How Mary inspired Torfi

There’s Something About Mary, published in 2004 is not the book you are thinking of! It is a philosophical response to a thought experiment or conundrum known as Mary’s room proposed by Frank Jackson in 1982 and which raises the question of Epiphenomenal Qualia. Do not let the word alarm you, the idea is simple. So it goes: Mary is a brilliant scientist specialized in the neurophysiology. She knows all there is to known about human vision: the brain, the nerves, the eye, the light and of course colour. She knows what is colour, why we see different colours and what colour things are. Let’s now imagine that Mary has lived in a black and white world, everything around her has always been a shade of grey! She knows that when tomatoes ripen they turn red but she has never seen a red tomato. The question is: if one day this greyness was lifted from Mary’s world and she was to see a red tomato what would she learned? The answer to this question may rest in the distinction between knowledge and awareness or consciousness. When Marry sees red tomato for the first time she becomes aware of the colour red? This thought experiment raises a secondary problem: we cannot confirm that our individual experiences of the colour red are the same.

This colour red features a lot in TEX, the final collection of Torfi Fannar Gunnarsson, a graduate from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. TEX beautifully mixes a wide range of garments, from Tibetan monk dress to jumpsuit and sportswear, most knitted. It is visually striking, contrasting beautiful patterns in a luscious palette of sherbet colours with bold black and white graphics.

Mark Atkinson met with Torfi in Amsterdam.


What was your intend when you designed this collection?
When I started working with knitwear my aim was to make artwork. I wanted to use this project to establish a connection between Iceland where I grew up and my current city, Amsterdam.
As my collection progressed people started to want to buy it and asked me to produce pieces for them. It took me some time to get used to the idea I was making something apparently fashionable.

What is the inspiration behind your collection?
From an early age I have questioned things that usually seem obvious, from authority, to what is actually around us. This questioning led me to investigate ideas on knowledge, reality and consciousness, sometimes touching to modern physics, philosophy and of course spirituality.

I found colour particularly interesting: after been theorized by Bauhaus artists in the early XXth century it is used today to help and understand what consciousness is. You could say that my collection was inspired by all these reflections. For example I searched for colour combinations and harmonies based on western colour theory, trying to establish an understandable and quantifiable beauty … and also showing how deliciously absurd human existence can be!

What attracted you to knitwear?
As you know, students at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie specialise late in the program and not necessarily in fashion.


I still remember the moment I decided to go into textiles: I was holding a knitted sweater in my hands and found myself completely unable to understand how a machine could make such a thing.
I had to get to the bottom of it – I later found out that it was a 4 colour jacquard knit!
To this day I am still fascinated by the fact that a piece of string, which is one dimensional, can be knotted to become 2 dimensional and then form a garment which is 3 dimensional.

What material did you use?
Iceland is a place of extreme weather conditions; I admire people who can operate outside, in 20m/s winds and heavy snow falls and still be at ease and look good. I wanted to find graceful and expressive ways to deal with those extreme conditions.
Amsterdam on the other hand is famous for its club scene; I have really enjoyed the house music here. Although you may have been dancing the whole night through, wearing appropriately designed clothing enables you to leave the club fresh. To finally answer, I chose to work with colourful and warm wool and cool breathable cotton.

Where do you find inspiration in general?
I look at the world where I am at any particular moment. I look at people and animals and try to find and compare behavioural patterns. I also have a fascination with ripples on water and how landscapes are formed over the ages. Iceland has an abundance of both water and ever changing landscapes.


What are your thoughts on creativity? How can it be cultivated?
Creating requires a delicate balance between many things. Some strength is necessary but without subtlety strength becomes useless. Having fun is as important as being disciplined and driven.

What have you particularly enjoyed from your training at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie?
Being at the centre of Amsterdam is fascinating; it is like a theme park for adults. Elsewhere in Amsterdam, people backgrounds can be very different; they come from different countries and have different dreams. I love to imagine what keeps them going; the more varied the better.
The strongest memories from my art education at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie come from the conversation and experiences I have had with people whose ways of being and thinking are different from my own. We would have conversations about such elusive subjects as beauty, truth and art. I felt quite humble and very excited.

What are your plans for the future?
At the moment I have a collaborative art installation with Susan Kooi a fellow graduate from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie at W139, an art gallery in Amsterdam and I am working on a knitted jewellery collection. After this I’ll see.
Creativity and art have consistently taken more of my time, to the point where it is not a question of whether or not to make art, only what to make. It’s like the nicest curse.

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