Part of: Screen Prints

Essay: The Joy of Print

by Jane Audas on 22 September 2003

Writer and curator Jane Audas explores ten years of Eley Kishimoto's graphic print design.

Writer and curator Jane Audas explores ten years of Eley Kishimoto's graphic print design.

The application of a print to a surface can have a dramatic effect and in fashion, a fabric print can make clothing into a moving canvas. Screen Prints, a series of thirteen screen-based works commissioned to celebrate ten years of cult designers Eley Kishimoto, exploits the print's capacity for dynamism by literally setting it in motion.

Print styles often fall into two visual categories: those that fade into the background and those that inhabit the foreground. The former often have small motifs which blend together and muted colourings that allow the shape and tailoring of a garment to stand out, the latter have a strong graphic quality, so that the eye sees the pattern before the silhouette. Many, if not all of Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto's prints inhabit the foreground - they come to the eye before it has a chance to perceive the shape of the clothing it adorns. This effect is heightened by the simple shapes that the duo chooses to make use of. Their unalloyed love of print and pattern has been a constant throughout their decade in business, to such an extent that print has become a trademark for the company.

There is a deep joy to be had from wearing prints, one reminiscent of childhood when bold and colourful clothing is most commonly worn. But this association with childhood can also have a negative affect on how the wearer is perceived; bright clothing gives out mixed cultural messages, of wanting to attract attention and of not being serious about life or work. It can be no coincidence that most of the clothing that has attained classic status in the fashion world is predominately plain, sombre and understated, or 'safe'. Eley Kishimoto's uncompromising prints make no allowance for the customer who wishes to blend in.

A print, for Eley Kishimoto, rarely remains purely fabric and clothing-based. They already re-purpose patterns for other applications - suitcases, wallpaper, and upholstery. Consequently, this SHOWstudio project is entirely appropriate, one that asks creatives to find their own interpretation of, and new uses for, a design. The prints chosen are drawn from collections dating from 2000-2004. The bold figuring, strong repetition and oversized motifs that are key to many of Eley Kishimoto's designs are all present - along with some gentler ones - in the prints underpinning these thirteen new interpretations.

To allow a disparate group of creatives free reign to reinterpret their work and to screen it in such a public manner, is a test of the mettle of Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto.

Most of Eley Kishimoto's prints have an inherent sense of movement and depth - appearing almost three-dimensional. In Flash, the zig zags of lightning bolts eddy across the surface of the fabric, in Domino the pattern and colour drops and splashes onto the fabric, the pattern in Eclipse seems to tessellate from one corner of the pattern to the other, whilst Sticklebrick climbs up the fabric. Even the prints that have more of a basis in traditional printed textiles, such as Damask, Weevil and Bouquet, have been deftly reinterpreted in new colourways and have modern spacing and proportions. All these attributes make these prints interesting propositions for the individual artists who have contributed to this project. To allow a disparate group of creatives free reign to reinterpret their work and to screen it in such a public manner, is a test of the mettle of Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto. It is also a test of the integrity of their designs: will they withstand reinterpretation and reapplication onto or into other surface treatments?

The answer is an unequivocal 'yes'. These thirteen films and animations by artists and photographers each take their chosen print to a new place: one that is in some cases removed from the original, intimate context of the fabric. In others, the print retains its original fabric form but has been liberated from its textile context and put to a new use.

The quieter Eley Kishimoto prints have inspired small stories of their own. In Frauke Stegmann's film, the strong, Gothicised Damask print, upholsters a body curled beneath - cocoons it from the elements. Disjointed shots flick from the mound of fabric, to the Hampstead Park in which it was shot, a hand holding crystal and back to the fabric. Finally, a shot suggests the mound is opening up and a body emerging, a play upon the qualities of tradition and weight of the original print. Simon Foxton has responded to the Englishness and gentility of Tapestry with a dreamy vignette about tea in the afternoon: full of flowers, china cups and a nod toward dreams of travel and things other than England. And in Laura Sciacovelli's film for the Bouquet print - filmed in a soft focus which echoes the pixilated quality of the print itself - two women dance in a loving portrait of bouncing, brown flesh, crisp clean fabric, soft grass and the tactile joys of summer.

In Weevil, Elisabeth Arkhipoff presents of montage of transparent, moving layers of the pattern which then undergo a breakdown as they are destroyed by a bug in the system, resulting in a loss of clarity and ultimate visual breakdown; a great play upon the name of the print. Using the figurative print Ropey, Michelle Duguid and Adam Mufti take the nautical theme of the print and give it a moribund twist as we watch, In intimate detail, a fish being lovingly gutted and then the reversal of the process, all with the Shakespearian leitmotif of a bloody hand. It is only during this reversal that we glimpse the fabric in a skirt and that the fish is laid out on another piece.

The project also includes three graphic animations by Laurent Fetis, Rory Crichton and SHOWstudio's in-house team. In Domino, Laurent Fetis' animation plays upon the psychedelic appearance of the original print and makes it into a projection which slides over the back of a figure, so that, momentarily, a garment is created. Rory Crichton's animation of Frill is a subtle play on the tromp l'oeil of the original print. Here the frill is the focus of the piece, as a curtain framed in a dusty cobwebbed window. It gently ruffles in the breeze, inviting thoughts of who is inside. SHOWstudio's spirited Flash animation reacts and interacts with ambient noise, recreating itself each time.

Five of Eley Kishimoto's most graphic prints have received very different treatments. In Rebecca and Mike's Sticklebrick, the three-dimensionality of the print has been made real as red and blue balls drop down the furrows of the 'fabric' with an Escher-like surrealism. Jason Evans' Eclipse begins with a tiny animation of a single motif from the print then moves into a contemplative film, (where the fabric has been made into bunting) redolent of sunny regattas, still heat, mud flats, falling in and out of sleep and the gentle passage of time. In Doughnut, Shona Heath has loosely interpreted the lines and colours of the print and mixed them in up in a world of dressing-up, making-up and making-believe.

The print Flash appears again in Norbert Schoerner's post-apocalyptic film which delves deeply into the print. Flash becomes a live virus, affecting and disaffecting a white figure who stumbles around a cityscape. Félix Larher's Chains is a hothouse of joyful voyeurism, of love amongst the prints and papers. A couple enjoy themselves under the cover of printed papers but slowly destroy their covers under the amused and amusing gaze of a variety of soft toys. Post-coital, they dress in Eley Kishimoto dresses; pack up the toys and leave.

These films are playful, thoughtful and together they present a fitting package celebrating ten years of Eley Kishimoto's work. They suggest that a synchronicity between creatives already exists, although it isn't often given such a free reign. Perhaps most importantly, the project suggests new directions for print and new interpretations of fashion and imagery, sorely needed in a climate of fashion image-making characterised by homogenous, advertising-directed editorial.



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Essay: Corporate Aesthetics

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Corporate Aesthetics: In his own words, Jason Evans articulates the concept behind his short film.

Essay: Diamonds

20 December 2000
Diamonds: Emily Dinsdale on the ideas behind Nick Knight's CCTV-inspired fashion film.
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