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TORIL JOHANNESSEN, artist

HAiKw/ touching Toril Johannessen´s fabrics. Photo by Jan Kuhr, 2016. 

HAiKw/ Short Jacket made in Toril Johannessen´s fabric Unlearning the Zöllner Illusion. 

 

w/ Toril Johannessen – Unlearning Interpretations – SS 17 
In the spring of 2015 Toril Johannessen asked HAiKw/ if we would want to use some of her materials for something. Her project Unlearning Optical Illusions had entailed making hundreds of yards of fabrics in the technique of Dutch wax prints. They were designed to be used in installations by herself. We wanted to work with Toril and said yes right away. On the way we learned about her project and her process, the history of Dutch wax prints and optical illusions, travelled to Ghana where the fabrics were printed at the factory GTP outside of the capital Accra, started our own research and decided to make a collection for Spring Summer 2017 as a result. 

About Toril Johannessen´s project Unlearning Optical Illusions: Toril´s project started out looking into seeing as ways of thinking. In the book Unseeing she imagines various ways this happens and suggests new ways it might work. The way we speak reflects how important eye sight is for perception. Toril´s work is ultimately about how our culture affects the way we perceive the world around us – even on a neurological level. Can we unlearn cultural background to the degree that we can construct, manipulate and ultimately internalize other view points? And can we willingly shift between those views? 

Toril used optical illusions as starting points for 5 different designs that reference the style of and be printed as Dutch Wax prints in one of the remaining factories that still exist in Ghana. The history of Dutch wax prints is one of trade and multi cultural appropriation. The technique was originally taken from Indonesia by the Dutch in the mid 1800s and industrialized in Holland, attempted sold back at the Indonesian marked, but did not succeed there because of a few different reasons that had to do with high taxes on imported goods as well as perhaps preference for the hand made versions by the local Indonesian marked. Returning to Europe with their ship full of unsold fabrics the Dutch stopped in Ghana and found their market there. The fabrics were seen as modern and exciting and from there a trade history of fabrics from Holland to West Africa began. The patterns in the wax cloth build on a mix between Indonesian traditional patterns, European tradition for motives like birds and foliage and West African preferences of colors and local symbols and motives developing over the years. 

Dutch wax prints in West Africa carry proverbial meaning that is assigned to the various designs when they arrive at the market. It is not the designers or manufacturers that give them their proverbial titles. It is the market sales people and the users of the fabric. The names help sell the fabrics and function as non verbal communication for the people in the know. Titles and meaning connected to some of the fabrics are widely known and others are more obscure and local. Because Toril´s fabrics never hits the West African market stalls where it would be assigned titles and meanings, HAiKw/ started a series of conversations with people from different parts of the world, (Korea, Japan, Canada, Norway, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, USA to start), to collect their impressions, perceptions and interpretations and give them their own names. We ended up with multiple new titles and personal stories of what the fabrics might mean, some differing widely from person to person and some overlapping more. In some places blue is a color for women and in others it is associated with the masculine, a specific pattern might make one person feel stressed out and others like its a very casual everyday office wear kind of thing, a fabric looks Japanese to one person and another tells most of the interviewees think of messages of school and education. The material we got might say something small about how we interpret colors, shapes, repeating patterns big and small the same and differently across different parts of the world.

To wear the HAiKw/ Spring Summer 2017 collection is to take part in a conversation about culture and viewpoints. 

The tailors at one of the factories in Accra, Ghana models the clothes made in fabrics by Toril Johannessen.
Photo by Nii Odzenma.