Curious Trends


Filth in fashion as design art gets dirty

Leading artists and designers have been creating things from junk, old cast offs, their own and other people’s rubbish for quite a while. However, the curious trend of upcycling discarded waste products and materials into new clothing, accessories, furniture and decorative art has only taken off relatively recently. A forthcoming exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, Dirt: The Filthy Reality of Everyday Life (24th March – 31st August 2011) should draw even more attention to the rubbish that surrounds us. In advance of the exhibition, here are some of the key elements of this trend:

Upmarket upcycling:

Furniture, home accessories and lighting upcycled from industrial and waste products like old milk crates, grain sacks and plastic water bottles.

Turkish architect Gulnur Özdaglar creates jellyfish-like tableware and jewellery from PET upcycled plastic bottles. A report by Treehugger describes her vision for the future of  “…elegant ladies wearing PET jewelry, linen covers ornamented with PET shells, the dining tables decorated with PET bowls sitting next to fine china, PET chandeliers taking the place of crystal chandeliers.” Her collection is called Tertium Non Data - an alchemical term referring to the Latin translation of the phrase "the third is not given". This relates to the creation of a something new from two elements already in existence.

Curated clutter:

Epitomized by Peter Blake’s collections, as featured at Primrose Hill’s Museum of Everything (Exhbition #3). Blake began collecting when aged 14 and at art school. There was a junkyard next to the station and “I bought a set of leather-bound Shakespare, a papier-mache tray and a painting of the Queen Mary that happened to be kind of outsider art, and it all started from there,” he told Time Out’s Helen Sumpter.

Andy Warhol's time capsules of paraphernalia collected by the artist over the years are still being categorized.

Edwin Heathcote of the FT interviewed artist Rachel Whiteread, whose found objects she considers to be her ‘sketchbook.’ Whiteread’s version of collecting is ‘not about the accumulation of objects of beauty or value, the things that a conventional collector might look for. Instead it is about finding pathos in the lost, the overlooked and the ordinary.’ These are items with rust, dust or damage. She’s found Tudor nails and weights for fishing nets with ‘mudlarks’ on the shore of the Thames at Rotherhithe, but increasingly charity shop finds are being classed as vintage and are moving out of her price bracket.

Design art with dirt:

This work called Landfull no.4 by Jeremy Butler from 2009 (as exhibited by FAS Contemporary at the London Art Fair) is typical of the way in which everyday rubbish is being upcycled to create works of art.

Dirty colours:

Dirty blonde and grey as hair colours. Bands, novels and plays have all been named ‘Dirty Blonde.’ Dirty greens, dull browns, dirty reds, dark greys will be more in evidence on the autumn/winter catwalks, along with garbage inspired grunge and trash can couture.

Messy styling:

Cluttered looks and trashy styling are appearing at trade shows and in fashion shoots. At the Pret a Porter fair a trends display featured cardboard walls, brown paper bags and mattresses strewn across the floor.

 Food trash photography is perhaps an indication of how food styling is likely to change, to reflect the messier side of human consumption and packaging waste.

Stylish scavenging:

Shopping will increasingly include architectural reclamation, flea market purchases, junk salvaged from skips and attics, jumble sale and charity shop finds.

Unclean culture:

The Wellcome Collection’s forthcoming exhibition Dirt: The Filthy Reality of Everyday Life promises to uncover a ‘rich history of disgust and delight in the grimy truths and dirty secrets of our past’ as well as pointing to an ‘uncertain future, which poses a significant risk to our health but is also vital to our existence.’

The exhibition will introduce six different starting points for exploring attitudes towards dirt and cleanliness: a home in 17th century Delft in Holland (where there was an obsession with cleanliness); a street in Victorian London; a hospital in Glasgow in the 1860s; a museum in Dresden in the early 20th century; a community in present day New Delhi and a New York landfill site in 2030.

Picking a path through the crowded Victorian slums and pest houses of Soho, the exhibition will showcase John Snow’s work on cholera and the development of public sanitation in London, accompanied by the voices of mudlarks, ragpickers, dustmen and women whose meagre living depended on the dirt and detritus of the city.

In present day New Delhi, many still survive by manual scavenging and the clearing of human waste. These people were formerly known as ‘the untouchables.’ The show will also point to the future with a feature on the 30 year project to transform New York’s Fresh Kills, once the largest landfill site in the world (and visible from space) into a public park.

Dirty words:

Look out for words like trash, junk, clutter, upcycling, found objects, scavenging, grime, landfill, mess, litter, rubbish, mudlarks, garbage, dirt, soiled, filthy, rust, tarnished, treasure-hunting and waste.

Add a Comment
Bookmark and Share