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Relationship between Thread and Fabric LERICI X Liam Gillick

On April 10, Liam Gillick took time out of his busy schedule in Korea to visit Lerici. Appearing in a tailored jacket for every appointment, his love of clothing is so pronounced that it was easy for us to talk together about the art of crafting clothes. Liam Gillick is a world-renowned installation artist who is always mentioned in any discussion of the most influential contemporary artists of today. In particular, his work is discussed in the context of “relational aesthetics,” an important inflection point in the 1990s and mode of art that is still ongoing. 

Liam: Seeing them [the tailors] work I can see how skilled they are. It takes such a long time but you can see from their skill that it almost seems fast. It means you really have to work, to focus. It’s not efficient in some ways. Is there a learning system or apprentice system? Obviously if you’re an artist there are different levels of ability and knowledge. When I do an artwork sometimes I turn to an [artist] friend and ask “How do you do this?” and they offer an idea. We teach each other all the time. 

Daechul: For a long time we’ve made clothes quite different to those made by others, but few have asked why we do this. People don’t really want to know why we make clothes so laboriously by hand. It seems they vaguely assume that if a garment is hand-made then it must be expensive and of high quality. It’s good to meet someone who knows the significance of our garments, the specific meaning they hold and the underlying objectives. 


Liam Gillick, The Home Office Commission, 2003-2005. Goverment Art Collection, London. ⓒ Liam Gillick

Daechul: When we work with a certain material, the way we handle it differs according to its characteristics. In the larger sense handcraft works are made by carving away or adding to the material to create the desired shape. But fabric is very different. It is a collection of threads. Therefore, it can express form to some extent but cannot be finely finished. Unlike stone, metal, or wood it is not a static material. 

Clothes are generally made by pressing pieces of fabric together with a sewing machine. The concept is that the threads are mechanically joined tightly together and fixed to stay flat. That is, you can say it’s a two-dimensional process. But I wanted to sculpt this material into a three-dimensional form. 

Liam: Yes, I think I understand, because I make things too. I have the same way of working, although in different materials. If you don’t understand the materials properly or the way of working there’s comes a point when you say okay I have to start again, take all the paint off, redo it.  

Daechul: Watching you work its evident that you have great freedom when it comes to the choice of material and methods. However, the only tool we have is the needle. With the needle we weave through the threads of the fabric and create a solid form. The important point here is that we don’t pull the thread tight and fix it. If the sewing is tightly tied up then the fabric’s softness and sense of sense space all disappear. This means the intervals between the threads must also be seen as possessing materiality. 

For example, the lapels are made of eight pieces of fabric. If each piece forms a layer with its own materiality, then the sewing of eight overlapping layers must also have the same properties to become a complete solid form. Therefore, sewing is a handcraft where the materials, which have their own inherent softness and thickness, and the nature of the thread must not be damaged by human hands. 


Liam: Your concept of sewing is very interesting. Well in fact when you see these examples, this pulling is almost cynical, you could say, because it’s actually supposed to be a sign even though it’s not actually doing the job anymore. That is, it’s being done on purpose to give the feel of hand-sewing. This means that nobody does this kind of hand-sewing anymore.    

Dachul: That’s right. Sewing where the thread is pulled so tight that it dents the fabric is needlework that has lost sight of the objective of hand-sewing. Revealing the needlework means that it has become differentiated from the materiality of the fabric. It is important to maintain exact uniformity of feeling between the fabric and the thread in all parts. Losing control over the pulling of the thread, even once, makes the garment stiff and unyielding.

Liam: Coming from London, there is a tradition of tailoring there but it’s more about hierarchy and class in a sense. When I say class, I don’t mean classy but where you stand. So, you are given something, it’s not a process of interviewing as in this case. It is more like, “this is what you’re going to have.” So, I find this very interesting. 

Daechul: In our work the most important thing is communication. The relationship with people who understand the nature of our craft and its significance is very important. In the process, I hope to convey the greatest level of care and effort that a person can make for someone.


Daechul: Shall we envision the clothes we will be making for you? If you could have a single perfect set of clothes that you could wear for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Liam: It’s very simple. I wear a men’s jacket every day, which is not normal. Not everyone does that, not every artist. I do. I’m known for it. My friends know that I’ll always be wearing a jacket. A jacket is very useful. It has pockets, it’s not too hot, not too cold. But it also means I feel good in the jacket. Even in a cheap jacket I feel quite good. I feel like I’m ready. So I spend my life in a jacket. This is something very important to understand. I’m not a person who wears a jacket because it’s a special day, I wear one every day. 

This jacket is beautiful. It feels good as an object. I’m not comfortable with clothes that clearly reveal my body shape. If you look at old photographs of boxers from the 19th century, I have that kind of physical shape. I don’t look modern. I always think I look big and small at the same time. It’s a strange phenomenon. When you get older—I’m in my late 50s—you have to be very careful about how tight your clothes are. You start to look like one of those old rich guys whose clothes are too tight. You don’t want that. You need to look your age. 

Daechul: You don’t have to worry about that. Our goal is to make clothes that look so natural that they may seem ordinary. In handcraft we don’t fix the material, because that’s the way to make sure it ages naturally. 

Liam: Yes, that’s comforting to hear. I once had this jacket made of corduroy. Probably Yves Saint Laurent. When you put it on you felt you were completely together with this jacket. You lived together, existed together somehow. That kind of material falls in a certain way. I grew together over some years with that jacket. We aged together, instead of separately. That jacket looked better the older it got. And the more we lived together, me and the jacket, the better I looked in it. 


Liam: I wear a jacket every day because when I put it on I feel like it’s protecting me. Other people use the suit or the jacket because maybe they want to present a good image, or maybe they like fashion and clothes. Tradition is another reason. For me it’s different. The jacket is something I’m using partly in my head because I have no job. I’m an artist. It’s something that will work with me, to help me psychologically.  

Daechul: This jacket is a bit more structured. What do you think? 

Liam: I feel this is giving me a little more support in the back or something. Let’s imagine you’re not here. I spend a lot of time in my jacket, in my glasses, thinking and walking around (buttoning it, unbuttoning it, folding my arms, taking my glasses off and putting them back on, looking at something…). This feels like, what do we call it, a good working jacket. Some people wear a jacket because they then take it off and sit at their desk. Then they put it back on, and it’s to show the world. For me it’s like my working clothes. It feels like it’s helping me. I’ve just spent three weeks traveling and I feel good about this jacket. This is a success. “Okay, I’ll take five of them! Send them to my house.”  



Epilogue It is not easy to understand and explain relational aesthetics in regard to Liam Gillick. His work is speculative (the media often refers to him as a “conceptual artist”) and his use of media references is vast. For those interested in trying to understand his work better, I would like to introduce a few texts(1). And Why Would There be a Title? by Nicolas Bourriaud, author of the book 『Relational Aesthetics (1998)』 and the person who coined the term, is an important guide for understanding Liam Gillick’s complex work. Bourriaud says that Gillick’s realism is not far removed from the definition provided by Jacques Lacan, and explains Gillick’s structural devices such as topology and narrative(『Prevision.』) with the use of examples. The debate with Claire Bishop mentioned in Part III of this text refers to the book 『Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics. Written in 2004 by Claire Bishop, a British art historian and critic, this text remains one of the most seminal critiques of relational aesthetics. Gillick responded in 『Letters and Responses, published in 2006. 

We have chosen this method of introducing Liam Gillick’s work because it is an ongoing story, and because Liam Gillick is an artist who seeks to keep evolving and stay in flux, much like Lacan’s thinking. Saussure said that “perception (the sign) is formed when the signifier and the signified coincide.” But borrowing this idea, Lacan warned that “If the signifier and signified perpetually coincide, this means death—when meaning is no longer produced.” Although it is true that Liam Gillick has the common starting point of Relational Aesthetics, at this moment in 2021 it should be noted that he is making new endeavors so varied that they cannot be clearly distinguished. 



Dialogue Liam GillickKim Dae Chul
Interpreter Jake Lee


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