AestheSis ≱ AesThetic xJewellery - Linking Bodies

Wei-Chi Su, Lianca van der Merwe 
25th Apr. 2022 

In my research, I have argued a few times that the conversation about decentralising the dominant modern/colonial order should be also discussed between undergraduate fashion students and not limited to niche groups or higher education. Therefore, teaming up with Lianca, after our successful try-out with generation 31st, we decided to make a bold move and contact as many bachelor creative programs as we can find for hosting the workshop. 

Reaching out to Sonja Baumel from Jewellery-Linking Bodies at Gerrit Rietveld Academie, she kindly invited us to have an hour talk with her students as she found our workshop and researches very interesting and related to her program. 

Have you had to adapt or change yourself in order to fit into your surroundings?

How did that experience make you feel?

How did your mind, body and senses react?

Have the above experiences had an impact on your design ideation?

We all know how it feels like to be backed into a corner or put in a box.  A lot of rigid and outdated ideas are still imposed on us by society. These unrealistic expectations sometimes prohibit us from expressing ourselves freely. Even within the field of design, ideas around contemporary aesthetics has led to a very strict formulation of what is deemed beautiful or ugly, classic or vulgar, exotic or barbaric. There is a clear distinction between what is accepted and what is not. Students must often abandon their personal aspirations in order to fit into the mainstream or academic ideal. This system that exists is like colonialism, a system where a strong entity takes control over everything.

If these dominant systems didn’t exist, do you think your approach to the world, especially how you design, would be different?

How do we decolonise our aesthetics? How can aesthetics change if we ignore the influence of the contemporary system?

With the workshop AestheSis ≱ AestheTic we support students in rethinking contemporary aesthetics by engaging in embodied exercises to decolonize the senses.  For this Monday talk at Rietveld Academy, we introduce our methodology and lead the students on an exploration of the relationship between your bodies, senses, fashion and jewelry design.

During the talk/workshop, students were guide to do some meditation and interaction with their accessory and their bodies. 

While you are interacting, see if you can focus on what is being activated? 
Are you feeling something in your body? 
Are emotions or memories popping into your head?

Now really hone in on the accessories you are interacting with.

Do you have an attachment to it?
What if this accessory could tell a story from its perspective?
What does this accessory say?
Is it communicating with words? Or is it using a different way to talk to you?
The accessories in your life, does your body rely on it?
Is it a companion, is it an annoyance?
Do your body and accessories support each other?

With some explanation and a sharing moment, the students were asked to tape a pen on their body where they wear their jewelleries such as fingers, wrist, or neck. Thinking about what they just experienced, the students then were asked to design with their body/ pen based on the experiences they just had. 

This exercise might seem silly. But with the unusual practices, we want the students to think deeper about how their bodies relate to accessories and what role the accessory, and how the accessory is designed, impact their lives.

With the students sharing their feelings, the relation between body, materials and senses was being exposed. We dived into the basic theory of aesthesis and aesthetics, agency and affect. And in the end, we asked the students to once again pick up the stick note and answer the question: “Did your sense of aesthetics change?”

Even though when they shared their final thoughts, most students mentioned that their understanding of aesthetics didn’t change much but they all agreed that they became more aware of the relation to the senses and their bodies. One of the students wrote at the beginning that aesthetics for her was “ a way of being seen as beautiful, a certain way of how it looks based on the certain value.”; yet, at the end of this season, she wrote aesthetics as “ effects on sense”. This, for me, even though the students might not express it directly through verbal language to me, is a big change in only one hour of activities.

© 2022, Wei-Chi Su.