For Kirsty Lillico, artist from Pōneke / Wellington, creative inspiration is everywhere. Music, books, films, art, designs of all kinds provide creative inspiration for the artist who uses textiles as his main medium.
It therefore follows that clothing sometimes becomes a material in his works of art. “Last year I made a series of padded collages made with second hand sportswear, to explore the contemporary phenomenon of ‘athleisure’ and what this says about our society and our values. I’m interested in the language of clothing and their meaning “.
Although she is often drawn to sturdy materials with sculptural potential, earlier this year at the invitation of the Threads Textiles Festival Lillico transformed Yu Mei’s production cutouts into a series of upholstered wall pieces of various colors that examined the links between the industrial production and the problem of fashion waste.
As curator Robert Leonard told curator in a 2019 interview, clothing and architecture, another of Lillico’s biggest influences, are interconnected. “They are both protective systems we inhabit that can be used to express identities.”
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In 2017, Lillico won the Parkin Drawing Prize, Aotearoa’s premier drawing award for her State Block work, which showed the floor plan of a 1940s high-density concrete flat block cut into scraps of carpet and draped in a floor-to-ceiling presentation. Like much of her portfolio, the work dealt with ideas of hostility within architecture, inequality, affordability, and challenged modernist theories.
You can perhaps say I was a goth teenager because there’s still a suspicious amount of crushed black velvet in there.
When I was a teenager I made a lot of my own clothes. My clothes sometimes caused ridicule on the streets of Upper Hutt. People always talk about subcultures as “tribal”, but I didn’t have many goth friends and the advice I got on music and fashion came from (British music magazine) NME.
Now I see this phase as a kind of performance art, a way to signal to the world that I was against everything that was offered, the status quo. Which makes it sound negative, while he was actually very empowering and an escape route.
All clothing is costume. If you always interpret your identity through clothing, is there something truly “authentic”? Jeans are what I wear most often, both in the studio and at work (I am assistant in charge of the collection at Te Papa Tongarewa). A sleeve or hem isn’t a good thing when you’re climbing a ladder or scraping the floor.
My strongest memories are of the clothes I wanted as a pre-teen but didn’t have: a pair of spandex pants like the ones Olivia Newton-John wore in Grease. Jelly shoes, balloon skirt, Bubblegum jeans. One of those gold jackets they gave away as prizes (TV show) It’s incredible!
The things I love most weren’t new when they came to me. I think the random element of finding something great second hand makes those things more valuable. I bought this dress from a shop on Cuba Street that no longer exists. The geometric shape of the dress and the folkloric woodblock print remind me of the early Bauhaus when they were in their artisan period. But the fabric under the arms shattered and I tried to mend but I did a poor job so I have now stopped wearing it.
The polyester dresses from the 60s and 70s that I own are likely to outlive humanity.
The oldest thing in my wardrobe is a blue duster coat (label: Adolphe Lafont) that I bought at an Auckland shop called Search and Destroy that sells vintage Japanese and French workwear.
I wore it to work, but my colleagues seemed a little taken aback by the stains (car oil?), So I covered those areas with patches. The fetishization of clothes worn in a workshop or factory is one of the hallmarks of a post-industrial society. See also – Carhartt, Dickies and so on. I don’t wear it in my studio – it’s too good! Instead, I’m wearing a chef’s apron.
My grandmother Elsie’s 60s coat is my most sentimental piece. A black wool cocoon with large buttons. So hot!
My sister-in-law borrowed it when she was pregnant. My grandparents owned a clothing factory in Lloyd St (now Hania St) in the 1950s and 1960s. They made pants for the army. [IMAGE: Elsie’s coat]
I like the idea of dressing rules, which taken to the extreme suggests a uniform. A few years ago I actually designed a uniform for myself as an art project. I thought this would solve my anxiety of having to decide what to wear every day.
Many artists arrive at a particular “look” which becomes a kind of extension of their work. For example: Frida Kahlo, Joseph Beuys, Georgia O’Keeffe. A uniform seems like a good option for an artist, because a) it signals that your brain is too busy solving complicated art problems to bother with fashion. B) It saves money. In fact, I’d be too bored.
Experimenting with clothes – color, shape, texture – is a pleasure and a stimulus for the imagination. You can take a secret narrative with you that no one else knows.