Patterns and stripes are something we come across everyday and everywhere. Just take a good look around you and you will soon realise that we wear them, sit and walk over them and even drink them – not discussing your drinking patterns here but those rather original cream drawings that come with your cup of coffee or Latte in trendy places such as Shoreditch. A convenient reference for me as Shoreditch was exactly the place I went to last week to visit an exhibition called “Pattern Power”.
If you thought I slightly overrated the influence of patterns in our lives at the start of this article, rest assured that your attention will be focused on very little else upon entering the exhibition. You’re immediately hit by a huge monochrome wall graphic spanning across the first two rooms, not something I would recommend looking for too long if you are prone to occasional dizzy spells but it certainly serves as a brilliant introduction to the show, underscoring the very essence of what “Pattern Power” is about. For what is intended to be the first in a series of annual events, patterns and stripes have both managed to bring together worlds that would normally collide. I mean it’s not every day that you would see the humble stripe fussed over by fashion, arts, design, science and technology altogether in a couple of rooms, and it’s certainly a testimony to its considerable impact as each of these pieces invite you to look at the familiar angles with a new perspective.
Beyond the obvious pleasing aesthetics of each of these images, the exhibition also raises a few fundamental questions about the far-reaching influence of patterns and stripes in our daily lives. A quote from their exhibition leaflet mentions that “At a time where we are deluged by information and paralysed by choice, pattern can clarify complexity”. In fairness this is true to some extent as stripes exist to create boundaries in my opinion. They provide a clear division of space in large rooms but their influence in clothing is far more complex as explained in Michel Pastoureau’s book The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes. Symmetrical stripes help define the body shape, drawing attention to the garment but do we interpret them as chic (slim black and white stripes) or do they remind us of a gangster’s suit for example (larger black stripes)? One thing for sure is that patterns and stripes have a strong and clear identity and whether we perceive them as elements bringing order to chaos or as a way to stand out from the crowd, there is no denying their impact in our day-to-day lives.