The Major Project is our last chance to do something new, something big, something meaningful. This is the project where you show what you’ve learnt, that you can be polyvalent, professional and creative. The project you look forward to for close to three years. No pressure.
I started this project rather confidently. We’ve been well prepared and, after three years, we know what goes into a project. The prospect of creating a whole project around a question of your choice was rather exciting. Everything was up to us, which was both thrilling and terrifying. However, I was also aware of how difficult this assignment would be and what I needed to look out for.
Planning and time management are always easier tasks when working with people but far harder to impose on your own. Despite being aware of this, I still failed to meet my expectations but I’ll come back to it later. I also needed to manage my excitement. Not all of the research needs to make it into a project, nor do you have to cover every angle. I needed to keep in mind while I know my project inside and out, it is not the case for people discovering it for the first time. It needed to be accessible and understandable to everyone.
For our last university project, I wanted to do something I’d never done before. I wanted to challenge myself, if not on the chosen topic, then at least on the creative methods.
When starting off this project, I didn’t expect to pick and stick to a topic to be one of the hardest parts. January came around and I was confident in my desire to expand on an existing project. But what are major projects if not opportunities to start new things, learn and experiment with unknown tools?
I initially didn’t want to work on gender and fashion. Most of my time is spent alternating between working or bothering my entourage with both of those interests. So when asked to pick a subject, I was frankly done with either of those and wanted to do something different. Except I wasn’t going anywhere and what was supposed to be a fun task became a source of stress. Three weeks in, I had no idea where I was going, hence why I relented and decided to work on gender with a focus on androcentrism.
I eventually dropped it due to the sheer size of the project I had in front of me. Few people know what androcentrism is, fewer still talk about it. Creating something with the aim to reveal and criticise a notion people have unconsciously grown up with is a monumental task. The books I’d read on that specific term were making me think it might be possible to tackle it. I needed to think beyond what had been done before but first I needed to narrow it down. I chose fashion as my subject of interest for two reasons. Firstly, fashion can be a powerful instrument of change. Secondly, fashion can simultaneously be used to control customs and people. This duality is especially prevalent in today’s media with bold and/or marginalised individuals pushing the boundaries of identity and self-expression whilst others use fashion as a way to explore existing norms, sometimes going as far as using the former’s language to do it.
These past four months have been an emotional rollercoaster. January and February were excitedly and frantically spent researching anything and everything related to androcentrism. I loved it. By mid-March, I was genuinely terrified. It felt like pulling teeth out. Personal issues and pressure fed into my anxiety and procrastinating habits to the point where I didn’t start doing anything concrete until mid-March. The research was done, I’d read countless books and articles but it was easier to tell myself just one more book, just a little more research and then we’ll start than actually getting started. I self-sabotaged the very project I was so excited to do.
I make it seem awfully negative. On a lighter and more positive note, I’d like to point out that I tend to be reluctant to present and use skills I clearly haven’t been working on for very long. I expect a certain level of mastery before including it in a project. This time, however, most of what I did was completely new and out of my comfort zone. I learnt Cinema 4D, some aspects of it anyway. I printed text I’ve written and sent it to strangers. I put my ideas and modest 3D skills out there, beyond a PDF file. For these reasons, I’m proud of myself and of this project.
I’m satisfied with the direction I took. The manifesto is flawed and one-sided as it was meant to be. It isn’t possible to tackle all of the issues and nuances that make the question of gender and queerness within fashion. There are too many layers to accurately portray all of them in a single project.
When pushing for ideas, I tend to observe all sides of the discourse in an understanding, more “polite”, and more digestible manner than I probably should. Writing that manifesto with the more aggressive ideas and complaints I had, took effort on my part. I had to stifle the desire to soften what I was saying to get my point across and encourage other ways of thinking about gender-neutral and androgynous fashion. Typing it and sending it was liberating and entertaining.
I am pleased with my experimentations with Cinema 4D. I had so much fun modelling, animating, rendering and generally using an intimidating software I was originally reluctant to try. If I’m being honest, I was sorely tempted to uninstall it several times. Now, I feel more confident at the prospect of using it again. I didn’t expect to make a video out of the figures I created and rigged. It was interesting to visualise them in what I consider to have been my project’s runway.
I’d also like to mention that this was a research project. My intention wasn’t to provide a definitive answer but to make people think and understand what they are and aren’t doing, and the impact it has on the community the terms gender-neutral and androgyny come from. I think I accomplished it, especially after the amount of research I did on all the surrounding issues and debates. I mentioned gender and queer issues. Although, patriarchy, capitalism, racism, fatphobia, pretty culture, and performative activism were just as integral parts of the project as the first two. A lot of it wasn’t necessarily relevant in terms of visuals and the hand in, but it allowed me to get a better understanding of fashion and the role it plays in modern society and culture.
As noted before, there were a few hitches. I did not excel at time management, which seems to be a recurring theme I have yet to improve on. I get excited when learning new things and can easily never get started on anything concrete. I spent so much time reading up on the issue and considering every angle, I forgot to pick one and start creating. I have tools I need to implement to stop making this mistake over and over again.
This impacted my ability to make a clear plan for the making part which is something I deeply regret. I’m usually better at planning and adamant about setting deadlines and holding myself to them. This time was more chaotic and, in my opinion, it is reflected in the project. It could have been more polished. Having a team working on a project is different from working on your own. I am comfortable as the one who sets tasks and oversees the project, but, when left to my own devices, I lose sight of all structure.
Another aspect which I’d like to mention is the pandemic. It’s been more than a year and I expected to have adjusted. I probably should have but it still threw me in for a loop. Between personal issues related to the pandemic and the ongoing loss of healthy structure, I did not adjust the way I should have. It would have been interesting to see how I could’ve managed the physical aspects of the project had I been in the UK and had the situation been different. The manifesto probably would’ve looked very different to what it is now. Perhaps it would’ve been clothing or a projection on a 3D sculpture. Perhaps I’d have been able to imagine the runway beyond the digital. It’s a bit of a shame as I had many expectations and ideas of what 3rd year would look like. Nevertheless, it was a successful year given the circumstances. Our tutors made the best of the situation and for that, I am grateful.
Looking back now, I realise how much I learnt, whether it be about myself or about creative tools. Surprisingly, I work better in a team. It’s isn’t something I expected when I first started fresh out of fine arts school where the majority of our assignments were individual projects. I learnt that I can start and finish tasks no matter how much they scare me. Creatively speaking, and as I mentioned previously, I learnt a lot about modelling, animation, and especially rendering which was one of my biggest mistakes. It took me three days and nights to render all of the figures after having animated them. Obviously, I was doing something wrong and I was able to pinpoint my mistake after having rendered everything. I learnt that I focus too much on the idea and message I’m trying to convey and not enough on how to properly communicate it. Your idea is only as good as how you’re going to communicate it to other people. I tend to lose sight of that.
In the future, I’ll be sure to check the render settings more thoroughly. Cinema 4d and Premiere Pro played me for both videos and that lead to more stress than necessary.
I’d like to explore ways to bring the manifesto to the public and not solely to the brands it targeted. Social media would be one way, although I’m sure I could find an interactive or immersive approach to the manifesto.
For now, I’ll improve the video and fix the inconsistencies I’ve noticed so that I can proudly incorporate it into my portfolio.
There are a thousand other things I’ll have to refrain from changing, as well as refuse to indulge the thoughts of what I should have done instead. Whilst not perfect by any means, it was a learning experience, one I hope to look back on fondly and take with me into new projects.