– Autumn/Winter 2013

From the Highlands to Clydebank: ‘The Inventors of Tradition’

Victoria Kelley

Tags: Lucy McKenzie, Walter Benjamin

An installation view of the exhibition ‘The Inventors of Tradition’ (2011) shows it housed in an empty retail space in Glasgow’s shopping district, or ‘Style Mile’, sandwiched between a mobile-telephone repair shop and a branch of the bookmaker William Hill. The visible ghost of an older shop sign beneath the betting house’s name hints at palimpsests and shadow sites, the past beneath the present and the way that the past informs the conditions in which the present can exist. A collaborative project by Atelier E.B. (fashion designer Beca Lipscombe and artist Lucy McKenzie) and Panel (design curators Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan) taking form in an exhibition, a publication and a range of women’s fashion,1 ‘The Inventors of Tradition’ can be said to respond to other ghosts of the past: Scotland’s local tradition of textile production, its legacy and its catastrophic (though not yet complete) decline. This is a heritage directly inscribed in the lives of many creative workers based in Scotland — many artist’s studios in Glasgow, for example, were formerly used as garment shops or factories — and it is from their perspective that this tradition is researched, examined and perhaps even reinvented in Atelier E.B. and Panel’s collective endeavour.2

The exhibition presented photographs, archival materials and historical garments from the twentieth-century Scottish fashion and textile industries alongside historical and new artworks engaging with craft, tradition and design. Glass-topped boxes laid on trestles presented constellations of objects and documents, each portraying a significant individual or institution through the artefacts they made and surrounded themselves with — from classic designs by Pringle of Scotland to eccentric outfits by the 1980s design collective

  1. Atelier E.B. was formed in 2007 by designer Beca Lipscombe and illustrator Bernie Reid, both based in Edinburgh, and Lucy McKenzie, who is originally from Glasgow and now lives in Brussels. Recent works have included interior designs for private and public spaces, textiles, furniture and publishing. See http://www.ateliereb.com/portfolio.html (last accessed on 1 August 2013). The exhibition ‘The Inventors of Tradition’ was held in Glasgow from 22 January until 26 February 2011, and the eponymous film screening took place at the Glasgow Film Theatre on 24 February 2011.

  2. Atelier E.B. state that ‘garment design and production has been Beca’s domain for many years, and interests Lucy because many of the striking buildings in Glasgow that are now used as artists’ studios were built for the textiles industry’. See Atelier E.B. and Panel, ‘The Inventors of Tradition’, in Beca Lipscombe and Lucy McKenzie, The Inventors of Tradition (ed. Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan), London: Koenig Books, 2011, p.11.

  3. The hosting venues outside Scotland included Établissement d’en face projects in Brussels, Cabinet Gallery in London, Mehringdamm 72 in Berlin and Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services in New York.

  4. See http://wearepanel.co.uk/index.php?page=atelier-showroom (last accessed on 1 August 2013).

  5. Atelier E.B. have used this same model to design, manufacture and sell their 2013 collection ‘Ost End Girls’. See http://www.ateliereb.com/showroom.html (last accessed on 1 August 2013).

  6. See Peter L. Payne, ‘The Economy’, in Thomas Martin Devine and Richard J. Finlay (ed.), Scotland in the Twentieth Century, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996, p.13.

  7. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (ed.), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

  8. See Hugh Trevor-Roper, ‘The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland’, in ibid., pp.15—42.

  9. Ibid, p.30

  10. Atelier E.B. and Panel, ‘The Inventors of Tradition’, op. cit., p.12.

  11. Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, Illuminations (1955, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn), New York: Schoken Books, p.261.

  12. See Ulrich Lehmann, Tigersprung: Fashion in Modernity, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2000; and Caroline Evans, Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003.