Rachel Silberstein (Assistant Professor, History of Art and Visual Culture) presented at two conferences recently
1. 2015 Anglo-American Conference “Fashion”:
Panel – “Asian Textiles in the Making of a Global Fashion System: Trade, Technology, and Transmission”
“Fashioning the Foreign: Urban Dress and the Global Textile Trade in Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century China”
Disinterest in foreign materialities is a central component of the Western framing of Chinese clothing as a non-changing entity. Whilst the last two decades of research has gradually dismantled this account, the question of the place of the foreign in Qing dynasty dress remains unresolved. This paper explores how European woollen fabrics were conceptualized and incorporated in the nineteenth-century Chinese fashion system, and the role of urban consumption in fashioning a place for these new global textiles. It argues for the importance of looking beyond the imperial and institutional spheres that dominate official records and instead studying more vernacular sources – in particular late Qing novels and the urban “bamboo-ballad” (zhuzhici) style rhymes. There I find that, contrary to the traditional framework of Chinese textiles and dress, in which innovation and novelty are fundamentally problematic concepts, during the nineteenth-century, certain sectors of society greeted the new imported Western textiles with enthusiasm and creativity. By combining these vernacular records with study of extant objects, I explore how fashioning the foreign enabled a means of constituting and negotiating the historical transformations of the late Qing, and the multiplicity of significations enabled by foreign materialities in this setting.The fate of imported foreign textiles and accessories in the Chinese fashion system presents an opportunity to understand how Chinese men and women were being intricated within nineteenth-century global networks, not only as producers and sellers but also as consumers. It further offers a means of nuancing the established account of early modern fashion systems in which only the dynamic West was sufficiently civilized to find the foreign a source of attraction rather than detraction (Simmel, 1904).
2. International Conference on the History of Science in East Asia, July 2015, Paris, Panel: Art and Technology
Patterning an Industry: Embroidery Pattern-books, Producer Networks and Regional Styles in Late Qing and Republican Period China
The lack of extant examples of Chinese embroidery patterns – that most ephemeral of design tools – has meant the pattern’s role in the formation and rise of the commercial embroidery industry has been little investigated. Beginning in the late Ming (1368-1644) and gathering pace in the mid-late Qing dynasty (1644-1911), embroidery underwent a process of commercialization, and complex producer systems evolved: encompassing urban guilds, commercial workshops, pattern-drafters, intermediary agents, and female embroiderers, to whom the work was often subcontracted around the local countryside of Suzhou, Guangdong, and Chongqing. Embroidered dress and accessories, theatrical costumes and props, household art and furnishings – all could be produced in this way, as products of networks, with different tasks divided and specialized across diverse individuals in a manner similar to printing or porcelain.
What role did the embroidery pattern play in communicating between these players divided by gender and status, as well as place? In this paper, by reviewing the few known examples of embroidery patterns and introducing some recently discovered embroidery pattern-books in British collections, I discuss how the evolution of the embroidery pattern through the Qing and Republic (1912-49) contributes to our understanding of the commercialization or professionalization of embroidery during this period. In particular I focus on the changing role of the pattern during the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries, a time in which the epistemic culture of embroidery fundamentally shifted, as the industry became increasingly financially vital and its female producers entered public arenas as students and teachers, artists and shop-owners. As individuals competed to control and define embroidery skills, knowledge and styles, the pattern became a means of comprising artistic value and local identity, something of great importance to the creation of “The Four Great Regional Embroideries” (Si da ming xiu), a grouping of regional embroidery styles that emerged during this juncture. At a time when locality had become a mode of artistic and industrial competition, this paper repositions the humble pattern as an informant on the relationships between diverse historical players in the embroidery industry and a fundamental means of exchanging knowledge in the visual culture of embroidery.