ANTE: Allison, Narciso, thank you both for chatting with us about this project – can you start by sharing the genesis of this with our readers?
ANTE: Allison, Narciso, thank you both for chatting with us about this project – can you start by sharing the genesis of this with our readers?
ANTE: You root the content and resources you provide in critical theory and in vanguard knowledge (such as the Lincoln Center’s Capacities for Imaginative Learning program) talk about your priorities when you are selecting what you include on the platform?
ANTE: Thanks for chatting! Let’s start with your beginning – was there a specific catalyst that brought Waves and Archives into being? What was your initial vision for how Waves and Archives could change the landscape for fashion-related projects and their presence in the greater art world?
W&A: As it often happens with projects such as this, many stars had to align for things to start coming together in a concrete form of an exhibition and a certain plan for the future of Waves and Archives. For me, Manan Ter-Grigoryan, the motivation for this project was a certain reluctance I faced in graduate school from faculty members who were tacitly implying fashion was not art, and therefore I could not write my thesis on then still alive Alexander McQueen. Things became increasingly concrete when several years ago I got a call from a friend and colleague Julian Jimarez Howard wanting to start a publication that would focus on fashion as a medium of art. But it wasn’t until Marianna Kosheleva joined our trifecta with her strategy and vision that we all got the push we needed to move our project forward. So to answer your question, I think more than any occurrences, PEOPLE are catalysts. The vision for Waves and Archives has always been to promote fashion as a medium of art, and the need to do so in all domains simultaneously with a library, a publication and a gallery seemed like the most organic response.
ANTE: Can you walk us through your “manifesto” present on your website? How do you envision this Statement of Rights as charting a new course for the relationship between the overlap of Fashion and the Art World?
W&A: For as long as I can remember, I felt that fashion was not only one of art’s media, but that it was a medium most challenging- in terms of curation, complex- in terms of analysis, and profound- in terms of conceptual underpinnings. As fashion started to enter art museums, without the platform of a gallery and without any academic and institutional backing within the art-world proper, it became prescient to create a space for one of the richest forms of artistic production, to flourish without the imposing limitations of its own industry. The manifesto which comes in a form of a statement of rights is there to highlight the injustices and reaffirm the goals. As things change, so will the manifesto, so its date becomes a part of its own archive.
ANTE: Talk to us about Sinead O’Dwyer’s “In Myself”: you note that O’Dwyer’s work”retain(s) a distinctively grounded relationship to the reality of experiences and forms of the persons whose bodies they originally emulate.” Can you elaborate on why O’Dwyer’s works became your first exhibition as an entity?
W&A: Sinéad deals with the question of body politics in a way that not many fashion artists have dealt with before. As fashion has largely responded to this question by blindly promoting arbitrary inclusiveness, and in the process only re-establishing binary dichotomies, such as normal/ alternative, Sinéad does not use the “norm” as a departure point to suggest “the alternative”. She uses each body as its own departure point, thus over and over – whether it be with her silicone pieces or the woven ones – establishing the original body as the authoritative subject. I think this is a very important statement to make in a world where the fashion industry drives women into body dysmorphia, and on a larger scale – archetypes drive people to mental illness.
ANTE: In addition to the Gallery exhibitions, your online presence incorporates an Atlas and a Journal: can you explain how these materials are crucial to the W&A mission?
W&A: As mentioned earlier, it was important for us to suggest a drastic change in the space that fashion is given in institutional, academic or art-world settings, and it was important for us to make that change as organic as possible. It is not simply about giving fashion artists gallery representation, or creating a gallery that has fashion as its focus, but also about creating a space where academic thought on fashion can freely coalesce without having to be confined to either art or fashion publications, and about providing access to the type of knowledge that is made available to many artists working in traditionally accepted art media to artists working in fashion by creating a library. The Atlas is a knowledge visualization map that gives access to the way Western academia studies art criticism to anyone who might be interested to learn. I have spent 3 years researching connections between 150 thinkers who have produced knowledge most central to art (in all its adjacent disciplines: anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, visual studies, philosophy, psychoanalysis, political studies, etc.) mapping five categories of relationships between those thinkers, and mapping those relationships in a visual atlas. This project that we call Waves and Archives Atlas maps out 12,551 connections, thus sharing a visual key to art criticism as it is today. It is important for us that when we do represent fashion artists, it is not in a vacuum.
ANTE: Art Theory and Semantics are Woven into the mission of W&A as your Instagram and website link to critics such as Adorno and Derrida: what was missing in the art theory/art critical landscape with regards to Fashion’s role in the greater field and how does Waves and Archives fill that role?
W&A: In reality nothing is missing, except assignment. What I mean is that the knowledge that we apply to the study of any form of art is not necessarily produced with that application in mind. Adorno did not write directly about art, Foucault did not write about art and frankly neither did Derrida. We, as art academics, have applied that knowledge to art criticism because art does not exist in a vacuum. Similarly, we ask that the same knowledge is applied to the study of fashion as a medium of art, leveling the playing field of intellectual rigor. To give an example without calling out names, a famous art publication described the MET “Heavenly Bodies” exhibition with the words: “Will make you feel all godly…” – the kind of vocabulary clearly inadmissible in their coverage of any other art exhibitions.
ANTE: How do each of your founding member’s backgrounds inform the mission of W&A?
W&A: Growing up in six countries, in a constant state of embracing and adapting to new cultures while my cultural references kept being re-contextualized, dress and visual culture in general, allowed me (Manan Ter-Grigoryan) to recognize patterns and find my footing before I could gain fluency in languages. I am very academically inclined, and Waves and Archives is my dream and life’s mission, so I am making an effort to ground it in reality.
Marianna Kosheleva who has graduate degrees in Rocket Science and Press Relations, has a healthy distance from the subject of our endeavor, while maintaining a strong passion for the complexity of its realization. I think it is this knack for realizing complex multi-faceted projects that drives Marianna within this project.
Julian Jimarez Howard is a bright gallerist, writer, and a contemporary art curator, with an amazing grasp of a perspective that is not purely Western-centric, a rare understanding of textiles, and a visionary outlook on fashion’s prowess as an art form. He is an awesome partner who can talk to you about Derrida while installing a drywall.
ANTE: Talk us through your recent initiatives and where W&A is headed in the near future?
W&A: Our most recent initiative was the launch of our gallery Waves and Archives with an ambitious solo show of works by Sinéad O’Dwyer. In signing a contract with us, she became the first ever fashion artist to be represented by an art gallery dedicated to showing fashion artists exclusively. We are hoping that our next show (a group show of both emerging and established fashion artists) coincides with the launch of our Waves and Archives journal. Let this serve as a call for papers 🙂 In the meantime, we continue working on the design of our Atlas – the knowledge visualization map and its interactivity.
ANTE – Thanks, Paul, for speaking with us today! Your practice spans Architecture, Design and Art; yet, you’ve noted in past interviews that you work across different disciplines in order to best translate a “concept” into reality. Can you explain more about this philosophy of working to adapt concepts into the real world, and how that has manifested both in artistic projects and commercial projects with clients?
Paul Mok – There are two tricky terms here: concept and disciplines. “Concept” is tricky because it usually means a “clear idea”, and that is precisely what I have gradually walked away from in the past few years as a designer. I was trained to derive iterations of design from a clear concept very early on in my career. However, the more I worked in the design field, the more I have come to realize that concepts are too often just alibis to rhetorically justify certain irrational, personal design decisions. I find the irrationality productive and even necessary, but not the alibis.
To unlearn anything would be a years-long process. I started rejecting my acquired design method, subconsciously at first, then consciously, gradually replacing the void that used to be the “concept” with collections of seemingly unrelated elements – short writings, aimless strokes on paper, gestural forms made of clay and a few other projects – some art installations, some small commercial projects, and some academic works – have been delivered through this process. So, in a way, the concept I am adopting now is precisely the lack of it [the lack of any defined concept]. It is not about bringing a concept into reality. It is about letting reality – a specific set of circumstances – be translated into and – more importantly – addressed through the design process. And because of that, I am skeptical of the confinements implied by the notion of “disciplines”. Architecture, design and art are different only in a practical, circumstantial sense, I think, not in the essence.
ANTE – The value of the projects you’ve worked on is not only respected by clients and your peers, it is also shown by the awards they have received. In 2014, you worked on a project that won the AIA’s Honor Award for Interior – just as you entered Harvard for your Master’s degree in Architecture. Can you tell us about this project? Can you also discuss how this experience informed the beginning of your studies at Harvard?
PM – That [project] was a dining hall renovation that I worked on during my two years as a designer at Index Architecture Ltd.: a small architectural office in Hong Kong led by an AIA architect. We were given an existing space with lots of pipes and ducts that were to remain along the walls, and we proposed to conceal them with some curved panels made of weaved synthetic rattan. We also embedded lighting fixtures and storage spaces within those panels. The project won the AIA International Regional Award, I think, because we managed to resolve almost all the given site conditions and programing requirements with a minimal, singular design gesture. That was one of the last projects I worked on in the office before moving on to grad-school.
In those 2 years of practicing in Hong Kong, I was working full-time in the architecture office and, on the side, working on a house renovation as a personal project, along with a monastery renovation and an idea competition (with Dennis Chau and Florence Lam, which we won third place) all at the same time. My “normal” work day would begin at 9am and end at around 3-4am. I thought the more I worked, the clearer my vision as a designer would be. I recently saw an interview with [recently deceased artist] Ulay in which he described how he tattooed and cut his own skin off as an art project but after all that effort, he said, “it still didn’t deliver the answer”. That was how I felt by the end of the second year practicing in Hong Kong.
Entering grad school gave me the time and space that I didn’t know I needed to explore the more abstract, essential, and fundamental side of design. Instead of what and how to design, I needed to know why I design.
ANTE -Your professionalism and dedication to your studies has earned you multiple scholarships and Dean’s List mentions, both during your architecture studies at the University of Hong Kong, which honored you with a prestigious study abroad exchange semester at Princeton University, and during your Master’s in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Can you talk to us a bit about your dedication to your academic development: what were some of your favorite classes and how have they translated to success as a professional architectural designer?
PM – I was drawn to both the theoretical and the making aspects of design education very early on. At the Harvard GSD, I took an option studio with Ken Smith, a New York-based landscape architect. It was one of the first studios in which I explored a design process driven primarily by the making process. I rhetorically titled the project “Project Noctambulism”, hinting on the idea of taking actions subconsciously. In the same semester, I worked on the Komorebi Pavilion with Professor Mark Mulligan, Japanese engineer Jun Sato, and a team of schoolmates at the GSD. It was a plexiglass pavilion that was weaved together in a somewhat ad-hoc manner.
Both experiences had a significant impact in reinforcing my confidence in the essence of making, which later became a method to address abstract issues, and gradually becoming a core design philosophy.
ANTE – Can you walk us through your Harvard Graduate thesis project and the concept of “play” both as it relates to your studies and your professional projects?
PM – I titled the thesis “To Play”. In developmental psychology, “playing” could mean negotiating the perception of reality through the act of creating.
I began the thesis by asking “how is reality perceived?” I soon came across a demolished social housing, and I found it a perfect architectural anchor point – social housing is the most objective architectural typology, but its demolition made it a highly subjective event.
Through a series of drawings, architecture models and conversations, I reacted to a found Youtube video of the housing recorded by a former tenant of the housing who went back to record it before its eventual demolition. The final outcome was an absurd speculative proposal for a student-housing in LA based on the idiosyncratic personality I deduced from the 12-minute video. Looking back, it wasn’t a thesis that set out to resolve a specific problem, but it demonstrates a crucial self-awareness as a designer that opened up the design process to intuition, personal realities, subconsciousness, and the notion of craftsmanship. And it was from a very similar process that I have designed the installations <A Fountain Head> and <You Killed A Kiwi – A Situation Comedy For Those With Wounded Egoes>, and the two displays – <Gross Grows> and <Out Of Thick Air> – that I made for lifestyle brand WORM NY.
ANTE – Since graduating Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2018, you have worked as a designer at nARCHITECTS PLLC in New York: this experience comes after you have worked at both Michael Maltzan Architecture in LA, and PARA Project in New York. Can you walk us through some of the key projects you have contributed to during each of these roles in your career?
PM – At Michael Maltzan Architecture, I worked on the schematic design of a student dormitory for Art Center College of Design. At PARA Project, I worked on the schematic design of an artist studio extension in New York.
I have been working as a designer at nARCHITECTS for almost 2 years now. The first project I worked on was a 5-story warehouse renovation project commissioned by the EDC. We were tasked to convert the 200,000-square-feet existing building into a new Made-In-NY campus for the garment industry in New York. I worked through the Schematic Design phase, the Design Development phase, as well as producing the final construction documents. Currently, I am working on the renovation of Ciszek Hall – a dormitory for the Jesuit men-in-formation in the Bronx.
ANTE – Can you walk us through a few recent projects that have demonstrated your achievement and engagement as a leading architect/designer in your field?
PM – Aside from all the professional and conceptual projects I previously mentioned, I have been working on a school design with Joe Qiu, my former classmate at the GSD, since 2015. It is a primary school design that pioneers small-class-teaching in rural China.
The decades-long implementation of one-child policy and rigorous rural-urban migration have led to a significant reduction of students in rural China. Small-class-teaching, as an alternative model of child education, implies a reduction in teacher-student ratio and increasing opportunity of group activities among students.
In terms of layout, we proposed to break down the typical teacher office into smaller “satellite” offices, and pair one with every two classrooms to form the primary module for space planning. We further proposed to reduce classroom sizes from 45 students per class (typical in the city, as recommended by the codes) to 36. The additional floor areas are given to the semi-outdoor “pocket” spaces, distributed along the corridors, where inter-class activities could take place.
The project is near completion and was scheduled to open in September 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the opening date will very likely be delayed.
ANTE – How has building your architectural career in the US contributed to growth in your professional practice?
PM – It’s been almost six years since I moved to the States. So far I find the US – and particularly New York City – a productive context for both my professional and conceptual practice.
I have worked with quite a few collaborators and designers here. When I first moved to the city, for example, I met Isabella Bhoan, the founder of ILF Landscape. Coming from similar professional backgrounds, we saw how each of our specific interests could lead to meaningful collaboration. We worked together on the project Outside In – a speculative design proposal for Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers – before she relocated her practice to London in the end of 2019.
It is also a city where I could find the audience to have productive conversations about my conceptual interests. I have exhibited my works periodically in various venues. The most recent exhibition – The Study on Mundane – is currently on display at Gallery GAIA.