Fashion in the art world has been heavily disputed by staunch traditionalists but, in contemporary culture, it’s clear that art goes beyond the white cube; it can also be wearable. In a time of daily suffering and existential dread, Marie Lea Lund’s handmade armour goes beyond the skin and flesh and soaks into the user’s psyche, just as any good art object should.
Swathes of red, green, aqua and mustard unfurl over fabrics, stones and hand-painted, shrine-like sculptures inside the exhibition ‘Clothes for Healing’ at Sandy Brown. Lund describes herself as a fashion designer, but her clothes are more than decorative; they act as supplements and aides to the bodies they cover. The materials she uses are carefully arranged on the skin to align with the wearer’s chakras, energy lines and pressure points. They become a second skin to the one we already have, a haptic, healing resource.
Penny Rafferty: I first heard of your work from a friend. She was describing it and I fell in love with the concept. Can you tell me how you started to work this way?
Marie Lea Lund: Life crisis. I had many losses in a short time; the love of my life, the sudden death of my dear aunt and my dad’s suicide. Deep crises of sorrow and facing a burn-out, through anxiety and severe depression, let me come to face a highly sensitive and intuitive side of myself. This very strongly led me to pour these things into my own personal language of garment making. My creative process quickly became a place of self-therapy, resulting in wearables created to soften and embrace the (emotional) pain we go through as human beings.
PR: So the work mirrored a personal journey?
ML: Yes, it’s intensely driven by my personal process of learning to navigate debilitating emotional pain and befriending death and fear as teachers. I find that, in the physical world, there is a lack of words to talk about these things. But, for me, it comes rather naturally to express it with the exhibited group of beings embodied by garments and accessories. It is a practice of listening to your intuition. More so, the collection is me trying to find a way to keep allowing myself, morally and ethically, to make garments despite the problematic industry and its impact on the environment.
PR: I can’t help but recall this phrase: it’s the darkest part of the night before the dawn. Can you explain how the garments heal?
ML: The project aligns itself with the ancient tradition of wearable objects, with the purpose of supporting the energetic body. The garments and accessories are made mainly based on energy healing focus points, on the electromagnetic field around the body, which, with the use of therapeutic tools such as colours and gemstones, can self-heal. The fabrics are hand-dyed too. Most of the exhibited pieces are developed in consultation with a bio-energy practitioner, in terms of which gemstones are applied to get the right balance in properties in support of the specific garments purpose. Essentially, in a subtle way, there is a transmission of energy between the objects and the viewer, as well as the wearer.
PR: I can see this moment of re-thinking fashion as a personal space, rather than a personal casing. A lot of the exhibition seems to be about sacred environments, the pieces present ideas to the viewers of altars or shrines. You use your own body to model them, right?
ML: Absolutely, I mean it has always played a role in my life since I was a kid, but the past four years my creative process of making has grown more into being my safe place. I work a lot on my own body and the draping sessions become little stories in themselves, in a kind of ritualistic, meditative way. At times, I’ve been incredibly isolated and so I build abstract spaces as prints from my mind and heart.
PR: So, in essence, you created a line of clothing for a life choice – to heal. There are no satirical elements?
ML: The works have been clearly created from a soft place in my heart, more as existential outpourings than for fun. I try to extend my beliefs into objects, which act as support and guidance, a bit like the breathing in meditation.
PR: Most people who are not part of the fashion world would say fashion is a place of trauma rather than medicine. I’m thinking of body shaming, horrific working conditions, etc. How do your designs step away from this while still remaining true to your title as a fashion designer?
ML: Well, by reframing the emotional value we give clothes and objects and focusing on a spiritual functionality, on top of a practical functionality, rather than a solely aesthetic one. I aim to be able to make small handcrafted productions, offering alternatives to wasteful mass productions.
PR: Do you think that fashion has a political potential today?
ML: The state of the political landscape has and will always be reflected in art, as well as fashion. With the global fashion industry only growing bigger these days, despite the urgent change within the industry that is needed, I hope we will move faster towards the bigger commitment of taking responsibility. The greater potential lies beyond the widely spread but limiting concept of making political statements in fashion, with one-liners printed on a regular cotton t-shirt: we have to be cautious of that and move past labelling that as political engagement. What we must tend to is depth. Everything happening behind the scenes is a place with potential for active political engagement. We need to start creating and practising healthier values within the fashion system, like good working conditions, collective, collaborative, emphatic environments and above all sustainable productions attuned to climate change, in a committed constant development towards better solutions.
PR: If someone wants to purchase a piece, is it by eye or energy that they should choose?
ML: Humans receive information in different ways (the four “clairs”: see, feel, listen, know) and, for the most part, are not practised at listening to their inner guidance on a psychic level. So I suggest tapping into that decision, a minimum three times, with space between and to feel it out bodily. This would also allow the process to become distinctive from retail therapy, which has more of an impulsive character.