Ryerson Fashion Research Collection: Decentralizing The Museum
A study collection, like a museum, is intended to educate and inspire. The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection includes several thousand garments, accessories and other artifacts acquired by donation for study purposes in the School of Fashion. Although garments as artifacts embody “complex composites with multiple histories” (Palmer and Clark 9), biographical information is not always known, available or recorded when an item is accepted into a collection. Yet, it is the role of the curator of fashion to interpret a narrative, and to read time backwards, placing singular garments within a historical continuum. Donating a garment can be an act of seeking immortality in that the donor seeks to give the item to “persons who are believed to be willing to care for them and in so doing honour and remember the donor” (Unruh qtd. in Pearce 63). However, upon acceptance of a garment into a collection, the emotional connection to the donor is effectively reduced to an accession number. The question becomes how to engage the student or scholar with the multi-faceted object biography as well as honour the donor’s narrative.
Proposed plans for the Ryerson Fashion Research Centre are the result of a shared vision between Ryerson University School of Fashion Collection Coordinator, Ingrid Mida and Architect, Guela Solow of ARK. This plan integrates art, design and architecture to dissolve the barriers of the museum by integrating the collection within the university environment. Weaving museum and school together, the facility design effectively removes the barriers between subject and object, artifact and viewer. Decentralizing the collection creates an experience which moves beyond immersion to active engagement. The architectural design inverts the typical division between “front” and “back-of-house” museum functions by accommodating storage, the archival process, and academic analysis within the educational arena, allowing fashion students to meaningfully connect with and interact with the collection.
While not compromising the integrity of the artifacts, their photographic translation, creates a secondary collection which speaks to cultural outreach and threads itself into the architectural fabric of the greater university. This photographic collection provides insight, illumination and perspective – essential to an interpretive understanding of the beauty and fragility of the original pieces. Interwoven throughout the campus, photographic images clad the university itself in large-scale transparent fragments of the collection; both illuminating the material relevance of the artifacts, as well as adorning the larger world in its memories.