Home (The Snail Bag) Exergesis

Background

Home is an important place. It is the place where, in amongst the little comforts of our lives, our safety is never questioned. In and within us is a sense of familiarity deep enough to remove the every present fear of attack that millions of years of evolution has bred into us.

It is therefore extremely important to know where your home is. Australia is my Home. However, as a refugee, I don’t think I could always say that. That’s true of many of the immigrants that arrive on Australia’s shores. Be they from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, it can often be difficult to adjust to the change in lifestyle and cultural attitudes. That familiarity they had in their original country – regardless of the reason they left – is suddenly gone, and it can take years for many of them to build a proper social connection with their new adopted society. Sometimes, they may never connect, and they remain alien strangers to that society. They may learn to function at a superficial level, to their new home, but it is often their children who end up benefitting the most from their new home.

I grew up as the child of refugees. It is the unique struggle of first generation Australians to learn how to strike just the right balance between the pull of their parents’ culture, and that of the country they live in. Growing up, I always had a difficult time fitting in. The experiences of my childhood never quite matched up with the experiences of my peers, and it was extremely easy to feel extremely isolated from society at large. Fitting in was difficult, and despite how friendly and wonderful people in Australia are, the ever present threat of racism would occasionally rear its ugly head – occasionally in physically dangerous ways – which would only further encourage me to turn inwards. For a short while I felt that I would never fit in here, and wished that I could go back to South Africa, where I believed I would share more in common with the people around me – despite the fact that I left not seen the country since the age of five.

It therefore strikes me as the greatest irony that I only truly discovered how Australian I was during my first trip back when I was fifteen. My extended family – whom I hadn’t seen in a decade, could not get over my accent, sense of independence, and an unwillingness to let anyone carry my suitcase – wonderfully Australian traits that I had picked up while living here (except perhaps the suitcase part – they found it odd because I was a girl, and girls generally waited for the guys to come and carry their luggage around).

And just like that, the image of an idealised existence overseas was shattered. And I felt….relieved. Happy in fact. The fact that I would perhaps never be able to full integrate and exist within either culture meant that I was suddenly free to pursue my own identity. Even better, I had not one, but two societies to cherry pick what I believed was the best of either worlds,  and combine the into my own. It was an exhilarating experience, one that I continue to have every day of my life. I will constantly re-evaluate and meditate on who I am, how I got there,  will constantly re-evaluate and meditate on who I am, how I got there, why I got there, and if, objectively, there is room for improvement. I made myself into my own social experiment, trying to ensure that my bad experiences with isolation, intolerance and violence would lead to only tolerance, kindness and the willingness to stand up for what I believe it right. I can’t say it has been easy, mistakes are often made and old ideas are constantly discarded. Even my poor parents find it difficult to give me advice. But as a result of this independence of though, I have always endeavoured to critically analyse every one of the opinions I take for granted. This ranges from the role of religion, opinions on politics, and the perception of individuals. As Mary Pickford, a movie actress once commented: “Those who never make mistakes lose a great many chances to learn something”. I therefore create my own home – my own culture – wherever I go. I carry within me a sort of separation from the rest of the traditional world, and an isolation that’s both crushing and freeing. My Home is a delicate thing. It is constructed of ideas and thoughts, which means it is always changing. And it is the place in which I truly feel safe.

The Project

Concept Development

I first came up with the idea for the Snail Bag on the 7th of April during the monthly writers night for GSM (ECUs’ student magazine). The theme of the night was “Home” and while I had originally wanted to write an exploratory piece on the difficulties of immigrants adjusting to their new life in Australia – and how most of us find ourselves acting more Australian when we go overseas, time constraints and the ever-looming presence of mid-semester assignments meant I ended up writing an article on “How to Zombie-proof your house” . During the course of the night, one of my guy friends commented on how his girlfriend always carried around a massive bag with her – which seemed to possess the TARDIS-like ability to contain literally anything she needed at any given time. From make-up to power tools and sandwiches, he said, she always had something useful in her bag. Which, in my opinion, is an extremely common thing amongst women. I’m sure nearly all of us possess that one lovingly over-used handbag in which we carry almost our entire lives in. I commented that women with large bags were almost like snails, which is when the idea of a snail bag struck.

The image of a snail, I’ll admit, brings about the typically stereotypical view of an animal that is always at home. With just one foot always out the door, the snail travels at its own slimy, leisurely pace, through a world filled with danger. The shell of a snail is developed and grown during the entirety of the snails life (“Snails”, n.d.).  The shell is not particularly strong, but it does afford the snail some protection from the world.

The more I thought about the idea, the more personally invested in it I became in it. We all carry around a shell of some sort – linked to Jungs idea of the “Persona” or the mask that we all have (Jung C., 1997). On a personal level, it seemed communicate to me that I didn’t really have much of a home that I didn’t have to create for myself – no grounding in a particular culture or country that I could unquestionably turn to if there was trouble (which is incorrect, I feel – I still call Australia home). However, it spurred me to design and create this bag, the “Snail Bag”, to illustrate both the concept of a home (where you keep everything that is important and useful to you – including ideas, feelings and experiences), and which, like my favourite bag, I cannot leave the house without. Furthermore, I also wished to communicate a sense of destruction in growth – a concept that will be better explained during the explanation of my development process.

 

Pattern Development and Reasoning of Form

As per my usual creative process, I begin any project with research and sketching. I find research to be a wonderful method of finding further inspiration for my projects. It allows me to explore new avenues of thought, discover ways other people may have tackled a similar project, and just generally allows me to get to know about what I want to do extremely well. During this phase of my creative process, I often employ large amounts of sketching and form exploration in preparation for developing a method to accomplish my goal. In this instance, I began drawing snails in order to get a genuine sense of form and proportion.

Fig. 1: Snail bag development sketches

During my sketching process, however, I needed to keep in mind that the bag I was creating would be made of cloth. Admittedly, circular shapes are difficult to achieve in sewing – and since I was determined to ensure the entire bag was safely washable, I knew I needed to develop a pattern that would require no boning or wire to keep its form. In order to accomplish this, I came up with two slightly different construction plans.

Fig 2. Two Prototype patterns. Note the various zipper placement options.


The Fibonacci spiral (or: “The Golden Spiral”) is derived (as the name suggests) from the Fibonacci sequence – a mathematical formulation that can be found naturally occurring throughout the natural world (Marquardt, n.d.”). I decided to incorporate the Fibonacci spiral in the formation of my pattern.

Fig. 3: The Golden Spiral (Marquardt”, n.d.)


Fig 4: Demonstration of the Golden Spiral in a nautilus shell (Marquardt, n.d.)

As I wanted to achieve a sense of organic harmony in the design of my pattern, I attempted to incorporate elements of the mathematical formula into the formation of my pattern, the evidence of which you can find on the sketch below:

Fig 5: Further spiral development and calculations.

Finally, after a great deal of research and measurement, I came up with the following pattern:

Fig 6: Final pattern for bag sides – in order to accurately map out the spiral, I first cut out a circle that adhered to my intended size (upper right pattern). I then used it to map out the final pattern (bottom center).

Prototyping

Since my creative process involves extensive prototyping prior to the finished product, I have included a short section on my prototyping process. As you may have noticed from fig. 2, I included two prototypes that I wished to test before deciding on a final design. I always attempt to have some variation in my prototypes, as; once again, I enjoy making mistakes for the purpose of discovering new techniques. Furthermore, as a creative, I understand that materials will not always behave the way I’d like them to, and the prototyping process. I have included photos of both prototypes here, however if you would like more detailed information regarding the creation and structural evaluation of those prototypes, you can find it here. However, for the purpose of symbolic evaluation, prototyping is not important. As is evidenced by the finished product, however, I eventually selected Prototype one, with the zip forming spiral.

Prototype 1

Prototype 2. Despite the untidy appearance of Prototype one, this bag held its shape far better when filled with items.

Tools and Material reasoning

The first decision I had to make prior to even drawing up the pattern, was deciding what type of material I wanted to use. The material had to be strong and stiff enough to withstand daily use, but at the same time,  soft and malleable enough to be a part of a cloth bag (when creating bag and clothing designs, I always consider washability – knowing all too well the destructive power of spilt coffee or cordial. I took a trip to spotlight, and isolated the following materials:

Fig 7: With the exception of the brown material, which is leather, the rest are all thick Cotton

I briefly considered utilising brown pleather for the construction of the bag – however I felt that doing so would result in a bag that looked too tacky and costume-y to really be considered for fashionable use. Instead, I turned to my other material choices; trying to select a material that I felt would best reflect my own quirky personality, while still trying to communicate the concept of a Snail Shell.

At the end of the day, I chose the material on the far right. After discussing my selection choices with my classmate, Bethwynn Veen, we both agreed that the white material with a pattern of chickens and flowers seemed to best represent the sort of handmade chic I was looking for. Furthermore, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realise that the pattern of chickens – a creature that typically eats snails – was perfect in communicating the idea that the shell we create is slightly destructive to ourselves. To pull Jungs’ theories back into the limelight, by creating our shell or ‘Persona’ we are essentially repressing, or at least trying to destroy, some element of ourselves. Furthermore, on my level, I’ve always felt a certain guilt about denying some aspects of my parents culture – destroying in myself certain modes of thinking that people in my home country would never think to question. In essence, by creating my own persona I had, over the course of my development, destroyed some elements of my mother culture that both my parents and cousins still hold very dear to them, as well as elements of myself as well. I felt this sense of melancholy, loss and destructiveness was perfect for communicating my idea. After all, the act of creation (be it a house or even a postcard) involves destruction in one form or another.

The Finished Product

The bag itself took me little over four hours to make – the brunt of the work consumed in detail work such as sewing in the sip, doing the buttonholes, and tidying up the seams inside. By the end of it, I was the proud owner a new bag.

Fig 9: The finished bag. Note the bangles – homage to my mother culture – included in the bag. This is because not matter the environment I’m in, the culture I grew up with will always be a part of me.

The straps, we I have neglected to talk about at this point – were made to resemble the eye stalks of the snail, with the buttons the eyes themselves. Once again, this was done for pure aesthetics, giving the bag a whimsical, but chic nature.

Packaging

As a Graphic Designer, I already knew the importance the packaging of a product can have on the product itself. In addition to giving the bag protection, and making it appealing to the public, I felt the bags packaging should also reflect the ideology behind its creation – that of a frail, hand-made home. As a result of this, I decided to use a brown paper bag to carry my Snail Bag, so as to promote its organic nature. Furthermore, I hand-painted a small label that I felt reflected the sense of both the piece and myself –imperfect, but uniquely individual – and glued it on with pieces of patterned material used in the bag itself. I intended for the word home to look as though it had been written out in a blue snail trail, a cute whimsical touch that I hope reflected the oddity of my own nature.

Fig. 8: Product Logo

In addition to simply creating the bag, I felt that the act of opening the package should be part of the overall experience of the product. As a result of that, I sealed the bag in its packaging, and left it that way until our presentation in class.

Fig 10: Bag in its packaging. Once again, extremely quirky and organic in look.

Once again, I wished to express the idea that it is only through the destruction of some less savoury elements of ourselves that we can create – or in this instance – gain something new and grow through our experiences. The strap holding the bag together was extremely delicate in the first place (I had to re-tape it twice before it made it to class), suggesting the tenuous and often-times weak nature of some of ideas and opinions we have. It is only once we have broken them – refuted them in some way, that we can ever hope to grow.

Conclusion:

In the development and creation of my idea through the form of my Snail Bag, I believe I was extremely successful in designing and sewing the finished product. It looks extremely stylish (in my opinion), and while not supremely functional, can work as a simple day bag for going out. Furthermore, while the bag itself can be viewed on a purely superficial level as a bag designed to look like a Snail Shell, I feel the level of meaning and though I have invested in not only its initial concept, but through the selection of materials and implementation of mathematical principal, gives the bag a sort of weight. Finally, I would like to add that despite the fact that this idea appears to grown from emotions of isolation and negative events, it still manages to accomplish a type of joyfulness and beauty – something I like to strive towards despite any negative events that may have occurred to me in the course of my life.

I like to think this bag represents that. Beauty despite, and perhaps because of, adversity. Safety despite frailty. And growth despite destruction.

Rehana Badat

References

Jung, C. (1997). Jung on active imagination (pp. 1-17, 28-33). (Ed. Joan Chodorow).London: Routledge.

Snails. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved 1 May 2012 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snail

Marquardt (n.d.), Fibonacci Numbers in Nature & the Golden Ratio, Science Mysteries. Retrieved 30/05/2012) from http://www.world-mysteries.com/sci_17.htm

Snails. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved 25 April 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snail

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Fig. 1: Snail bag development sketches

Pattern Development and Reasoning of Form

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