A few weeks ago I came across a rather peculiar invitation to a fashion exhibit in Amsterdam. The information text was stamped on a ticket that customers receive when they leave their dirty clothes at the dry cleaner’s. The piece of paper invited me to an exhibition of Dutch artist and fashion designer Elisa van Joolen, that took place inside an ordinary dry cleaner’s shop.
Van Joolen has lived and worked in New York for the past two years, where she completed the MFA Fashion Design and Society at Parsons. Her 11″x17″ exhibition is the outcome of a research project that examines and challenges the fashion industry’s prevailing value systems and explores new methods of production. The project has resulted in two series of products that are both conceptual and wearable: a collection of 11″x17″ crew neck sweaters and Invert Footwear: hybrid, inside-out sneakers and sandals.
For the sweaters, the designer asked various fashion brands (from giants such as Nike and O’Neill to indie-labels like Rockwell by Parra and moniquevanheist) to donate clothing and footwear in the form of samples, archive pieces and excess stock. Combining different materials, details and finishings from different brands, Van Joolen created a new series of sweaters. One example is a white sweater from Weekday, which merges with parts of garments from moniquevanheist and O’Neill. For Invert Footwear, Van Joolen has turned sneakers (including Nike en Converse) inside out.
We’re not a fashion blog, so in the first place I was intrigued by the form of the exhibition. Van Joolen chose to not exhibit her series in a gallery or other place you would usually stumble upon this kind of work. Instead, she displayed her pieces right between the clothes racks at Multi-Clean, a dry cleaner’s in downtown Amsterdam. “She often drops by here to pick up some coat hangers”, explains the owner of the shop. “A while ago she asked me if it would be possible to exhibit her work inside the shop and I said, ‘Why not?’”
The idea of a parasite exhibition that’s embedded into another urban function is thoroughly inspiring. The concept vaguely reminds of Aram Bartholl’s Speed Show, an event that transforms a random Internet café into a hyper-temporary net art gallery. The parasite thought is central to many aspects of the 11″17″ exhibition, including the visual identity (a product of graphic design duo Our Polite Society) and communication. The invitation flyer is a tweaked dry cleaner’s ticket, and the website of Multi-Clean was re-used by Van Joolen as a canvas for presenting the project online. Following this intervention in Amsterdam, the 11″17″ project will be presented during SALON/ in Beijing (September 26-October 3) and the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven (October 19-27). Elisa van Joolen’s Invert Footwear series is nominated for this year’s Dutch Design Awards.