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maHKU graduates prove that youth still rules when it comes to brilliant ideas

Helen Gras sits down to discuss the mental manoeuvrings that drive fashion.  She describes her fascinating presenatation for DARE #3 about how women want to belong but want to be different and how fashion communication at its best captures that dichotomy.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 26-09-2008

As part of this year’s DARE #3  (Dutch Artistic Research Event), Master students at the Utrecht Graduate School of Visual Art and Design exhibited the projects they have been working on all year.

At the opening, Helen Gras, who graduated from Fashion Communication, presented an intriguing project using dance, music, imagery and a book that delved into the question of how we create an identity through fashion.  

“I’m really interested in constructed identities,” Gras says.  “The moment a child looks into a mirror and realizes she is not her mother, an ego is born.  An ego means you can acknowledge others and is what drives your decisions about what to wear and how to look.”

Gras believes that the only thing one can ever truly know is the self so to explore her questions she looked inwards.  “I am an identical twin,” she says, “and that’s an interesting metaphor for how women relate to the fashion industry.”  

Indeed, a woman’s relationship with fashion is fraught with an ambivalence and struggle that starts young and never really goes away, at least not while she still wants to maintain a sense of control over her relationship with others.  

“It’s really a complicated thing,” says Gras. “I can’t live with you and I can’t live without you.”

A sense of otherness. A binary tension.  A conflict between belonging and difference. “It’s just like being a twin,” Gras says.  “To be myself I have to be different from you but to be visually understood, I have to be a part of you … but where I most want to be, is just with you.”

And to be with is to not be controlled or at least to not feel like we are being controlled.  Individuals make decisions about how they want to be perceived with regards to race, gender and class and in a world that is constantly changing.  The decision then is a constant negotiation between the self and the other.

Which explains why fashion changes.  It reflects our ambivalence and our own changing attitudes towards our identities, which in turn change depending on the world around us.

To capture that constant movement, Gras chose modern dance to communicate her thesis.  “The imagery needed to be open and flowing,” she says.  “It had to be abstract. It couldn’t be fixed.”

Gras’ thesis reached many conclusions but one of the most compelling related to class.  "Fashion communication," she says, " should address citizens not consumers."  By that she means accepting responsibility and realizing that our identities can only ever be self-created.

Image: Scenes from the modern dance interpretation of Helen Gras’ thesis by Marieke Duijsters.  Bottom, an image from her thesis book by Simone van Rees

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