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Horsing around in Tokyo

Guest Tokyo correspondent Paul van Horn talks horse hair with designer Marianne Kemp who was part of 'Created in Holland' at 100% Design Tokyo.

By No author /asdf 04-11-2008

‘My grandmother knows that in the olden days horse hair was used to make clothes, but younger generations don't know this at all’. Designer, Marianne Kemp.

She imitates the sound of a horse and the Japanese stare at her for a moment. But then they realize, the fabric Marianne Kemp (1976) is presenting is not just fabric, but horsehair. In the Dutch booth 'Created in Holland' at 100% Design Tokyo Kemp presented samples of her horse hair weavings. Compared to the other exhibitors she had a slightly more difficult job. Whereas the products of the others tell their story almost immediately, or at least a big part of it, Kemp has had to educate visitors that horse hair is nowadays not very common, but can be used as a fabric. ‘My grandmother knows that in the olden days horse hair was used to make clothes, but younger generations don't know this at all’, Kemp says. Here, in Japan, the use of horsehair is almost unknown. ‘People are really surprised’, she adds.

Less than ten years ago, during her 'Textiles' studies at the Art Academy in The Hague she discovered the uniqueness of the fabric. ‘I was looking for new fabrics, new structures and prints. Fabrics like wool or cotton tend to be very flat. It has to be shaped, and I was looking for a fabric with a volume and shape of its own,’ Kemp explains. The idea of using horsehair came unexpectedly from just looking at a brush. ‘At that time I was working on my project 'bringing the outside to the inside' and I was concentrating on plant fibres. This particular brush had also interesting fibres, horsehair’, she continues. In the Yellow Pages she found a broom factory that used horsehair for their brushes. She started to work with the long hair, the ponytails. Later, she found a broom company and from then on she started to work with the long horsehair, the ponytails of the famous Przwalski horses that live in Mongolia. ‘The tails are harvested in wintertime, comparable to the harvesting of wool from sheep. They do grow back and are at full length again during summertime when the horses need their tails to keep the away the flies.’

Kemp works with John Boyd Textiles Ltd. (1837) in England where her designs are being manufactured. This contact dates back from the time that she studied her Masters in England. ‘At the Chelsea College of Art I researched people's responses to shapes and spaces. I created a multifunctional floor that can be used in different ways just by pulling out the things one needs. That time I also did some styling jobs and through that, I got into contact with John Boyd.’

In John Boyd she found the perfect supplier of horsehair and started to develop a way to produce her designs mechanically. After three and a half years in England she needed a more tranquil surrounding and moved to South-Africa. ‘I stayed in a peaceful environment. There was a lot of patience, I was not distracted like in England. Interesting new designs came out…Nature is a huge calming source of inspiration.’

Recently she has been busy working on new projects and giving workshops. Kemp got in contact with a Dutch woman who has been working with felt made in Mongolia. ‘We are thinking about doing a project together. It will be an interesting cooperation. It gives me the necessary boundaries to work in and I need those boundaries to discover the limits.’ In the future Kemp hopes to have more collaborations with other disciplines. ‘Weaving is very limited. The loom, the framework, weaving it is working within boundaries. Collaborations create a new framework for me which is challenging for me. It brings new ideas for I am not finished yet with exploring.’

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