Could design co-exist with a social-participatory approach? It is a complicated issue, yet it seems only possible in a case where consumers are not seen as passive recipients but rather as co-designers. The Turkish designer Sölen Kipoz seems to have found an interesting device for the involvement of user in the process of design. Her design, a rag doll, not only involves the participants in the design process but also induces them to transcribe their memories onto the product. The first series of the rag dolls exhibited as a pilot project during the art triennial, PortIzmir 2014, Turkey, were carried out with working women from Odemis Cooperation, a rural town near Izmir famed by its traditional hand-woven silk, a local economy. Under the curation of Slovenian art historian Sasa Nabergoj, Sölen Kipoz conceptualized her idea in coordination with Slovenian design trio-Oloop ( Jasminka Fercek, Katja Burger, Tjasa Bavcon) and Mine Ovacık from Turkey in the frame of the fieldwork Slow Design: Body/ Clothing/ Memory.
As a designer the cycles of the female body and their interrelation to body/memory are themes Kipoz frequently dwells upon. In a novel she read, by Clarissa P. Estés’s; Women Who Run with the Wolves, Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, she was moreover thrilled by the wild women of pagan cultures who did not forsake their immediate and intimate relationship with nature. Especially inspired by a tale which tells the story of a girl who matures with the help of a rag doll in her pocket, a legacy from her mother, Kipoz then wanted to design for the women, a productive tool that would liberate them by assuming them within production, and by doing so enable them to transfer their female wisdom onto their production; a reproducible, spreadable object.
Thus Kipoz comes up with her rag dolls that enable bodily memory’s transfer to clothing. These are stereotypical, template-like dolls, composed of a single piece of fabric and shaped up with a few stitches. This uniform, primitive design of the dolls await the contribution of the participants to play their game; deconstructing the role given to women by modernity and letting the participants reconstruct it in their own terms. In this phase the women workers from Odemis cooperation came into stage as co-designers, it is not a mere coincidence that Kipoz first wanted to collaborate with a group of women that sustain a local economy. During the workshop design decisions were taken together, echoing the principles of slow design, and moreover questioning the role given to designer as the autonomous creator by challenging the designer ego.
Furthermore, this social participatory approach of Kipoz’s rag dolls unveils a hidden past; the various body parts of the template-like doll activate and inscribe certain memories of the participants. Each participant then shapes the doll according to her own life story; charging it with their own character and thus finalizing the design.
For instance the rag doll named Sad Bride is made to bear a reluctant wedding dress; created by a participant who got married without a bride’s gown, at the age of thirteen, and became a mother at the age of eighteen. The Bouquet of Flowers apparently bears the hope to bloom again, leaving the sad past behind, however it is added that the brown cord represents the things that cannot be changed. Another woman made her rag doll wear a swimsuit, expressing a longing for the sea because she never had the chance to swim in the sea as a child. The wedding dress, the brown cord, the swimsuit and many others are all interventions of participants on the doll’s surface for the inscription of their memory which completes Kipoz’s design. In the outcome of the installation we see Kipoz’s rag doll disappear and turn into something different, an almost living object that directs our looks to memories; a look that testifies to the repression of the female memory.
When speaking of dolls their intimate relation with pagan cultures come to mind. Such cultures which have not lost a direct connection with nature are full with animist rituals, that objects also have souls. In this context the rag dolls may be understood as objects transcribing this repressed female memory through generations and may even be seen as entities animating legacies, as the name of this installation suggests; Legacy in the Pocket. Kipoz’s rag dolls allow an instance to deconstruct the role given to the female figure, usually embodied by dolls, and let the participants reconstruct it in their own terms. In doing so they become devices which aid women in activating, through generations, a collective memory pertaining to a lost sense of wholeness, sacrificed to modernity. This common legacy we are reminded of with the soul breathed into the rag dolls binds women, through collective memory, to a world where fertility and nature are intrinsic to one another. A world held by female attributes, privileged but partially lost. Once again underlined by such ritualistic traits, Kipoz’s design is not aimed at subjective consumption but rather for the interaction of as large a community could be.
It is hard not to think what such a social responsible approach towards design can help reveal in many other groups of participants. The design of the rag dolls is so simplistic that a mere pattern suffices to recreate the dolls anywhere. The project is thus open to a social interactive process. The Legacy in the Pocket with its feminist-deconstructive agenda acts thus as a pilot project where Kipoz handles the problematic of how consumers can be made into co-designers by allowing them to co-exist by producing.
Kipoz could well have expressed the repressive female memory as part of her own artistic quest but instead she consulted design for the dissemination of a much larger project. The design of the dolls which is pluralistic rather than unique, attests to a reproducible, sharable outcome. A doll, an object that is complete with the user/participant’s internevtion, thus built by him/her but induced by the designer.
Title of the Project: Legacy in the Pocket
Exhibited in: PortIzmir3 International Contemporary Art Triennial
Venue: Turk-Austro Tobacco Warehouse, İzmir
Dates: March-June 2014
Photography: Ersan Çeliktaş*
Information on Dolls
Doll design: Şölen Kipöz
Clothing Design: Şölen Kipöz**, Co Designers 1***, Co-designers2****
*Izmir University of Economics, Faculty of Fine Arts and Design, Photographer Technician, Design Studies Programme master student.
**Izmir University of Economics, Department of Fashion and Textile Design, Assoc.Prof.Dr.
***Ödemiş Women’s Cooperative.
****İzmir Women Entrepreneurs Association.