Ilse Wolbank

Student Artist-in-Residence 2015-16
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Artist Statement


                          Dress and Sweater

The Practice of Resistance through Style

"Style in subculture is, then, pregnant with significance. Its transformations go 'against nature', interpreting the process of 'normalization'. As such, they are gestures, movements towards a speech which offends the 'silent majority', which challenges the principles of unity and cohesion, which contradicts the myth of consensus. Our task becomes to discern the hidden messages inscribed in code on the glossy surfaces of style, to trace them out as 'maps of meaning' which obscurely re-presents the very contradictions they are designed to resolve or conceal." -Dick Hebdige

My work focuses on self-identity in our contemporary society and how increasing interconnection tends to depict a presence of difference as a threat to social order. The term cultural hegemony is defined as 'the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of that society so that their ruling-class worldview becomes the worldview that is imposed and accepted as the cultural norm.’ In Dick Hebdige's piece Subculture: The Meaning of Style, he identifies how the media plays a role in defining our experiences as ‘the most available categories for classifying out the social world’. The presence of difference today can be valued through social media networks providing a place for like-minded people to identify with one another but is this so-called 'cyber culture' truly supporting or manipulating societal views on individuals who do not fit the norm?

I explore the meaning of style by analyzing a subculture of people present in today's society and how their non-gender conforming identities are designed to challenge the inevitability of gender stereotypes that are consistently reinforced in our hegemonic system. In contemporary society, the role of the media has grown into an agency of social control, influencing certain attitudes and behaviors that normalize gender expectations. I aim to identify a social network of people outside the constraints of social media through the development of wearable garments that serve as meanings of communication.

I approach garment development from a D.I.Y. mentality, creating meaningful textile designs on a manual flat-bed knitting machine, generally used for hobby knitters. Each stitch on the flat-bed is designed to achieve, as Hebdige would say, a ‘representation of expressive forms that give meaningful shape to group experiences’. I use materials that involve a quality of being truthful, incorporating locally made yarns while applying hints of retro-reflective material within the constructed garments. The use of retro-reflective material in my pieces takes on a symbolic dimension, becoming a demonstration of limited visibility. I draw influence from Kenzo Takada's early collections and his eclectic use of vibrant colors and found materials. Contemporary fashion designers like Gosha Rubchinskiy, Raf Simons, and Siki Im also influence my approach to meaningful fashion design through their interpretations of dress codes, gestures, and attitudes found in youth subcultures.