It is common knowledge that art is usually made to observe from a distance. The London-based artist Daisy Collingridge realised that and conceptualised bodysuits made out of soft jersey to deliver her work as an interactive experience. What she affectionately called the Squishies blur the boundaries between craft and fashion, as the two are in constant discourse, according to the artist. Her unique bodysuits have already been displayed in multiple galleries in London, Dublin, and Birmingham, and not enough with that, none other than Björk has performed in a concert in a garment from her graduate collection. Be on the lookout for these soft cultures that are at the intersection between art and fashion.
You graduated with a Fashion Design Womenswear degree from Central Saint Martins in 2014. How much do you think fashion and art influence one another?
It’s a constant conversation and exchange between art and fashion. Ultimately, they are both forms of self-expression. It doesn’t come without tension. An artist seeks to create something timeless that transcends trend, whereas fashion (the business) relies on changing trends and seasonal changes to propel the industry forward.
After you graduated, none other than Björk was interested in one of your final pieces. In the end, she wore it on stage in Lyon as part of her Vulnicura tour in 2015. What did that mean to you? Has that experience influenced your career in some way?
It was a dream! The summer after graduation I received an email from Björk; she is the creative genius, an icon. After graduating, if you don’t get a job straight away there can be this feeling of abandonment and fear because you were never really prepared for the real world. This mad amazing opportunity gave me the hope that I could make it. I have that experience in my arsenal if I need something to boost my confidence and self-belief.
You interned at Louis Vuitton in Paris and a Wedding Dress Atelier in New Zealand. Why did you turn your back on fashion and switch to art?
Fabric has always been my main medium but fashion wasn’t necessarily going to be the outcome. I tried to switch to sculpture in my second year at Saint Martins, but I was advised not to. It is true that their approach to design is much more from an artist way of thinking than a design/business perspective.
However, after a short glimpse of the fashion industry as an intern, I couldn’t see where I would fit in. I find inspiration from the act of making and it felt that the further up the ladder you climbed in the industry, the more divorced from the physical making you became. Making is so important to me, it is where I find my joy.
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Would you ever consider going back?
I would consider going back into fashion with collaborations or commissioned pieces. I think the fashion industry massively needs to change its structure and tackle its huge environmental footprint, so if I can find a way to help that shift gain momentum, I would definitely go back into it.
You take inspiration from artists Lily Macrae and Caroline Coon, choreographers like Pina Bausch, and sculptors like Paolo Puck. What aspects do you find intriguing and inspiring about them?
Where to start? I find craftsmanship inspiring. I am attracted by anyone who has honed a skill and become an expert. I want to climb into Lily Macrae’s paintings. They meander between something reminiscent of the old masters to something gestural, dream-like and chaotic. There is this dynamic movement in them. Movement is something that I find stimulating, so the works of Pina Bausch and Yoann Bourgeois offer an alternative viewpoint of the body and the way it moves.
I have only recently discovered the works of Caroline Coon and I find her figurative paintings captivating. I like the way the nude bodies are simplified into these smooth rounded shapes, making the muscle groups and components of anatomy easy to identify. You can recognise the machine of the body working in these moments of movement.
Paolo Puck’s glorious pastel sculptures are made from the humble needle felting technique. It is insane to be able to achieve such a smooth surface and such intricate detail with wool. I think we share a similar balance of inviting colours, humour and unease.
Initially, where did the idea from making the Squishies come from?
The Squishies is an affectionate term I use to describe my practice. It reflects the tactile nature of the materials that are used to create them. The idea came through experimenting with the limitations of the craft of quilting. I love quilts, they are full of stories. The underground railroad quilts are one of the obvious examples of this practice.
I essentially pushed this technique, where I free machine and quilt sandwiches layers of fabric to the extreme, so it is no longer recognisable as quilting. Each layered section mimics the line of muscles and flesh. It’s a way of sculpting with soft cloth; layering and stitch give the sculpture its rigidity and structure.
“I have to accept that nothing I can make will ever come close to the complexity and beauty of the human body. It is good to be reminded of this fact.”
You have stated that, with your art, you do not want to promote or demote any type of body shape. What message do you want to transcend with your art?
I am not seeking to promote or demote any one body shape. It is more about recognising the incredible machinery of all human bodies. The sculptures are bodily. They celebrate flesh, form and movement. They speak of acceptance and joy. Their tactile textile forms and inviting colours speak of closeness and invite touch. Cloth offers skin like qualities. It is soft and warm and will not last forever, just like people.
Your process of making art is rather intuitive than planned out. Your graduate collection at Central Saint Martins evolved through development instead of sticking to a fixed, pre-worked out concept. Do you think planning kills the creative process?
Each individual has their own creative process. Precision planning works for some but perhaps I am too impatient! The reasoning part of me knows that I should explore my ideas through drawing. However, I learnt during my degree course that I developed ideas much more successfully by making, rather than drawing in 2D. I like the element of surprise that working impulsively brings; I never quite know how the piece will turn out. Working this way means that intuition leads the idea rather than a pre-determined thought.
There is definitely a place for planning in the creative process. For example, it’s good to plan out your time. However, too much emphasis on planning removes the possibility of serendipity and can stifle the learning process. Often breaking your own rules is how you develop as an artist.
Most of your Squishies are in toned down, mutable and pastel colours, and soft jersey fabric. Why did you choose this specific colour palette? Have you ever thought of using different materials?
The soft colours are intentionally inviting and comforting. For me, they are colours that are reminiscent of my childhood home which plays into that feeling of warmth and reassurance. Currently, the technique I use restricts me from using stretch materials. However, I am looking at introducing pattern and texture into my work. I am currently experimenting with stripes which is exciting.
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With your art, you depict the human body in a dysmorphic and unconventional way. What fascinates you so much about the human body and its anatomy?
Fundamentally, humans are made up of the same basic components. We are taught about the anatomy of humans whether through biology, sport science or drawing. There is no reference to the individual, yet people are different: we are all individuals. It is fascinating to explore the relationship between the individual and threads that unite us. Each of the Squishies has similar components but each has an individual character. Much like us, this character is driven by the head which is where I start to sculpt first.
As humans, we have always been fascinated by the vessels we inhabit. Increasingly science has provided us with the capacity to change those vessels. How we change our bodies is driven by the dictates of social pressure and convention. These sculptures reference the classical nudes of the past and remind us that art often reflects the ideas of beauty that exist at that time.
I have to accept that nothing I can make will ever come close to the complexity and beauty of the human body. It is good to be reminded of this fact.
Usually, art is explicitly forbidden to be touched, yet your art is wearable and made for its viewer to feel the texture and softness. Why is it so important to you that people can physically interact with your art?
Fabric is something we all come into contact with every day. It is an approachable and familiar medium. It is inevitable that observers feel more compelled to touch it than say something made of stone or metal. This creates a tension that can be difficult to navigate as practically speaking, I can’t afford to have lots of people touching the sculptures particularly in a gallery space, unlike skin cells, these fabric sculptures are not constantly replacing damage! Yet the sensory experience of touching is so important. I have resolved this tension in the past by having spaces and times when this sense can be indulged.
The pandemic is now going on for almost a year, which implies closed galleries and museums. Do you already have plans to exhibit your work when cultural spaces open again? Have you been working on new projects during the lockdown?
A month before the start of the first lockdown started, I had just begun working collaboratively to explore movement with multiple bodies with the ultimate view to making a short film. This is still the ultimate plan but has obviously been put on hold. I think having had a year defined by isolation and lack of physical connection the work will naturally navigate towards exploring touch and connectivity as it is something, we as a society have been starved of.
I am currently doing a residency at Sarabande Foundation in London which is amazing. It is a space full of artists, makers and designers and I hope this is will propel me into more collaborative work (when we can). Sadly, during the lockdown, I haven’t been able to go to the studio so I have been exploring a different scale. Working in miniature has forced me to adapt the technique and is providing fertile grounds for some new ideas.
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