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HSE University Launches Study at GES-2 Cultural Centre

HSE University Launches Study at GES-2 Cultural Centre

© HSE University

The MendiT Research Lab, based at the HSE University Doctoral School of Arts and Design, will become a resident of the GES-2 Cultural Centre for a month from June 5th. The researchers will introduce members of the urban community to the lab and explore the practices of mending clothes together with them. Some of the lab participants told the HSE News Service what it's like to be searching for a method and object of research.

The MendiT lab explores technology for mending clothes and slow fashion based on principles of conscious consumption and concern for the environment.

Mending is widely understood by researchers, and interest in the topic of clothing care and sustainability in science have increased in the last few years. The focus on historical (eg Soviet) practices of mending clothes is currently of less interest to researchers since Soviet repair was a forced measure, an attempt to save money on purchases by mending clothes when needed. It was largely invisible: a good seamstress had to hide her efforts. Today there is a wave of growth in visible repairs, where the patches don't pretend to be anything else, but instead all the effort is to keep the thing intact in its entirety. MendiT participants are interested in where the enthusiasm for mending clothes comes from these days.

© HSE University

Although it is primarily a study of clothing practices, the research field is interdisciplinary. At the point when the laboratory was established, scientists were already in contact with colleagues researching, for example, the history of medicine. Surgery and clinical therapies are also a kind of repair. Mending proved to be an ideal setting to employ this kind of interdisciplinary approach.

Liudmila Alyabieva, Project Manager, Academic Director, Doctoral School of Arts and Design, Associate Professor, Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design/HSE Art and Design School

‘Clothing care became an interesting issue to me during the pandemic. Mending and maintaining existing clothing is a completely new research topic in the study of fashion. While fashion is traditionally future-focused, here we are offered a totally different frame of reference and temporality—the preservation and maintenance of the existing.

© HSE University

There are several levels of work in the laboratory. The first one is meetings with foreign colleagues. They present papers or share their research findings at the lab workshops. The second level is going out into the field to do research. During the lab work, the researchers visited Uchma and Kolomna, as well as the GULAG History Museum and the Second Wind Foundation in Moscow. The researchers are also planning a trip to the Russian North. All trips are considered by the participants to be an interesting experience in the search for a method and object of research’.

Galina Ignatenko, Researcher of Embroidery in Contemporary Art, PhD student at the Doctoral School of Art and Design, HSE University

‘One of our first meetings as a research group took place in the town of Uchma. We went to the Museum of Holes and Patches, where all our scepticism about whether mending is worth researching immediately dissipated. We saw how many stories lie behind each hole and realised that there was definitely something to study here. After Uchma, I changed the topic of my PhD thesis. Instead of avant-garde fashion, I will study the theme of women's needlework in contemporary Russian art.’

Irina Balakshina, Fashion and curation practices researcher, Doctoral Student, HSE Art and Design School  

‘Our first trips were exploratory. We wanted to understand what experiences with clothes, darning, and memory work existed in different communities. Each trip was unlike the previous one. In Kolomna we visited a silk factory that the locals want to restore. Its story illustrates the importance of preserving lost heritage, about how holes in history can be patched up by recreating silk production. There are more subtexts here than just mending clothes.’

Natalya Goncharova, Master’s degree Programme Graduate, School of Art History, Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH)

‘To all the questions we ask about mending, I wouldn’t like to give a precise answer: what matters here is the process. It seems that all scenarios that refer to mending have one thing in common: a quest for authenticity. Obviously, in today's world with its multitude of halftones and shades of fakery, there is a need for something real. The hole is real. Trauma is real. Any treatment, any repair, is real. I do carpentry, and some of my work is not about restoration, but about upcycling (recycling) old items into something new. It turns out that, in terms of aesthetics and meaning, it's very important to a lot of people.’

The third level of the lab's work is practical. Since the founding of the Doctoral School of Arts and Design, the lab has been looking for formats that combine theory and practice, and with this theme of mending, they have achieved this.

Liza Kuznetsova, Fashion Theory Researcher, Master's Student of the ‘Fashion Industry: Theories and Practices’ programme, the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences

‘During the course of our research, we discovered the repair café format. People come there with things they need repaired. They are helped by those who are more experienced and have the skills to mend things, these people get tools to work with. We found out that it's not just a European story, there is a similar place in Perm, too. People are fascinated by it. The trend towards sustainability is taking hold of us, and we are looking for a way to introduce this experience in a public space. Our research is undoubtedly useful.’

© HSE University

In June, MendiT Research Lab will become a resident of GES-2, a community-oriented cultural centre. The Lab has always been interested in finding an outlet outside of the closed research community. Plans are under way to hold a workshop in a ‘stitch-n-bitch’ format, which combines creativity and conversation. Together with invited participants, the plan is to create a panel-installation from repaired clothes. The researchers are not interested in the finished statement, but in the process, because mending is about caring and cooperating. Through a special form, they plan to collect stories about holes and mending things, and to present the collected texts at the end of the residency period. This is a dialogue on three levels: firstly, among academics, secondly between academics and the community, and finally between practitioners and the objects they work with.

Other ideas include producing publications and organising conferences. MendiT members are now working on material for the Fashion Theory magazine, an issue of which will be devoted to mending. This will be in an open essay-research format of ‘repair diaries’, where each author presents his or her own vision, making mending-related notes. The launch of the issue will take place at GES-2 at the end of June.

Asiya Aladjalova, Fashion Historian, Master's student of the ‘Fashion Industry: Theories and Practices’ programme, the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences

‘Each of us has a different vision and individual goals regarding mending. Some of us prioritise research, others prioritise practice. There are several directions in the work: passing on your skills, opening up a cultural institution and writing a study.’

‘It seems to me that the very issue of mending clothes, being a supportive practice, inspires gestures of solidarity and mutual assistance: we receive letters from foreign colleagues who support scientists who find themselves in isolation. That's about mending, too. I would like to believe that the motto of our laboratory can be applied to the situation we find ourselves in today, and “we can mend it!”’ says Lyudmila Alyabyeva.

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