by Sukanya GargMay 25, 2020
As nature coerces us into a state of lockdown, a forced slowing down brought forth by the coronavirus pandemic, people across the world are rethinking not just their means of living, but also what will be the future of our planet and the various systems and practices that knowingly or unknowingly govern our everyday lives. Artists who have always been known to respond to the flux of times are no different. In recent times, many have been increasingly experimenting with sustainable materials, eco-friendly practices and concepts. Anne Patterson, a New York-based artist, theatre and set designer and sculptor, it seems, rode the wave of sustainable art right before everything came to a halt.
Trying to connect with her on skype as my slow internet speed poses disruptions, perhaps to follow through with the mood of the planet, I am finally able to connect with her in Rhode Island. She speaks with STIR about her project Art for Earth, which was on display at Macchi Foundry as part of the Ermenegildo Zegna Fall 2020 Menswear Fashion Show, the opening event of the Milan Fashion Week in January 2020. Patterson was commissioned to create the immersive installation inside a Bovisa warehouse, a former bronze factory, by Zegna’s creative director, Alessandro Sartori to make fashion more sustainable as part of the fashion house’s new project #UseTheExisting.
While having worked with recycled materials before, this was Patterson’s first time working in fashion. Having studied architecture and theatre design in college, the spatial dynamics of the place are extremely crucial to her work. When she first visited the warehouse, it reminded her of a ‘train station’. The grey and dark tones of the interiors inspired the colours of her installation. She says, “I wanted to choose something that was not in complete contrast but rather complemented the space. The colours blue, green and grey seemed to do that”. The vision, she says, “was to create an ice cube structure, like a big iceberg that is also connected to the sky, suspended in mid-air”. The final form created the effect of a suspended forest of blues and greens, the changing shades and reflection of light making the experience of walking through it magical.
However, the visual magic of Patterson’s works isn’t merely an attribute of her artistic process, but also serendipitously inspired by her condition of having synaesthesia wherein when she hears sound, she sees colours and shapes. The knowledge of this multi-sensory overlap came to her during an opera performance during which she could see the hues of the music. Later, a Conductor told her that she might be a synesthete. Describing her experience, she says, “If I heard a piece of music and it seemed blue but the players were wearing red, I would just be like what is wrong with them! And I assumed everyone felt that”.
The conscious realisation of this ability had a profound effect on her artistic practice. She turned more inwards and started consciously working with colour. In fact, the first time she unconsciously experienced synaesthesia was around 20 years ago when she heard a piece of music and instantly saw an image of hanging vertical forms in turquoise colour. Little did she imagine then that the unconscious was not just showing her things, but it would someday filter out of her imagination, taking tangible forms across galleries, buildings, cathedrals and now fashion stages. Patterson has since been using her gift to transport audiences into multi-sensory realms as seen in some of her most renowned works like Graced with Light in 2013 and Pathless Woods, which was commissioned by the Ringling Museum in 2017 and is currently on display at the Trapholt Museum in Denmark until the end of the summer.
While Patterson usually works with satin ribbons to achieve the desired result, for the Art for Earth installation, she received wool, polyester and other fabrics from the Ermenegildo Zegna house. The textures were different and it was laser-cut. The material, while “less reflective and less sensual” than the ones she uses for her other projects, was “more interesting” she felt. The use of different types of fabrics created an altogether different movement in the final installation and as the models walked through it during the fashion show, some of the ribbons clung to them almost like branches of trees in a forest.
The installation, which consisted of 3563 strands of hanging ribbons, the total length of the fabric being 37 kilometres, reflects only a fraction of the whopping fabric waste produced by the Ermenegildo Zegna house alone, which is estimated at 50 per cent of all their production. The numbers are a mere drop in the ocean of fabric waste of the entire fashion industry. Zegna’s #UseTheExisting project then is a step in the direction of reusing waste generated during production of new, imperfect, or unsold items. The collaboration with Patterson highlights their effort towards promoting sustainability. Patterson, then, is eager to work more with fashion houses in the future as the fashion industry’s need to mitigate fabric waste offers the perfect opportunity and material access for her as an artist and as someone who actively advocates for community effort.
Patterson has repeatedly spoken about deriving inspiration from the concept of multiplicity and about the transformative power of group dynamics. The repetitive visual aesthetic in her work is also symbolic of the connection between the parts and their whole, whether it represents a coming together of material or people. The Art for Earth installation was also created by her in collaboration with students from Milan. Over a span of two weeks, each ribbon was knotted by hand almost like how women practice quilting in some cultures. Beaming, Patterson says, “there is a feeling of community, togetherness, laughter and that’s the best part about creating the work”.
She emphasises how the involvement of people is the most important aspect of her practice and how the coming together of individuals creates something far beyond the imagination of any of them alone. The work then is not just immersive in its final rendition, but engages communities during the entire process. “People love it,’ she says as she creates something larger than herself. Perhaps, then, the installation Art for Earth echoes of everything we are moving towards in the present or need to move towards. While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us into self-isolation, in the act of isolating ourselves to stem the catastrophe, we are acting together, each one contributing towards a holistic effort to save humanity.
The installation ‘Art for Earth’ was on display from January 13-31, 2020, and can now be viewed here.