Katriina Haikala and Vilma Metteri make up the arts duo Nutty Tarts, translated from Tarahtaneet Ammat in their native Finnish, approach fashion and design from a contemporary arts perspective. Address contributor Ashley Palmer met up with one of the Tarts, Metteri, and their collaborator, fellow artist and photographer, Heidi Lunabba to discuss their recent exhibit at Parsons, New York.
Dresscode is a community based art project from the Nutty Tarts. Through interacting with people in various neighbourhoods the duo explores how individuals use clothing to construct their image. Questionnaires from passers-by on the street were used to gain perspective on the topic and a fashion photograph was taken of the respondents. The findings were then translated into an installation that includes custom fitting rooms, which display some of the respondents’ photos and text taken from the questionnaires. The piece also includes performance art, with Nutty Tarts acting out a fictionalised version of the interviewer/ interviewee Q & A to exemplify the many similarities in responses from all of those seeking to define themselves as unique. The exhibit in New York is a scaled down version of the original work that showed in Helsinki as part of the Exhibition Boutique at Amos Anderson Art Museum in 2012. When Parsons, The New School of Design invited the duo to exhibit at Fashion Interactions they recreated the project in the five boroughs of New York. The result is a comical yet powerful look at identity and dress.
“It isn’t a myth, people somehow find themselves a small box where they are and they are defining themselves through their social environments and they want to resemble their social environments. At the same time they are always bringing up the idea of independence.” Nutty Tarts
Ashley Palmer: You originally did this project in Finland, was it any different to what you did in New York?
Vilma Metteri: The basic idea was the same but we did the photo shoots in locations that had something to do with consuming. We tried to have a whole variety of people with different positions and from different social classes. For example, we did something in an upper class shopping mall, something that is sort of like Madison Avenue here in New York.
Heidi Lunabba: The places in Finland were more specifically shopping places, here in New York we were on the streets.
VM: In Finland we asked a lot of questions about social class. We were interested in the idea of how people are constructing their identity through clothing. Here in New York the identity of people is more complicated, you can’t always identify a social class. I think people are more open, hence the focus was more on people’s image.
AP: How did people react when you approached them?
VM: Here in New York people are really polite. They say things like, ‘fashion is my life, of course I will do this’. Based on the responses we gathered, in Finland everybody wanted to portray themselves as middle class. Even the richest people, who had lots of influence and power to define themselves, were saying they wanted to appear middle class. In New York there were different answers: looking professional, looking sexy. Somehow it was more about identity.
HL: Finnish people don’t talk about class but if they have to identify themselves, then they’d rather be middle class.
AP: When you started the project did you have an outcome you were hoping for?
VM: The surprising thing was that the participants here in New York put energy into thinking about how they look. They wanted to show that they are professionals, things to be colour matched and they want to wear certain brands that make it easy to say ‘I go shopping here and there’. It was more about wanting to come across as an individual who is professional and sexy. It was really specific compared to Finland where the basic answer was more to do with the weather or being comfortable. It isn’t a myth, people somehow find themselves a small box where they are and they are defining themselves through their social environments and they want to resemble their social environments. At the same time they are always bringing up the idea of independence.
HL: We started with the idea that everyone in Finland somehow wants to look ‘normal’. First we made a Facebook invitation and interviewed people about being normal and dressing normal. The answers helped us structure the questions for this project.
VM: This was the first time for all of us starting a big project that we knew would end up in an art museum exhibition. I must say this demanded a lot of work, a lot of discussion and planning and testing. But it was also interesting to let the process just roll in a way. After that we decided that we needed to modify the questions into specific directions and we needed to allow people to open up more. In New York I think people are more relaxed to talk about themselves and their image but in Finland people in general are more modest and don’t want to show off.
Fashion consultant and researcher Ashley has an interest in the history of low-end mass fashion and social history related to the garment manufacturing process. Ashley is currently working on a project archiving images of high street fashion along with histories of the wearers. She lives in Brooklyn with her pet fish, Ikea.