Finding an artistic home for fashion

by Erik Luebs

Special To The Japan Times

Almost everything in the room is transparent. From the ceiling dangle two clear plastic jackets. Against the glass walls are empty glass display cases. Past the jackets on the opposite side of the room are four flat-screen TVs set to static.

The room is adorned in decorations made from synthetic packing materials and flowers. Transparent glass, plastic, and an abundance of colorful petals — these are the room’s main components. That and the two jackets.

Each jacket is covered in zippered pockets, and each pocket is filled with flowers — a fitting filler for spring. In the summer, those pockets might be best left empty to expose bare skin and a swimsuit underneath. In the fall, perhaps an assembly of leaves and plants would make a wearable wreath. And in the winter, it could just as well be filled with down, newspapers, or some other material that can trap warmth.

With 44 pockets, there’s space for a variety goods to keep you alive after an earthquake, or if filled with air, it could keep you afloat at sea. The possibilities are endless.

The purpose of clothing depends on the person wearing it and the place it’s worn: It’s utilitarian; it’s aesthetic; it’s personal; it can be meaningless or meaningful. And because of all this, it is inherently philosophical. At least, that is the premise of “Philosophical Fashion,” a three-part series of installations inside the design room at Kanazawa’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.

The first part of the series, “Final Home,” showcases the transparent jackets, which were designed by Kosuke Tsumura in 1994 for the launch of his Final Home clothing line, the philosophy of which is “survival urban wear.”

“With a product line like Final Home, (the designer Tsumura) questions the nature of how we wear clothing,” says gallery curator Megumi Hirabayashi. From our perspective as an art museum, fashion is more than just a cyclically consumed seasonal product. There are values behind each designer’s works, and we want to introduce their ideas to the public.”

The museum’s design gallery, which will showcase two other fashion designers over the next year, gives the museum a channel to examine themes explored not just in institutional art, but through consumer and utilitarian goods as well.

“This gallery is free for anyone to visit. It’s in a very open place. When we conceptualized the idea of a ‘design gallery,’ we wanted to make a space to appreciate the ideas and quality of items that we often take for granted. Not just art, but fashion. Though fashion has a very fast consumption cycle, the people who design it are not just interested in making products for consumption.”

For Hirabayashi, the process of making something is as important as the artwork itself.

“We wanted to introduce the joy of creating goods and crafts to people,” she explains when mentioning a series of craft workshops that she organized in 2011. It is that “joy of creating,” she says, that plays an important role in her philosophy of art, and her approach to curation.

“People let others around them decide what has value. That’s often a problem with contemporary art — people are confused as to why a specific piece is considered good.” she says, explaining an issue often associated with contemporary art.

“Perhaps long ago, there was more freedom in appreciating works of art, but now, we tend to leave the appraisal of art to others and accept whatever their critical estimation of that work is. Then the mass media picks up a story and further solidifies that assessment. And the art museum or gallery, when curating a new exhibition, perhaps takes this consensus into account,” she continues. “Meanwhile, the people who are creating things — even though it’d be better if they made works for their own enjoyment — become concerned with how their works will be assessed by others.”

Hirabayashi makes a conscious effort to present art removed from this context. “It’s not about wearing and buying items that are celebrated by critics,” she says. “It’s about people wearing things freely, and focusing on designers who are less concerned with the critical reception and more focused on presenting new ideas and concepts.”

The next installation work of the series, from July 12 to Nov. 24, will feature fashion designer Kunihiko Morinaga, whose Anrealage label first attracted attention for its line of garments that were adjustable in shape and size. His newest spring collection experiments with fabrics that appear to change colors under different lighting. The final exhibition, from December, will showcase the intricate patterns and bright pop-art of fashion design group Mintdesigns. All three of the fashion labels are based in Tokyo.

“Philosophical Fashion 1: Final Home” runs till June 30,”Anrealage” runs from July 12 till Nov. 24, and “Mint Designs” from Dec. 7 till May 2014 (end date unconfimed); open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Fri., Sat. till 8 p.m.). Free admission. Closed Mon. www.kanazawa21.jp