Watch Bart Hess's couture sweatshop in action

The Lady Gaga collaborator presents Work With Me People, a film that explores the labour behind his otherworldly textiles

See all Visionaries >

Material manipulator Bart Hess has draped slime over Lady Gaga and smothered models in red latex. For his latest piece, Work With Me People (Part III), he invited spectators to the Salone del Mobile to participate in the production of his extraterrestial couture textiles. The subsequent film, presented here, explores the labour behind the material, hinting at the huge and unacknowledged machinery that operates behind the scenes of all creative industries. Below the cut, the textile innovator talks about the future of fashion and pushing the grotesque.

Dazed Digital: Your work pushes the limits of what we find grotesque. Where does that fascination from?

Bart Hess: I think it's about the uncanny aspect of my work. The uncanny is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be both familiar yet alien at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange. It's about tempting the spectator to watch or to touch, even though it makes them feel awkward or repulsed. My work is like a balancing plate, never tilting to one side. It’s in between beauty and grotesque, digital and analogue but always leaving the spectator with questions and seducing them to become a part of it.

DD: You invited Salone visitors to interact with making the textiles in Work With Me People. Where there any interesting reactions or feedback from the visitors who did this?

Bart Hess: I think most interesting reactions were those of the people that entered the room. The installation was exhibitoined at Palazzo Clerici in a relatively small room. While entering the space you immediately became part of the installation: the sound, the smell and a team of workers with robot like voices would invite the visitors to come into the installation and work. The very sudden change of context was clearly visible on most people’s faces. After the initial reaction people were really keen to get the black parkas and working gloves on and start working. 

DD: What was the creation process like for the textile that features in the film?

Bart Hess: The textile with the black bubbles is made by stretching latex sheets where the visitors drip small dots of liquid latex on top of by using pipettes. Once the liquid latex is dried I stretch it back to its original size, causing the drops to move closer together. The textile with the "shells" is made with two layers of mesh fabric that the visitors overlay on top of a spoon. Overlaying the textiles creates a unique moire effect that I captured by using glue; the glue connects the two layers and copies the shape of the spoon. Once it's dried I remove the glue shell from the spoon, cut off the edges of left over material and attaches it to a basis layer of textile.

DD: The work hints at the amount of unacknowledged sweatshop-like labour needed to sustain the creative industries. Where do you stand on issues like ethical manufacturing and sweatshops?

Bart Hess: The sweatshop-like setting for me was an interesting starting point because it very much relates to mass production processes where the outcome is identical. My materials are the completely opposite: the textiles for Work With Me People are developed to show the unique handwriting of each visitor. The small and simple acts of dripping or glueing are done differently by each visitor, creating a completely organic end result. The manual aspect of it, the "mistakes" that people make or their personal touch makes it so interesting as this is something that can’t be achieved by machines and technology.    

DD:What do you think is the future of textiles?

Bart Hess: I’m very much into the idea of textile farms where they grow textiles or even full garments. Preprogrammed cotton that grows into a pair of socks or animals, like a fox in the shape of a coat. On the other hand the demand for something unique, handmade will only get higher as we will start to use more machines and technology.

More Arts+Culture