When I first embarked on an MA in History of Design and Material Culture at University of Brighton in September 2016, I could never have envisaged that two years later I would be sitting with my colleague Jenna Allsopp, listening to the opening introduction of FCVC 2018 in Zagreb. The excitement of visiting a new city, and the curiosity of being at the University of Zagreb within the Faculty of Textile Technology, which could have been any lecture theatre in any city in the UK, was quickly drawn into focus by the opening welcome made the University of Zagreb’s Dean, Prof. dr. sc Sandra Bischof. Her speech was heartfelt and emotional, and it soon dawned on me that this conference being held at their institution meant a considerable amount not only to the University, but to the arts community of the city as a whole. I quickly felt the privileged position that we hold as scholars within a British institution such as the University of Brighton, and my perspective was immediately shifted by a sense of how, as academics, we might relate to one another on an international platform.
Dr. Sarah Gilligan, and her colleagues Dr Simoncic and Petra Krpan, the organising committee of FCVC 2018, had worked incredibly hard to create an interdisciplinary conference with an intention of creating a ‘collegial’ and ‘collaborative’ platform not only for established academics, but also for early career and emerging academics such as myself. This they achieved admirably, and although I was on a panel with three well-established academics, at no point was I made to feel the lesser of the four. Our panel ‘The League of Extraordinary Makers: Crafting the “Real” in Fantasy and Superhero Costuming’ had come together through the impetus of Professor Clare Wilkinson from the Department of Anthropology at Washington State University. I had recently had an article on costume breakdown published in the Intellect journal Film, Fashion and Consumption,through which I had been introduced to a piece written by Professor Wilkinson with Vancouver’s doyenne of costume breakdown Anthea Mallinson. Under Clare’s direction, we presented papers that, I believe, truly synthesised the voice of the craftsperson with that of the academic. Alongside our three papers we had the added privilege of presenting with Dr Cathleen Lewis, Curator of International Space Programs and Spacesuits at the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum. As Dr Gilligan remarked, “quite possibly the coolest job title in history”.
There is not space here to describe the variety of voices that were offered a platform at the conference. The diverse subjects and nationalities represented offered opportunities to shift perspectives on how we might interpret and communicate visual cultures. Delegates attended from as far afield as Australia, Canada, Turkey, Iran, Belgium, North America, Russia, France, Scotland, Finland and Israel. As is ever the case, I went away wishing there had been more time to talk to other delegates, and was disappointed to have missed some of the panels. But realistically I couldn’t have absorbed any more.
The principal value that came from this experience was that after having spent two years with my head firmly planted in a small microcosm of academia, it is vital to remember that there is a whole world out there of voices and perspectives that cannot always be felt through the pages of a book. I was privileged to have the opportunity to take part in this conference, a tall order financially even on a shoe-string, but we can still be reminded that London isn’t the cultural centre of the world, and will I’m sure become less so as political events unfold. It is not just about acknowledging that there are other cultures to be explored, but that people may see the world in very different ways, and our work will, as always, be richer for trying to understand other’s perspectives.
From October 2018 Harriet Parry will be an AHRC Design Star PhD candidate at University of Brighton.