Chaney Diao studies the relation between garments and the multiple meanings behind them. She believes that fashion as an entity has the capacity to transcend in its superficiality and ephemerality. Chaney takes a more post-modern approach in the creation of clothing, looking into digital-realm as inspiration.
If garments are made of both a cultural and a material aspect in the way they are commonly treated, she studies them in a virtual context, taking away from them the material. The garments she creates are not physical anymore and nor is her creative process. The defining moment in which threads and fabrics are assembled to give life to an object is now replaced by a virtual study of fashion as concept. The cultural and immaterial aspects attached to the garments only are studied in the installation „am, is, are“ evoking the identity of oneself through its fashion. The avant-garde artist Chaney Diao is creating a rupture here by detaching her work from the physicality of materials, the garment does not aim to cover anymore nor to be in contact with a body but is a vector of messages. An embodiment of the self, of traumas and identity factors.
Numéro Berlin: What brought you to question the relation between the garment and the wearer ?
Chaney Diao: I feel like it was a long journey. Firstly, I was thinking as a female I would not particularly enjoy wearing what people would celebrate as feminine. I am a lesbian. I don’t know how to express my identity as I neither want to express myself in a way that would be extremely masculine and I feel like the way I dress can be identify as me being part of a group of people which in my perspective I don’t belong to. It is the uncomfortableness I was dealing with. During my bachelors I use to express myself in a way that was more punk, more angry, that’s when I started to question that relation but later I realised it’s quite a general question that we should all ask ourselves. Firstly the clothes cannot express everyone roughly and how people show their belonging to a group or social condition through clothes, that is so wrong and I was trying to find more complexity in this relation between the garment and its wearer. If you just don’t think about it fashion is easy and straight forward but if you start questioning it, it became problematic and painful.
NB: You create fashion using very unusual techniques and material what does it means to you?
CD: I guess it is always about using the correct way to express a concept. When I designed a collection for my BA for instance, I was very defensive and it’s heavily related to my work that’s why I was considering materials that feels heavy and sculptural including wood and plaster. For my latest project, I believe it was a response to where I was, in a stage where we are physically not connected and more digitally connected. The idea of fashion as just an image spreading online has really influenced my choice to go for something virtual. I felt like I was not limited by the material and it was only about the concept. From the beginning I always saw fashion as existing not only though fabric, whatever the material, I would give it a go.
NB: You define yourself as an artist more than a fashion designer, how did you chose fashion as the medium for your art?
CD: To be honest as an artist I was not sure how to express myself for a long time. Artists have always been very distant from my life. I’m from China and there is not a lot of good galleries especially for contemporary art, it’s hard to find. As I realise fashion as an entity is way more than the making of a garment, it means a commodity, a reflexion of capitalism, an industry or a purely conceptual phenomenon. I feel like fashion itself can transcend its superficiality and temporality and in this sense fashion is related to contemporary art, that’s how I chose to make fashion evolve in fine art as a personal reflexion on existence.
NB: In what way what this project meaningful to you?
CD: I guess on a personal level it’s a very precious documentation of the time when I was isolating by myself, normally if you are involved with people you do not have the time for self-reflexion and do not feel like you are connected to the universe. I started thinking of the metaphysic questions surrounding the being which for me was an important journey to realise the doubts about my actual existence. It was very precious. The collection started touching the area of the paradoxical relationship between the dress and the wearers and it become less personal and more of a problem everyone is potentially facing, maybe without realising it, this project became important for me and for others.
NB: Do you have any readings or films to recommend to our readers that extend your vision?
CD: I did a lot of philosophical readings during my researches such as Descartes or more contemporary readings about phenomenalism. Philosophy is related to the social relationship which makes it very current. I also invite people to read on capitalism such as Karl Marx, some fashion theorists are also very interesting especially Carolin Evans new book „Time in Fashion“ very inspired by the notion of temporality and reading time in a creative context. Time is also associated with being, so it was very interesting for my researches. In term of movies I feel like my approach is very connected to Nolan’s films but to be honest I watch a lot of films that are quite old fashioned and that are not a very direct link towards my work but I feel like its sometimes important to know more than what we want to express and broaden our vision. Nothing should be a direct quotation but more of a reflexion on what it is to be human right now and the meaning of it.
NB: Can you tell us more about your use of the tartan?
CD: The first moment when I thought tartan was a good choice was when I started noticing the geometric pattern of it and to plan around with the pixels. I realised tartan was transformable from an image that only have two pixels into an image composed by millions of pixels and that turns into tartan. It has this magic ability to bridge different dimensions together. Oftenly when fashion and art are compared together people brought up the Mondrian dress by Yves Saint Laurent and his direct quotation of Mondian’s drawing, when you look at its just a pattern adapted to a garment but is funnily documented as a cross-over of fashion and art which brought me to think of tartan: it’s contemporary and so fashion related but also very fine art so it becomes my bridge between fashion and art. It confirmed my belief that if fashion is approach in a way that is immaterial then fashion can be part of contemporary art.
NB: What were the challenges of working in lockdown?
CD: The first difficulty was definitely skill-wise because I don’t know how to make 3D models, I don’t know how to do web-coding so I had to self-taught myself by watching Youtube tutorials which I guess is a very contemporary way of learning skills. Being isolated was quite difficult, it’s not necessarily about being alone I remember before the lockdown I felt to engage with people which made me feel very tired but once I was forced to be alone it was different, I started realising that we still need to be connected in a way. Being isolated made me suffer, it was a real challenge and I had to face a lack of motivation.
NB: A highlight you’ll remember during the making of your project?
CD: I’m not that type of person. In fashion there is that analogy when you’re going though something hard, people would say „this is a once in a lifetime“ I don’t have that feeling, my life has always rolled by uncertainty, my Visa expired in July and I can’t go back to China. Positivity is for me, not the way to deal with things, especially creativity-wise, I’m dealing with pain.
Text by Marien Brandon
Images courtesy of Chaney Diao