Photo: www.chiharu-shiota.com

Article read on 10/9/15

The installation piece "In Silence" (2002) appearing to link well with the brief research we'd done on the process of amplification. The way the threads travelled upwards and outwards from the piano and down to the chairs seemed to mimic the compressions and rarefractions of soundwaves in the diagram of amplification I'd seen, and the fragility of the threads in their numbers was also evocative of the structure of a feather itself. According to the Designboom article, her installations involving charred/dirtied objects are autobiographically linked to the childhood trauma of seeing her neighbour's house destroyed in a fire, with the charred piano of "In Silence" being a more salient reminder of this event. "In Silence" takes the trauma and fragility of a memory and amplifies it through thousands of metres of thread.



Material: Feathers


Sources: Bird Flight - Robert Burton

Application of Chicken Feathers in Technical Textiles

Birds of Paradise- Tim Laman

Wild: Fashion Untamed - Andrew Bolton

Feather Fashions and Bird Preservation - Robin W. Doughty

Feathers consist of three basic sections; the quill the pennaceous fibres (located on the upper portion of the quill) and the plumulaceous fibres, which extend from the lower part.

Structurally the central shaft of the feather is called the rachis to which are attached the secondary structures, the barbs. The tertiary structures of the feathers, the barbules, are attached to the barbs in a manner similar to the barbs' attachment to the rachis. A rachis runs the entire length of the feather. Feathers (particularly chicken feathers; easily sourced as a by-product of meat manufacture) can be bonded with thermofusion or chemical bonding to form a non-woven textile. As the feathers are mainly made up of the structural protein keratin (with extensive cross-linking and strong covalent bonding within its structure,) the feather fibre shows good durability and resistance to degration, whilst remaining incredibly lightweight.







 "Man has worn the plumage of birds for a very long time."

The ostrich was esteemed for its plumage by Romans and Greeks, and hunting scenes in remains of Roman villas include ostriches among game animals captured. Dignitaries wore their feathers as head ornaments. By the middle of the 16th Century, feathers were used at jousts and tourneys to adorn the heads of noblemen, with white ostrich feathers from the wings of the male bird being the most valuable. In his Natural History of Birds written in the 1770's Comte de Buffon wrote of ostriches: "It is well known what prodigious consumption is made of them in Europe for hats, helmets, theatrical dresses, furniture canopies, funeral decorations and even for female ornaments; and indeed, it must be allowed, that they have a fine effect, both from their gentle waving motion."

Peacock feathers were also rare yet incredibly valuable in medieval mediterranean Europe; with the "eyes" on their tale feathers symbolising the stars in the heavens, making them favourites of Hera, the Goddess of firmament. Seen in Western Europe as a bird with "the plumage of an angel, step of a thief and voice of the devil", the peacock's feathers were brought into vogue by Marie Antoinette, yet it is suggested that people disfavoured the bird in the 19th century because of the ignominious and tragic end of its mistress, the French queen.

Heron feathers became a symbol of authority amongst Eastern rulers; returning crusaders carried them back to Europe as spoils of war. They were worn on knights' helmets and set in jewelled clasps/brooches on the heads of courtly ladies. As well as the heron the feathers of the Aigrette, smaller species (Little Egret) of the white heron - famed for "the long silky feathers on its back; these being employed to decorate the lady's headdress, the warrior's helmet, and the sultan's turban. They were in great request formerly in France, when our doughty champions wore plumes. At present, they serve for a gentler use; they deck the heads of our beauties, and raise their stature: the flexibility, the softness, and the lightness of these feathers, bestow grace on their motions."

It seems that both birds themselves and humans benefit socially/hierarchically from plumage; which amplifies status, heightens attraction of potential mates and signals the holding of territory for both species.


Traces Exhibition @ Tate Modern (Rebecca Horn)


Tate Modern Gallery Visit


In the Rebecca Horn room (as part of the Traces exhibition) at Tate Modern, her performance pieces shown on the monitor were illustrated by various props and wearable sculptures displayed on the surrounding walls, with her own reflections and annotations. Utilising feathers and other materials to amplify and intensify the wearer's movements and experiences, Horn's work came to mind in the session on Thursday and supported my initial ideas for a wearable feather sculpture.

The piece with the most direct correlation was definitely "Feathered Instrument"; a rectangular contraption worn on the body with hinges on each level that could be raised to expose the body beneath. The piece "reversed traditional gender roles in voyeuristic practices; female performers are able to expose and gaze at a passive male body", whereas in our initial design idea for a feather/plumage cape the hinged feathers could raised to amplify strength or status.


Fingerhandshuhe,"Finger gloves" (1972) was definitely my favourite piece in the exhibition, particularly in how they amplified the wearers' gestures and experiences. Horn herself wrote "The fingergloves are light, I can move them without any effort. Feel, touch grasp anything, but keep a certain distance from the objects. The lever-action of the lengthened fingers intensifies the various sense-data of the hand; I feel me touching, I see me grasping, I control the distance between me and the objects." This idea of a prop to extend/elongate the body seemed necessary to amplify the wearer's presence and movements, and became all the more vital to my developing idea.



Practitioner:Chiharu Shiota

download.php?file=1355045&view=139521&embedded=1&textbox=1356118Sources: "Walking in My Mind" by Mami Kataoka, Hayward Gallery Publishing 2005.

Gaurdian article

Born in Osaka, 1972, Chiharu Shiota began to utilise black wool for "drawing in the air" while at Kyoto Seika University in Japan before moving to Germany in 1996, where she studied with Marina Abramovic. Abramovic's rituals of endurance (such as fasting and silence) had a "profound effect" on Shiota's work, and whilst in Berlin she later went on to study with Rebecca Horn. 

Remembrance and oblivion, dreaming and sleeping resonate in Shiota's performances and installations, together with a pre-occupation with home and homelessness and the loss of childhood.Trapped objects become the unreachable focal points of psychic spaces, trapped within impenetrable and disorientating meshes of black threads. Shiharu creates these evironments by layering up triangular loops of thread, stating "a line is too clear, too visible. Triangles upon triangles become complicated, hiding some things from the eye."download.php?file=1355213&view=139521&embedded=1&textbox=1356118


Mami Kataoka's annotations highlight how Shiota's work results in the releasing of "sensual memories into space", and how childhood memories and anxieties are amplified through her installation pieces. Shiota remembers as a child "the fear and the physical sensation of terror I felt when plucking weeds growing on top of my grandmother's grave", and "so the memory of that experience, along with earth, greenery and death all play an important role in my work."


Since 2000, Shiota has suspended ideas, memories and personal fears with black threads in her installations, stretching over walls floors and ceilings of the rooms. Her first work in the series included several hospital beds set in a darkened space. She then engaged in a performance piece; sleeping or sitting naked on the beds. This motif is used to particular effect in "In Silence", which entangles the charred remains of a piano with an empty audience (based around another fearful memory of the destruction of her neighbour's house.)

"It seems to me that there is no way back, no matter where I go to. I feel there is something common between the silence of the burnt piano and the silence on my way home, and this is deeply hidden in my heart. The threads are interwoven into each other. Get entangled. Torn apart. And disentangle themselves."

It is a "nonverbal, non-logical, physical and sensual memory" that drives Shiota's creative process, and the spaces she creates with intertwined black threads convey the overlapping of opposites: "the conscious and unconscious, reality and dream, the body and universe, and the vague space between."


Shiota's work successfully amplifies incredibly complicated and intangible sensations of fear and memory into immersive environments, with the fragile (yet also oppressively claustrophic) threads evoking her own feelings, protecting yet also entrapping objects symbolic of personal experiences. This fragility could be equally conveyed with the use of feathers in an immersive environment, or amplifying/intensifying a wearer's experience.


Process: Amplify




As well as the literal [scientific] definition of amplification, I was also interested in the idea of amplifying a person's presence or personality through dress or presentation. In a way similar to birds' need for plumage, Excess: Fashion and the Underground in the 80's illustrated how a person's clothing/attire can amplify their personality,presence, and status within a society. The best example of this was definitely Keith Haring's styling of Grace Jones with body paint and headdress to express an amplified version of her afrocentrism.


I also thought the 1980s was a particularly important decade for the amplification of the silhouette, with large shoulders and cuffs greatly exaggerating the human form in fashion, with the voluminous ruffs/frills on clothes linking aesthetically to birds of paradise and their plumage. I thought this link could be easily applied to a clothing development for the cape, or if producing a final collection of "amplified" pieces rather than a single outcome, volume and layering would be interesting to play around with.




As well as considering amplification of sound, a person's presence/status, and amplification of the silhouette, I also considered the experience of amplification of an experience/oneself through performance and drama. Tzachi Zamir's writings on The Experience of Amplification proved especially interesting, if incredibly context (and somewhat difficult to understand at first.)

"existential amplification will explain the particular role played by repetition in theatrical acting, bringing out an important source of the different experience of live versus filmed acting." According to Zamir acting/performance constitutes as an amplification of an idea or charatcer, through repetition of events similar with real life. I thought this perspective linked strongly with Chiharu Shiota's installations; with the repetition of past events (the trauma of the burnt piano, pulling weeds from her grandmother's grave) amplified in her work, as well as the repeated triangles of thread that build up to create an amplifying mass of black. 

"Acting is a form of existential amplification that locates specific external manifestations of an imaginatively embodied state, using these as avenues through which the enacted state as lived possibility can be visited. Both feeling and projecting are valid ways through which existential amplification can be achieved." 

The above statement and the Zamir's general explanation seems to greatly compliments the method behind Shiota's work, and suggests to me that a performance piece (or more immersive installation rather than a single garment) might be a better way forward for the project proposal.

This idea of repetition for amplification also linked on a literal level to the success of Keith Haring's prints, displayed in Excess as well as his collaboration with Vivienne Westwood. download.php?file=1358573&view=139521&embedded=1&textbox=1358742




The Guinness Encyclopedia of Science - Robert Murdoch

Excess: Fashion and the Underground in the 80's - Maria Luisa Frisa

ACTS: Theatre, Philosophy and the Performing Self- Tzachi Zamir



Feathers & McQueen



Alexander McQueen; Photographed by Nick Waplington

Alexander McQueen - Claire Wilcox

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty - Andrew Bolton

"I have always loved the mechanics of nature and to a greater or lesser extent my work is always informed by that."

"Birds in flight fascinate me. I admire eagles and falcons. I'm inspired by a feather but also its colour, its graphics, its weightlessness and its engineering. It's so elaborate. In fact I try and transpose the beauty of a bird to women."





McQueen's use of feathers for his AW09 collectionThe Horn of Plenty had strong aesthetic links with our initial design idea of a feathered cape. While I think that the feathered dresses undoubtedly amplify the presence of the models (also shown with the aggressive make-up worn for the runway show,) he is launching a critique on the excesses of the fashion establishment rather than amplifying a particularly personal memory or emotion, and so there aren't a great deal of links with Shiota's work. On a purely aesthetic level his use of feathers is beyond inspiring, with their repetition/layering creating an amplification of the overall silhouette (in a way similar to Zamir's writings on repetition and existential amplification.)



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