In the project “70 Cotton Smocks”, Marit Ilison deals with themes of assimilating values and information noise from the surrounding environment, weaving nostalgia, memories, stereotyped thought patterns and the artist’s own views on the nature of life. The project is physically manifested in 70 individually hand-dyed cotton smocks ranging in colour from white to saturated dark purple.
A smock is one of the most basic work garments which is worn in laboratories, medical institutions and haute couture ateliers, for example. People who don smocks adopt a role associated with certain views and a position in society. The smock as the object itself symbolises thought forms, values and information – both everyday as well as ones that spread through the surroundings over a longer term and which we let seep in and influence us, either intentionally or unintentionally.
“I got the first impulse to create the project while I was living in Denmark, where without understanding the local language, a lot of nonsensse information flew by, which in Estonia would constantly have irritated me. I didn’t understand what was going on in local politics, yellow papers’ pages or women’s magazines’ suggestion sites.
Not taking sides or indentifying myself with the participators left me with a lot of time and space to concentrate on the things I really wanted to deal with – myself, my family and my work. I’m not saying we should close our eyes and ears to the surroundings or only egoistically concentrate on ourselves. I would rather invite everybody to find balance, take care of our closest ones and let the mass media values simply flow by.”
The monochrome colour gradient symbolises individual consciousness and thoughts – how much of a balanced, pure egopresence it contains (white, lighter colour) or whether ambient thought forms have been transposed, ultimately completely subsuming the individual’s deeper self and identity (dark, black saturated colour).
Even in the latter case, there remains the realisation that it is possible to step out from under this weight – like taking off a smock. Rediscovering oneself can take place through personal growth and development of one’s consciousness, the artist believes, and in this case the meditative and complex dyeing process itself required a major exertion from the artist, actively related to “casting off her own smock”.
70 Cotton Smocks performance at the opening of the 6th Tallinn Applied Art Triennial at the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design, 2012.
In the performance of the project, Ilison as fashion designer takes a critical look at the nature of a fashion show as a happening as well as at the nature of a collection as an object. She also plays with the viewer’s senses and per- ceptions, raising the question of whether everything is indeed as we see it.
Due to the extremely refined gradient, the colour shift is perceptible only through extremely deliberate, focused observation. This is a complete opposite of the ordinary fast-moving catwalk shows where slowness and 70 models would be utterly unexpected elements.
Photos by Johanna Eenma.