Glass meets Chinese fashion designer and social commentator Ma Ke
Ma Ke is one of China’s biggest designer names. Her work has been exhibited in fashion, art and design venues alike – including London’s V&A Museum and at Paris fashion week. Since 1996 and the creation of her brand EXCEPTION de MIXMIND – and later with her haute couture label WUYONG (useless), Ma Ke’s work has sought to offer an alternative to mainstream notions of beauty and consumerism, shining a light onto the less attractive and hidden face of the fashion business. Her labels seek to re-establish a lost spiritual value in fashion and crafts which, she believes, have been overridden by dubious ethics, obsessional consumerism and vanity.
You promote an alternative trajectory to mainstream fashion, could you explain the reasoning and philosophy behind your clothing?
About ten years ago, I began to reflect upon the significance of the fashion industry and its impact on the world. The essence of fashion consists of two factors: the first is the endless perusal for profit; and the second, purchasers’ addiction to gaining recognition via their outward appearance. Both these factors facilitate the other to the extent that fashion trends reach every corner of the world. Deluges of fashion media continually press people with the ethos that to be out of fashion means to fall behind and somehow fail – it can even make people feel ashamed.
It is an extremely polarising world. In 2011, on the one hand the sales of world’s luxury goods increased by 10 per cent and reached €191 billion; on the other hand there was over 22 per cent of the world’s population living under the poverty line. Part of my cultural heritage taught me that all the things in the earth are integrally indivisible and that the fate of human beings is closely connected with all other things in nature. If human beings cannot care about each other, and help one another, how can we extend our love and respect to other species?
How does this translate into your working practice?
Seven years ago, I established WUYONG Hand Arts Centre, which is a non-profit organisation that aims to protect and cultivate traditional craftsmanship. WUYONG pieces are not fashionable but they can help demonstrate and reinstate traditional values. I hope to cultivate thoughts about the significance and value of life. I’m fully convinced that once people wake up from the maelstrom of commercial fads their inner conscience will bring out more virtuous behavior.
Your particular reassertion of the physical relationship between clothing and the wearer is combined with a more transient spiritual importance of clothing as a thing tied to all other things. It’s very similar to the sentiment of the Tao Te Ching. Is this a source of inspiration to you?
Tao-Te-Ching is my favourite book. Lao Tzu said, “Man must conform to the earth, earth to heaven, heaven to Tao and Tao to nature.” I don’t know about inspiration – I just know that humans are the sons of nature and any ability and wisdom we have, or have had, we owe to it. If we are harmful and don’t work with our environment then inevitably it will retaliate. “Tao must conform with nature”, that is more like my life credo than the source of my inspiration.
They are not clothes for everyday wear are they? They are sculptural, high couture pieces. How does that reflect back upon your ethos?
My work consists of two groups. One is an artistic expression, such as the work “the Earth”, presented in Paris in 2007, which was representative of a particular kind of concept and attitude – their function is not about wearibility. The second is the creation of hand-made daily necessities based on the concept of “volunteering simplicity”. These include clothes, home textiles and household items.
Do you think that the spaces in which you exhibit your work might undermine your message, by placing them in a highly cultural-commercial world? Do they not become fetishised like other high-end brands?
Not at all. For me creation comes from the bottom of my heart. If the motive of doing something is simple and pure – not a means of seeking fame and fortune – how, and where, the work is presented will not change the message it is delivering. I do not approve of any fetishises or addictions or personality cults. They are very controlling, and they are influences that are difficult to break. All the things that cause addiction or infatuation don’t really benefit you. The Buddhist view proscribes against the notion of addiction or “clinging”, rather it suggests that we must achieve a balance between holding on and letting go.