Andrea Forist Harness Inspiration Gathered from her Travels
Andrea Forist’s impromptu arrival at Elmo’s House allowed for little preparation. But it was in this limitation that creative solutions emerged. New paths came into view which would later become groundwork for her practice long after the Residency. Andrea’s time at Elmo’s House was not about finishing or even starting any significant project. It became about giving the needed breadth to think and see her work in a new light. Andreas’ investigations succeeded as it allowed for new failures and discoveries to materialize.
Coming from a successful career in fashion as an Apparel Designer, Andrea started 2017 on an indefinite hiatus from the corporate world. After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis with a BFA in Fashion Design, Andrea began a solid career with big names in the active apparel industry including Neff, Nike, and Burton Snowboards. It was in her last years at Burton that the need to re-evaluate this trajectory became paramount in continuing on.
What was your role in Burton and how did that experience affect the way you work?
I was the Senior Design Manager for multiple categories: women’s apparel and outerwear, youth boys and girls outerwear, and men/women/youth winter accessories. I managed a team of designers, as well as curated and directed the overall aesthetic for entire product lines within the categories. We selected color, materials, print/patterns, fit, trims, etc.
My education and career in Textiles, spanning over 13 years, has certainly guided the work I pursued while at the Residency. Although, most of the process felt like I was shedding my old ways of working. I strived to be less methodical, spent less time planning and even less time being concerned about the outcome being perfect. I stopped asking myself the question: would it “sell”? I wanted to play around and follow my intuition without the restraints of a sales and business team questioning my every move.
2017 has been quite an adventure for you. Can you elaborate on the decision to shift gears in your life
I worked hard to get where I was. So much so that a big part of my identity became wrapped up in my career. I enjoyed privileges, respect and acknowledgement from people based on my job alone. All of that is now gone. Currently I’m living in hostels hanging out with people mostly 5-10 years younger than me. The gears have certainly shifted.
Leaving behind my career was a difficult decision. It was getting tiring to continue on this path. Almost as soon as I began my career in Fashion Design back in 2006, I was disenchanted. I quickly realized how the fashion industry worked similarly to school: follow directions, don’t think outside the box and you will be successful. You don’t need to come up with amazing new ideas, or even be that talented. No one cares about that. The way to success was to give people what they want. And they want what they’ve already seen before. They want something they can understand. Designers were certainly welcome to modify small details about existing designs to make products special. However, if you’re working for big companies, chances are you will have to compromise and get rid of that unique detail in order to meet the desired cost margin. I became good at playing the game. After years and years of it, I began to feel beaten down.
As a commercial fashion designer, other people’s opinions enter the equation. The sales team on the West Coast will say something different from what the sales team on the East Coast are recommending. The sales team in Europe and Asia will have their suggestions as well. The business directors and product developers, most concerned with profitability and cost efficiency, will also have their input. Everyone has an opinion on what each garment should look like, and each person seems to think they can do a better job designing than the designer. In the face of these conflicting agendas, the designer is in a constant position of defending the work. The projects at this point are all creatively diluted making the game even more draining to navigate.
Honestly, I started to feel like a sell out. This much needed break from my career, in order to travel and make my own work seemed like the best way to reassess what the fuck I am doing and figure out what my next steps are.
You spoke a bit about being uncomfortable contributing to an already congested material world. What inspired you to do this difficult self reflection?I’m always doing difficult self reflections. I try to be conscious of the reality that we live in. The fashion industry is a big contributor of negativity in the world. It’s one of the biggest pollutant of our waters and, as we all know, it still is a huge exploiter of people in less developed countries. I’m also not a big fan of consumer culture and its constant need to buy new things. The idea of “creating my own fashion line” just doesn’t strike me as the next appropriate road to take. For now, I plan to explore and create things that won’t end up in land fills.
The idea of “creating my own fashion line” just doesn’t strike me as the next appropriate road to take. For now, I plan to explore and create things that won’t end up in land fills.
What I do find inspiring and intriguing in fashion is colour and how its psychology affects us. I value how clothing can communicate and engage with people. It’s powerful in a way that it can alter or even transform one’s mood. Having worked at Nike and Burton, I know about the research done on how colours can contribute to an athlete’s sense of confidence and competitive edge. Maybe there’s a way for me to find a place in the industry while balancing these ideas without creating more waste.
Andrea arrived at Elmo’s House armed with textile investigations she had started in Bali. Continuing with her fabric dyes, she slowly incorporated what she learned onto the materials and fabrics collected over the years by the Residency. Among found were Pina (Pineapple) Fabric, old yarn and scraps of vintage textiles that were unique in its tactility. Each had shape, presence and a colour profile that complimented the dyes.
Andrea experimented with spices and food dyes from the wet market in hopes to discover new colours. Ground and mixed with a mortar and pestle, she tested the results on the fabrics to see which would fade and what can be done to colours to make them stick. As she progressed, she incorporated embroidery techniques onto her explorations. A sense of textural range was developed through colour, that was taken further by painting directly on the fabrics. Her play only ignited countless more explorations enriching her process.
Inspired by the Odontodactylus scyllarus or the Peacock mantis shrimp, Andrea created a psychedelic motif based on the crustaceans’ complex colour patterns. In studying various documentation, anatomical breakdowns and illustrations, Andrea was determined to understand the creatures’ light sensitive exterior.
The appeal however, goes beyond aesthetics. With photoreceptors four times more than humans, this creature conjures a whole reality unseen. The possibilities the crustacean bring into focus, mirrors the crossroads Andrea currently faces. Are there colours this creature can see that humans are incapable of seeing? The endless potential incites fantastical musings and inspires a world view through widened lens.
The endless potential incites fantastical musings and inspires a world view through widened lens.
Can you share with us a particular moment of clarity or inspiration during your travels?
I’ve had a few. One night I was talking to my friend around a beach bonfire about this Residency. Hearing how you (Kuh Del Rosario) started this on your own was really inspiring and I felt like I had to meet you. I’ve had the idea of starting something similar back home but have been intimidated, not knowing where to begin. I can definitely see it takes a lot of work, but I also realized that if you want something you can’t find, there’s nothing stopping you from creating it.
Another great epiphany was getting the feeling, for the first time in years, of being fully content in my solitude, rather than feeling lonely.
Another great epiphany was getting the feeling, for the first time in years, of being fully content in my solitude, rather than feeling lonely. I’ve spent a lot of time alone on this trip and a lot of that time I would find myself begin to cry. But in the past month, I was riding around on a scooter in the middle of a jungle, by myself, smiling at everything and laughing and realized, wow, I am completely alone right now and I am completely happy. That sense of contentment has stayed with me every since.
I also had this incredibly vivid dream where I volunteered with a friend to help this elderly woman paint the interior of her house. I thought that we would be only painting the walls solid colours. When we got there, she instructed us to paint a botanical pattern instead. She demonstrated painting a leaf, very precisely and carefully, and exclaimed immediately right after, “NO! Don’t be so precious!” The elderly woman immediately proceeded to use wide sweeping brush strokes and yelled, “Be free!” This was a similar lesson my first year drawing professor in art school tried to convey to me as well. It’s a real profound lesson in changing the way I approach my creative work and life in general.
The work you did at the Residency started in Bali while enrolled in a batik workshop. This experience marked a departure from how you worked with patterns and textiles in your professional life. Can you tell us how that came about and what you learned?
Bali was the first stop on my trip. I started to feel anxious after 3 weeks and felt the need to do something productive, so I enrolled in a batik class. Batik is a traditional way of making patterns and dying fabrics using wax as a dye resist. I am always interested in learning a new craft and there’s a lot of history behind this technique in Indonesia. It seemed like a wonderful place to learn.
The Batik master and his apprentices demonstrated the technique and would give advice or a suggestion while I worked on my pieces. They’d tell me what I could do to elaborate or further embellish my piece. I found myself, at first, reluctant to listen to their suggestions andresistant to changing my initial direction. I was more concerned about following my plan and making the perfect end product. I wasn’t at all interested in dabbling in the unknown and potentially ruining what I had been working on. After some time sleeping on it, I opened myself up to making a few mistakes. I’d take a stab at experimenting. I’m glad I did because I gradually began to understand new and different techniques more complex than what I was even capable of discovering. There’s so much more to learn about Batik and I hope to continue this learning at some point.
You spent a significant time in solitude on the rooftop at Elmo’s House watching the sun set over the horizon. Can you tell us a little bit about your meditations?
This was actually one of my favorite things about my time at the Residency. Such a lovely view on the roof! I think it’s important to take time to just sit and observe and be present. Sunset is a great time to do this because it’s really easy to appreciate how beautiful everything is. Consistently doing this over a period of time adds up to that feeling of contentment in being alone as I mentioned earlier. It’s something so simple yet somehow I found hard to make time for. I’ve noticed the positive affects it has had in other periods of my life, so I made it priority to take this time while at Elmo’s House.
How has your time at the residency challenged or shifted your process?
Well for one thing it was really nice to get into a rhythm of working for myself. There really wasn’t anything else going on around the small town. No fear of missing out. Nothing to distract me. I just had time set aside to experiment every day.
At times, it was challenging to find certain materials needed. But in the end, I was forced to utilize what was available and be creative in an unexpected way. I incorporated materials found in the studio at Elmo’s house into my work which became a nice physical representation of my relationship to the house. With the uninterrupted time and material constraints, my process shifted because I was mindful in trying to clear away any expectations and really allow myself to “play”.
After all your travels, will you be continuing with apparel design? How will all these experiences affect your next move?
I have been thinking about this. How will all my experiences making art, traveling and connecting with people all over the world influence my next step? I’m still not sure how yet. If there’s a way to find a position in fashion that better aligns with my new values and lifestyle, then I can see myself returning to it.
I now know what I don’t want. I definitely don’t want to go back to the same thing and be stuck in an office full time. That schedule is not conducive to creativity whatsoever. I’m hoping to find something new that engages me in a more fulfilling and positive way.
The road toward meaningful change is complicated and unpaved. It is specific to the terms of the individual and the goals needing to be met. Andrea Forist’s residency added another dimension to Elmo’s House 2017 programming. Her chance meeting with a close friend of the Residency in Siargao, inspired her to reach out in a bid to shift her pace.
Prior to the residency, Andrea had already been travelling throughout Asia and The Philippines since October 2016. With its function as a dedicated environment for reflection and creation, the residency for Andrea became a place to harness inspirations and ideas gathered from her travels, into the act of making.
Follow the rest of Andrea’s travels on Instagram