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24 MAY 2011

The Purpose and Focus of Research for Costumes

"One of the greatest challenges for any practitioner in the performing arts is to create a believable and completely honest 'world of the play,' no matter how abstract or obscure it might be to the modern eye. A costumer's overarching objective is essentially to create forms of clothing that are appropriate to any and every type of character, taking into account not only the obvious variables of nationality, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexual orientation and creed, but also those of geography, climate, occupation, familial and/or marital status, physiology, personality, psychological state, ideology, historical milieu and so forth. ...

Evocative research, the most liberating form of research for a costumer, is found all around us. This form of research, includes the visual arts but expands to encompass highly abstract art, music, nature, fantasy, film, language, demography and sociopolitical perspectives. Used by directors, actors and designers alike, it creates a basic vocabulary of concept and style upon which to begin discussions of production design. For example, one of the first discussions regarding a play or opera might be the director bringing to the table a piece of music or a painting that to them conveys the mood and spirit they are looking to evoke in the production. For example, a painting by Gustav Klimt might have a specific palette and a detailed use of texture and pattern that evoke key emotions from the director and serve as an excellent springboard for a stylized concept. A director could even bring in a list of adjectives that describes his or her response to the play, and a production team would be expected to visually interpret these words. It is the combination of evocative and factual research that brings focus, cohesiveness and consistency to a production design. Finding fundamental themes or through–lines upon which to base the clothing of the characters therefore allows the designer to create a more controlled environment and a more unified aesthetic."

(Linda Pisano, Timeless Communications September 2010)

Fig.1 Gloria Swanson in the ruins of the Roxy Theatre. Eliot Elisofon. New York City, October 14, 1960. © Time, Inc.



actorsartistic practicearts practitioner • basic vocabulary • believability • brings into focus • characterclothingcohesiveness • colour palette • consistencycostume design • costumer • demographydesignerethnicityevocative research • factual research • fashionform of research • forms of clothing • fundamental themes • key emotions • list of adjectives • nationalityoperapatternperforming artsproduction design • production team • response to the play • socio-politicalsocioeconomic status • sociopolitical perspectives • stylised concept • texturetheatre designer • theatre director • theatre productiontheatrical play • through-line • unified aesthetic • visual artsvisual interpretation • world of the play • world of the story


Simon Perkins
29 DECEMBER 2003

Natural History: classifying through method or system

"It is immediately apparent in what way the method and the system are opposed. There can be only one method; but one can invent and apply a considerable number of systems: Adanson alone set out sixty–five (Adanson, Familles des plantes). The system is arbitrary throughout its development, but once the system of variables – the character – has been defined at the outset, it is no longer possible to modify it. to add or subtract even one element. The method is imposed from without, by the total resemblances that relate things together; it immediately transcribes perception into discourse; it remains, in its point of departure, very close to description; but it is always possible to apply to the general character it has defined empirically such modifications as may be imposed: a feature one had thought essential to a whole group of plants or animals may very well prove to be no more than a particularity of a few of them, if one discovers others that, without possessing that feature, belong quite obviously to the same family; the method must always be ready to rectify itself. As Adanson says, the system is like 'the trial and error method in mathematics': it is the result of a decision, but it must be absolutely coherent; the method, on the other hand, is a given arrangement of objects or facts grouped together according to certain given conventions or resemblances, which one expresses by a general notion applicable to all those objects, without, however, regarding that fundamental notion or principle as absolute or invariable, or as so general that it cannot suffer any exception . . . The method differs from the system only in the idea that the author attaches to his principles, regarding them as variables in the method and as absolutes in the system (Ibid., t. I, pr?face). Moreover, the system can recognise only relations of coordination between animal or vegetable structures. Since the character is selected. not on account of its functional importance but on account of its combinative efficacity. there is no proof that in the internal hierarchy of any individual plant such and such a form of pistil or arrangement of stamens necessarily entails such and such a structure: if the germ of the Adoxa is placed between the calyx and the corolla, or if, in the arum, the stamens are arranged between the pistils, these are nothing more or less than 'singular structures' (Linnaeus, hilosophie botanique, section 105); their slight importance is a product of their rarity alone, whereas the equal division of calyx and corolla– derives its value only from its frequency (Ibid., section 94). The method, on the other hand, because it proceeds from identities and differences of the most general kind to those that are less so. is capable of bringing out vertical relations of subordination. It enables us, in fact, to see which characters are important enough never to be negated within a given family. In relation to the system, the reversal is very important: the most essential characters make it possible to distinguish the largest and most visibly distinct families, whereas, for Tournefort or Linnaeus, the essential character defined the genus; and it was sufficient for the naturalists' 'agreement' to select a factitious character that would distinguish between classes or orders. In the method, general organisation and its internal dependencies are more important than the lateral application of a constant apparatus of variables. Despite these differences, both system and method rest upon the same epistemological base. It can be defined briefly by saying that, in Classical terms, a knowledge of empirical individuals can be acquired only from the continuous, ordered, and universal tabulation of all possible differences. In the sixteenth century, the identity of plants or animals was assured by the positive mark (sometimes hidden, often visible) which they all bore: what distinguished the various species of birds, for instance, was not the differences that existed between them but the fact that this one hunted its food at night, that another lived on the water, that yet another fed on living flesh (Cf. P Belon, Histoire de la nature des oiseaux). Every being bore a mark, and the species was measured by the extent of a common emblem. So that each species identified itself by itself, expressed its individuality independently of all the others: it would have been perfectly possible for all those others not to exist, since the criteria of definition would not thereby have been modified for those that remained visible. But, from the seventeenth century, there can no longer be any signs except in the analysis of representations according to identities and differences. That is, all designation must be accomplished by means of a certain relation to all other possible designations. To know what properly appertains to one individual is to have before one the classification – or the possibility of classifying – all others. Identity and what marks it are denned by the differences that remain. An animal or a plant is not what is indicated – or betrayed – by the stigma that is to be found imprinted upon it; it is what the others are not; it exists in itself only in so far as it is bounded by what is distinguishable from it. Method and system are simply two ways of denying identities by means of the general grid of differences. Later on, beginning with Cuvier, the identity of species was to be determined in the same way by a set of differences, but the differences were in this case to emerge from the background of the great organic unities possessing their own internal systems of dependencies (skeleton, respiration, circulation); the invertebrates were to be defined, not only by their lack of vertebrae, but also by a certain mode of respiration, by the existence of a type of circulation, and by a whole organic cohesiveness outlining a positive unity. The internal laws of the organism were to replace differential characters as the object of the natural sciences. Classification, as a fundamental and constituent problem of natural history, took up its position historically, and in a necessary fashion, between a theory of the mark and a theory of the organism."
(Foucault, 2003, pp.156–158)

Foucault, M. (2003). The Order Of Things. London, Routledge.



classificationcohesiveness • Cuvier • hierarchyLinnaeusMichel FoucaultOrder Of Things (Foucault) • Tournefort

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