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Interview

Interview: Fredrik Tjærandsen

by Hetty Mahlich on 15 May 2020

Norweigan designer Fredrik Tjærandsen in conversation with Hetty Mahlich about his infamous bubble designs and their roots in perception, childhood and memory.

Norweigan designer Fredrik Tjærandsen in conversation with Hetty Mahlich about his infamous bubble designs and their roots in perception, childhood and memory.

Floating down the Central Saint Martins runway in 2019, Norweigan designer Fredrik Tjærandsen’s graduate collection Moments of Clarity saw bubbles made from vegan, pesticide-free rubber engulf the wearer before deflating, challenging the limits of what womenswear, garments or sculpture might be. The temporal creations feature welded seams with no stitching and over time will deteriorate and disappear altogether.

The designer spoke to Hetty Mahlich about the themes of human connection which underlie the isolated structures, how working on TORUS revealed the collection in new light, and the role of the audience in the creation of meaning.

Hetty Mahlich: How would you describe your work?

Fredrik Tjærandsen: My work explores connection and transitions of the mind. I’m fascinated with where identity originates, so my collection of bubbles centres on examining early childhood memories. I wanted to explore the question of how I became the person I am today, and, to be able to answer it, I had to go back as far as I possibly could to assess who I was and who I am now. To do that, I played with the idea of transitional processes, which relate to the different ways we perceive things. The bubble itself serves as a metaphor. When you’re inside it you feel as if you’re in your own space, just like you are in your own mind, but when you’re looking at it from the outside, your perspective’s entirely different. I think of it as a visualisation of how we understand the world around us: how, if we transcend the borders of our bubbles, we ultimately reach these moments of clarity in the here and now.

HM: Why TORUS?

FT: A torus is an infinite shape in which all parts are connected. Some people believe that it’s the shape of the universe, where energy and mass might somehow be eternally recycled, creating this illusion of expansion around us. If we can see and imagine ourselves in this universal entity, we can be both separate and connected with everything else. This concept is visualised by the person inside the bubble, who is closely attached to the shape, moving the balloon symbiotically with every step.

HM: What is your preferred way of referring to the designs and why?

FT: I prefer to call them bubbles. Similar to the torus, it is a shape of transition that looks different when viewed from separate angles. It encourages a connection to the world around us through a change in perspective.

If we transcend the borders of our bubbles, we ultimately reach these moments of clarity in the here and now.

HM: The balloons seem to facilitate shaping identity through memory. Would you consider them to be nostalgic?

FT: In a way they are nostalgic, as they are a comment on my own childhood memories and what has shaped my identity growing up. The toroidal shape of the bubbles has a special connection for me, as it is connected to the natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights that I can see at home in Norway. I drew a lot of inspiration from my own process of developing into the person I am today, and reflected on what beliefs and opinions have influenced me along the way. There are stages in which the path is clear, your situation smoothly changes from the past into the now, creating new opportunities and goals, but there are also limiting thoughts and obstacles that sometimes make progressing difficult. What I want to show, and I don’t think this is nostalgic at all, is that experiencing a wrong path can often lead to a right place, if we are open to transcending our bubbles.

HM: Tell me about how the project TORUS came about, and what you wanted to achieve as a designer?

FT: The bubbles are momentary, the latex material will eventually disintegrate and transform. It is important for me that they are captured through film and pictures, because it is through this medium the work will live and be experienced by others in the future. It started with a meeting to introduce Nick Knight to my work.

Working with both Knight and Wayne McGregor offered me the incredible opportunity to explore my work with different mediums at once- dance, photography and film.

HM: How was the process of bringing TORUS together with Knight and McGregor?

FT: It was a long, 6 month process bringing the collaboration together. I did test shoots with them both individually to allow for them to understand my designs and their potential. From my side, there has been a lot of dialogue inducting the performers about the designs so that they are as comfortable as possible.

HM: How else did you prepare for the shoot?

FT: Due to the material there is a lot of time and effort that goes into polishing and moisturising the latex. The material is alive and needs nourishment to sustain itself, otherwise it will transform and become brittle and bleached. I made a lot of new work for the shoot, as I wanted to make it special. Training the team in how to work with the material was a big part of the preparation, then double checking that there are no holes or damages. The bubbles are so fragile that you can never prevent accidents from happening, at the rehearsal the black bubble ripped and another one exploded so I had to remake the looks overnight.

HM: What did McGregor’s choreography and the dancers from Studio Wayne McGregor bring to the bubbles?

FT: Working with the dancers added a new aspect of emotion through movement. I had so much fun working with them all and observing the incredibly talented dancers explore the bubbles. My work is about different perspectives, and having a dancer perform in the bubbles expresses their unique interaction with the shape. The experience is more immersive for everyone, as the bubbles are less static than say on the runway. The bubbles move with the body, but still have a certain gravity and delay to how they follow the dancer’s bodily expressions, the two elements of dance and shape create a constant conversation and interaction with each other. This is particularly interesting, as our memories from the past and decisions in the now sometimes work smoothly together and take us in a clear direction, but then there are also these moments of disruption, where you are held back by past experiences and you need to try to move in different directions to find your way.

HM: We’ve now seen the bubbles in a few different contexts; catwalk, fashion shoot, performance, presentation. How has their meaning changed for you across these settings?

FT: Again, as my work is in many ways a comment on perspectives and how different they are depending on whether you are in the bubble or outside, showing my work in different contexts shifts people’s perspective which is extremely interesting to me. The performances are always an interaction with the audience and if the expectation of the audience changes, my work changes as well without losing its value. I observed a big change in the questions that people asked about my work: when it was shown in a fashion context, a big focus was on the question of how the bubbles are clothing and what practical purpose they serve, which I felt limited the audience’s connection with my work. Showcasing in an art setting such as at the V&A for Fashion In Motion opened up ways of perceiving the bubbles. By taking away certain limiting expectations, the story of the bubbles was told much more easily.

HM: What experience do you hope the viewer might have when encountering the bubbles?

FT: I want the audience to be fully immersed in the performance, the bubbles are moving through the space freely and represent a comment on how we experience the world around us. All of our views are shaped by memory and past events that act as a filter through which we perceive the world around us. We are always in our bubble, but sometimes transcend the limits of it, which is a key moment in creating our identity. These are quite abstract concepts that as an artist I find important to communicate in an understandable way with my audience. An engaging experience is key to reaching people, the bubbles need to open up questions to the viewer and connect with them visually and emotionally. I also want to include elements of surprise into my shows, because we are often very set in our expectations of what we see and disruptions, such as the bubbles transforming from these big shapes into deflated cocoons around the body, hopefully help the audience question how they form their opinions.

HM: Would you ever make the bubbles even more of a public spectacle, perhaps by allowing the general public to wear them?

FT: Due to the nature of the work I would love to let the public digitally experience it. This is something I am looking to explore at the moment. I am working on creating a website that can allow anyone to access the bubbles and view them from different perspectives - just as if they were wearing them themselves. This is an interesting way to easily share this otherwise very complicated process of getting inside the bubbles, that also requires a lot of trained people to make them look the best way possible in a performance.

HM: What’s next?

FT: Nick Knight and Wayne McGregor are the best within their field and it has given me invaluable experience to see how I may develop my work in the future. I have also been incredibly inspired by observing Nick Knight, Britt Lloyd and Raquel Couceiro's process.

It's challenging now being at the beginning of my career, and this is now a challenging time for everyone, but I’m inspired by the new seismic shift in our current environments, and look forward to making my work in a different way to reflect this.

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