Donatella Barbieri


Moving/Drawing/Matter, Hope it Rains | Soineann nó Doineann

As part of Ríonach Ní Néill and Ciotóg & Milestone Inventive’s Hope it Rains | Soineann nó Doineann, Galway 2020 welcomes an outstanding innovator in the costume design world for an interactive drawing workshop. Donatella Barbieri is an award-winning researcher, designer and principal lecturer at London College of Fashion: University of the Arts London. Her two-day drawing workshop, Moving/Drawing/Matter invites professional artists and designers to explore states of human experience through the movement of human and non-human matter.

Hope it Rains | Soineann nó Doineann centres around our relationship with climate, and Donatella’s work focuses in on that reciprocity through the collaborative field of costume design. “Costume can be considered as an act of co-creation,” she says, “whether produced in a large-scale opera house in collaboration with the extraordinary material experts of the costume department, or in a solo site-responsive performance such as Old into New co-devised through costume interaction with [performer] Mary-Kate Connolly for Prague Quadrennial, for example.” Donatella considers costume a coalescing of material and human interactions in a moment of performance. In this sense, “it can materialise and perform the important realities around climate change that Hope it Rains positively faces head on. It can do so by harnessing co-creation between humans and non-human matter – in this case, clothing – through movement, drawing and interaction.”

Winner of the 2019 Prague Quadrennial Best Performance Design & Scenography Publication Award, Donatella has created a space for the in-depth study of costume where there was previously none to be found. “I studied theatre design but only because I couldn’t find a costume course broad enough to encompass the richness of the subject at the time,” she says. She would later go on to found the MA Costume at LCF:UAL at which she now lectures, along with Studies in Costume and Performance, the only research journal to focus entirely on the subject.

Donatella has never really considered another creative means for communication. The fascination with costume is firm and well rooted. “Costume as a form that re-articulates the body has fascinated me since the age of nine, when I was given a book about historical dress by my mother,” she recalls. “She had noticed how I engaged with the masquerade of carnival, the collective ritual that transformed the streets of my native Milan during drab Februaries into a subversive festival of imagination through dress that showed embodied complex humanities. The discovery of storytelling in costume also goes back to the extraordinary creativity in the folk and fairy tale illustrations of my childhood, and the way it was used in theatre and TV.”


Today, her practice prioritises collaboration, particularly in her work as a lecturer at LFC:UAL, where she has “developed a way of working collaboratively to make performance through costume in which the materiality of the costume evolves movement and vice-versa.” She developed this idea of material and movement as primary elements of discovery while participating in the Laboratoire d’Etude du Mouvement workshop at Ecole Lecoq in 2005 and in a co-created performance with Jana Zborilova from DAMU in Prague (2005-7). “This approach which goes beyond figuration and signification – it enables costume to address a way of connecting to values and meanings that are critical to both performer and designer, in the here and now of the workshop space.”

And which values are critical to Moving/Drawing/Matter? Donatella points out the intimate interaction between the wearer and the material (itself a product of natural resources) – a relationship that can be tapped into with costume. “I am particularly interested in exploring with participants the neoliberal perspective that seems to view children’s neglect as ‘fair game’ – the lack of serious concern or outright denial of climate change and the consequences of accelerated exploitation of natural resources.” Over the course of the workshop, clothing, “worn or not worn, misappropriated and momentarily re-purposed” will be the means for which the participants move, draw and collaborate.

Galway’s natural environment has made quite the impression on Donatella. “The sea is extraordinary, set against ever-changing skies and the beautiful colours of stone. Nature and culture are more equivalent here than where I live in London, and one can even imagine a human presence which is not intended for domination but rather sustainable cohabitation with nature.”  Reflecting on this, she adds, “On the other hand, I imagine that the west coast of Ireland is bearing the brunt of climate change more directly than elsewhere.”

The workshop aims towards sustainability, using borrowed clothes to study the movement of wind. Costume too has seen a growing trend of the paired back, nude aesthetic in the aftermath of minimalism and the experimental performance art of the 1960’s 70’s. On this, Donatella responds, “The nude aesthetic only means something if contextualised and maybe even expanded upon in demonstrating an inability to ultimately mask a far more complex human existence.” Costume is fertile ground for this level of depth and complexity and her work demonstrates as much – be that interactive costume or a dramatic Ariel as harpy in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. “Costume can help make visible conflict, fear, pain, hope, desire, empowerment, oppression and much else. I have written about this in my book, Costume in Performance: Materiality, Culture and the Body, which I am discussing at The Factory Performance Space, Sligo on Sunday 26 January. Come along!”

Donatella hopes that participants will leave the workshops with a resilient, collaborative mindset – “a reinvigorated sense of the value of expression in costume, which may be harnessed to face fear, and nurture radical and active hope.”



Image credits: Donatella Barbieri and William Geraghty

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