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Morphology: another gender issue



Multidisciplinary artist Patricia Maincent teaches drawing, illustration and

morphology at ESMOD Paris. Over the past twenty years, her keen eye has

been observing the changing styles and norms that have disrupted our

relationships with our bodies with interest, changes which, the artist claims,

are conducive to creativity and reflection. We went to meet her.


Planetesmod: How would you describe yourself in a few words?


As a Franco-American, I grew up having contact with various cultures, so I’ve

always been a proponent of different worlds coming together.

I combine intellectual, pedagogical and artistic elements in my work. I was the art editor of Standard magazine for a long time, for example, while continuing to work not

only as a painter but as a video and performance artist as well.


Patricia Maincent: What are the main themes of your pictorial work?


My visual work, which spans the disciplines of drawing, film and photography, is

fuelled by travel, meeting people, and recycling. It combines the capturing of day-

to-day life with Hollywood ‘samples’, part-fake autobiography, part-true fiction, as

demonstrated in my short film entitled 15000 kms, for example. I regularly

collaborate with artists from all disciplines, including musicians (Rouge Gorge)

and more recently the writer Chloé Delaume, on performances and videos

combining text, voices, music, drawings, paintings and film.


Unless I’m mistaken, you teach courses on morphology at ESMOD. What is

unique about this teaching?


They’re actually drawing and illustration classes relating to human morphology,

to be precise. My teaching is based on the study of anatomical drawing, from the

foundations to the lines, right through to using shade to add volume, ending with

the stylisation of a figure.

The model gives us our starting point, and their very presence, occupying the

space as they do, allows the students to transpose this onto a flat surface, which

is a fundamental step in the process. Of course, in their future careers as

designers, the students will need to master this approach, but in reverse, since

their job will involve converting an image on a screen or blank sheet of paper,

depicting a two-dimensional, scaled-down figure, into a life-size creation that will

have an extra dimension and be intended to be worn by an actual person who is

constantly moving around.


What is the purpose and philosophy of this approach?


There are two parts to the work involved, in fact. It starts with the study of

anatomy and an analysis of the moving body, which is essential to understanding

the steps involved in creating a garment that can adopt multiple states, while at

the same time allowing the issues involved in fashion design and pattern-making

to be examined. It’s also about developing a better understanding of what makes

a garment appealing when worn: its textures, its colours, the demeanours it

fosters and the various perspectives from which it might be observed.


Is morphology an unyielding discipline or is it evolving?


It’s certainly not a static one, that’s for sure! Norms and styles are changing, as

are our bodies, the way they move and their demeanours. That said, we must be

careful when using the term ‘morphology’ as it can apply to clothing as well as to

the body. In any case, though, both are changing while at the same time

retaining certain fundamental aspects.


How do you think we view the body these days? And what impact does this

view have on today’s fashion?


The body has gone from extreme standardisation in the 1990s to an extremely

rich, diverse and sometimes more uninhibited perception. The evolution of the

notion of gender, which has been a major phenomenon of the past twenty years,

has also helped to transform attitudes and mentalities since it implies alternative

ways of functioning and therefore alternative clothing and needs. Digital

technologies are something else that’s transforming our day-to-day lives, and our

new habits are having a real impact on our bodies.


The science of appearance incorporates aspects of two different schools of

thought: on the one hand, there is the creative elements that showcases every

aspect of the body, and on the other, there is the claim to be able to express

one’s personality through the lens of modesty. How does an artist or designer

go about reconciling these two underlying trends?


I don’t think we should be reconciling the two but rather leaving everyone free to

work out what suits them and what interests them. What really matters is that

you’re able to develop your creativity in keeping with your personality.


As an artist, has your personal view of the body evolved over time?


Of course! The issue of gender in particular is fascinating as it helps to break

codes and conventions that have long been very rigidly defined. Fluidity, androgyny

and ethnic and cultural mixing makes for a certain diversity that shakes up the standards we have come to accept. It is beneficial in all respects, creative and societal. I’ve been teaching at ESMOD for 20 years and I’ve noticed, for example, that we have more boys now than before. I think that’s wonderful because no-one comes from the same mould. You can choose to define yourself in so many ways, which is always inspiring, especially in a school with so many nationalities and cultures studying side by side.


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