Hackers and Haute Couture Heretics: Subconstructive Strategies in the Fashion System
The Hackers and Haute Couture Heretics exhibition consisted of a series of workshops that aimed to change the world of fashion in small and beautiful steps. The workshops explored and experimented how the fashion concept can be hacked. Fashion hacking is a collective enablement where a community share their methods and experiences on how to reverse engineer fashion. Fashion hacking is turning fashion from a phenomenon of dictations and anxiety to a collective experience of empowerment.
The sewing machine is an instrument for liberation and skills are a path to freedom!
It has become commonplace to describe the world as shifting from an industrial mode to a network, something we can also perceive in the fashion world. Namely, fashion has moved from a Paris-centered to a globally distributed system. This shift also influences the strategies of counter-culture movements as they change from dialectic strategies of opposition, subvertising and sabotage to engage in negotiations, social entrepreneurship and clever modulation of flows in everyday consumerism. This transformation can be compared to how heretic movements in opposition to the centralized Vatican interpretation of the Bible have moved from atheism and objections of faith to a liberation theology, using faith as a force for social change.
The “Hackers and Haute Couture Heretics” exhibition investigates how hacking, shopdropping, and craftivism are tactics used in the outskirts of fashion. The artists and designers taking part in the exhibition propose new ways of operating within the fashion system, reverse engineer the system in order to find ways to practically hack it. These artists and designers are not subverting fashion as much as subconstructing it, tuning it, and making its subroutines run in new ways.
In our streets we perceive an increasing number of fashion mannequins looking down at us from the shop windows. With escalating pace, styles change and big retail brands like H&M and Zara replace their collections with shorter intervals, sometimes as often as every 6th week. If we perceive the shifts of collections as the heartbeats of the fashion system we are living in, we can feel its pace race.
But this is not only a single-sided phenomenon; it is not only a force stemming from the brands. There is also an increasing interest in fashion from many positions: from the rising number of glossy fashion magazines, to the heavyweight morning papers which now also cover the fashion weeks while professors are installed in the academic subject Fashion Theory. Internet blogs documenting the local street styles appear in many cities while the fashion designs of the big designers exhibit at serious art institutions.
This increasing interest in fashion takes place while the fashion industries influence more design disciplines, and does this in more complex ways than it did a few decades ago. The fashion system has moved from the linear and monolithic biannual collections of the haute couture catwalks centralized to Paris, to several globally distributed and many-layered complex systems. Several parallel fashions and multitudes of subcultures are now all running criss-cross on top of each other, like computer programs, plug-ins and applications, mixing not only high and low, center and periphery, but also surface and depth, shallowness and density. It can be argued that fashion itself has moved from defining a universal distinction of “in” and “out” to a set of more complex forces consisting of subcultural multitudes varying in gravity and density.
However, this change is not only something that takes place in the fashion world. To follow the footsteps of theorists like Deleuze, Castells, and DeLanda, it can be argued that we now experience the change of models for understanding and organizing society from an industrial mode to a network. These models cannot be reduced to discursive metaphors; they are geometric and abstract machines that also influence the physical world we live in. They are what Deleuze would call “virtual” worlds that have a true existence, affecting our physical existence, guiding both our perceptions of the world as well as our imagination of the possible. As conceptual machines these models form our vision and also affect the designs of the world. At the height of the industrial model of society, physicians saw the body as a vehicle, a motor-like apparatus; constructivist designers saw clothing as strictly utilitarian and optimized working garments; and architects like Le Corbusier saw the house as “a machine for living in”. They all praised the efficiency of an engineering standpoint in design. In a paradigm of “form follows function” every design was created as a cog in an optimized production line, leaving no room for ambiguity or diversity. Uncertainties represented disturbing characteristics in the perfectly optimized system.
The transition of industrial motor models to networks implies deep changes in how our world is organized and operates, from culture, economy, politics, control, and power. The virtual machine transgresses its physical origins to spill over into other systems in society. As argued by DeLanda, motor-models exist not only in industry, and network-models exist not only in computers. We can see how complex networks and intricate systems of protocols and controls now replace monolithic hierarchies and disciplines that once formed the backbone of the motor-model and industrialism. In accordance with this shift, the main strategy of counter-culture movements diversify as they move away from single-minded dialectical confrontation and opposition, usually taking the form of violent demonstrations, subvertising and sabotage. Instead complementary sets of strategies are developed, consisting of socio-economic negotiations like social entrepreneurship, activist business, and clever modulation of flows in everyday consumerism. Social engagement and counter culture strategies move from motor to network, from deconstructive sabotage to subconstructive hacking.
It is in the network model the skills of the computer hacker are put into effect, in the modulation and tuning of networks. But first we must make a distinction to help us understand the practice of the hacker: “the hacker builds things, the cracker breaks them”, as mentioned by hacking guru Eric Raynolds. Instead of throwing the sabot, the clog, into the motor to stop it, the tactic of the network hacker is to short-circuit the flow and redirect energies inside the system. Hacking is not opposing the infrastructure of the network, but reworking the code and protocols of the operating system to build it further, redirecting it towards new goals.
Similar to the hackers, heretics have often been low-level actors reacting to the authority and closed code systems of interpretations of the religious codex. After the original author’s death, institutionalized hierarchies claim the right for elucidating the obscure passages of the holy texts. The opposition to these power structures has since early times fought for the right for free decoding and co-production of putting these texts into context, of framing them as a part of their belief system or mythology. These dissenters have been nonconformists creating communities that do not oppose faith or the power of religion, but oppose the top-down organization of exegesis.
This revision of strategies by the hacker can be compared to how Marxist heretic movements in opposition to the centralized Vatican interpretation of the Bible in the 20th century moved from atheism and objection of faith to liberation theology, using faith as a force for social change. They moved from opposing the hardware configuration of the Roman Catholic faith system to instead hack the protocols of command, patching them to widen their base beyond the dogmatic control of the hierarchical elite. This move has the aim to keep the faith intact, and fight for a localized control of how the program runs, and to what purposes. In this sense liberation theology is like hacking - tuning the program, but still keeping the power on.
Even as Marxists the liberation theologists do not regard religion as ”opium for the people”, but instead as a path for emancipation. They use the “opium” as a tool to fight the pushers and their political allies. It is a line of thought turning away from the grand dogmatic ideologies (religious or Marxist) to emphasize activist methodology, orthopraxis, communal cooperation, and celebrating belief. People use faith as a vehicle to fight and regain their captive freedom. They plug into the system, oppose the centralized code and exegesis, and work to change it on a low scale.
Similarly, the approach to fashion can be seen through the practice of hacking and heresy. Dictates from Paris, Silicon Valley or the Vatican can be short circuited, tuned and repurposed into collections of patches, liberating the inherent force in the code and amplifying it to new goals.
Fashion is not a game of illusions, but another reality, and this other reality of fashion can be used as a tool for addressing change in our physical and social world.
The “Hackers and Haute Couture Heretics” exhibition investigates how some designers and artists work with fashion in ways that reflect a clear connection to hacking, relating to practices such as reverse engineering, heresy, shopdropping, and craftivism. Their techniques and oeuvres operate in the outskirts of fashion and propose new ways to maneuver through unexplored white spots of the fashion map. Not opposing the inherent magic of fashion, but recircuiting its flows and channels. Not subverting the system as much as hacking and subconstructing it. Keeping the power on. Enchanting us further with the magic of fashion.
The Hackers and Haute Couture Heretics exhibition is a series of workshops and events during a six-week period in September and October 2007, taking place at the Garanti Gallery in Istanbul. The idea is that participating artists and designers share and develop their methods, in collaboration and together with workshop participants during their stay in Istanbul. Each artist, using his or her own method, approaches fashion from various perspectives, and explores how it can be subconstructed or hacked. Hacking in this sense is a very diverse practice, united by the attempt to break into systems to change them.
Each artist and designer is thus circling around fashion in their own way, exploring the subject’s plasticity and form in their own way, with their specific approach, sensors and tools. The aim of this encircling or “orbiting” approach to fashion is to create a variety of practical low-level interventions and perspectives from which to look upon fashion, both as a phenomenon as well as a material that can be transformed. Instead of trying to reach a deeper understanding of fashion, the various approaches presented by the artists try to sense its plasticity and form from many angles.
The participating artists work with disparate subjects or parts of fashion but the aim of the exhibition is not to penetrate the subject to find a core, or collect all approaches into a major theory. Neither does it aim to show fashion in the light of one viewpoint. Instead the purpose is to reflect as many of fashion’s shimmering functions and desires as possible, and to let them all speak with their own voice in a polyphony of expressions.
To paraphrase the anthropologist Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert in his book Ansichten von der Nachtseite der Naturwissenschaft (Views from the Night Side of the Natural Sciences) the aim is to probe the “night side” of fashion, not the “sun side”. This method is a specific approach for investigation. The night side is defined by Schubert as
“... the half of a planet which, as a result of its revolving on its own axis, is turned away from the Sun and, instead of being illuminated by the Sun’s light, an infinite number of stars shine upon it.”
This approach is not the effort to bring all theory under one light, but instead to allow the subject matter to form with broad and large outlines, touching its plasticity. It is a method of research scanning a large surface rather than aiming at a finding a unified and deep core. The stars allow a penumbra shimmer around the outlines rather than creating hard and defined shadows. Shimmering in the light of many stars, fashion can reflect a wider range of its spell binding nuances and shades.
The polyphonic collection of low-level methods in the exhibition should not be seen as an aimless meandering between models, sources and ideas, but rather the opening many of channels or passages, taking the shape of a maze. The exhibition does not aim at creating the straight line through the subject like the exact sciences, but instead each artist lays out an Ariande’s thread leading one of many ways through fashion’s multicursal maze. The participants and visitors to the exhibition are joining our journey, navigating the magical oceans of craftvism, hacktivist subconstruction, and fashion mythology, through paths lit only by the twinkling stars.
Before we start looking at the ouvre and methods of the participating artists, let us just revisit one of the most famous stories of fashion theory, H.C. Andersen’s famous fairy tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. As you remember it is a story about how charlatan tailors deceives the emperor, claiming to make the emperor the most beautiful robes that will also reveal incompetent servants, since only the most intelligent connoisseurs can actually see them. Basically the story is a corner stone of critical theory, luminously describing the deception process of fashion, how all are fooled because nobody wants to be seen as an incompetent dilettante, or a disbeliever. The hero of the story is the child, as he dismantles and reveals the naked emperor, and how everybody was duped by vanity’s social intimidation. The child is a shining example of the scientific revolution, performing a rigorous act of knowledge by naively questioning the mythic system summoned around the emperor by his charlatan tailors.
During the last century art theory, academic discourse, and especially critical theory, has provided every researcher with a full toolbox of theories and concepts to uncover the king’s impostors. Also on the activist scene we have seen many practical protests and counter culture movements chase the deceivers out of town. But we have very few tools at hand to discuss the clothes of the emperor, the clothes that everyone else but the child sees.
Theorists and radicals have for long been discussing the anatomy of the emperor. They have ridiculed the easy deception of the inexperienced regent and his people, and sentenced the charlatans to eternal imprisonment in the neglected archives. But now it is time for us to revisit the workshops of the emperor’s tailors, and with the enlightened guiding of our artists learn the skills of true metaphysical craft. We will not lose our critical edge, but we must still find more tools and concepts for discussing the fabulous robes of the emperor. We shall reverse engineer those robes, reread the code, recycle them, and with them reproduce new glimmering dreams.
You will now be engaged in the making of clothes that everybody can see again, and they will sparkle and radiate of light together with you, as you rule the disco floor. This engagement is not a question of deception but of magic. When they say you are a midnight mover or dancing queen, ruling the clubs, you can turn your attention back to von Schubert’s metaphor about the “night side”. On the enlightened “sun side” the emperor was naked, while here, on the “night side”, the emperor is dressed in the latest fashion, and it is shimmering in the reflection from a thousand stars. Just like you are!
References (von Schubert quote):
Zielinski, S. (2006) Deep time of the media : toward an archaeology of hearing and seeing by technical means. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, page 16.
A warm up for the Hackers and Haute Couture Heretics project was VakkoVamps, a preceding hacking endeavor of the turkish up-market brand Vakko.
Great photos by Laleper Aytek, not so good by Otto.
Giana Gonzalez / Hacking-Couture
Giana Gonzalez (PA) opened the exhibition with a series of her Hacking-Couture workshops, where participants reverse engineered fashion brands, de-programming them, to open their expressive source code into charts. These charts were used by the participants to track the brands building blocks, the "Lego" of the how the brand is identified. Into this mapped code the participants designed their own interpretations, their own executions of the code, building new programs of the brand, and photographed these with Polaroids. The new program-Polaroids of garments and accessories were added to the code map on the wall to inspire new creations from other participants. The first brand hacked at the HHCH was Gucci, followed by turkish brand Vakko.
Central to the connection between fashion and hacking is the mastering of coding skills, both reading code, finding loopholes, flaws or strong codes, and reprogramming the code further into a running application, program or patch. The skills of coding are the tools of the craft and this is something brought further by Giana’s work.
By emphasising skill and craft there is a connection of freedom in the workshops. The freedom of being able, creating the room for choice. When we are passive or “mere” consumers – even if we poach text or subverting the goods – we are still not in the position of totally rejecting what is offered us. We are still at the lower hand. By mastering skills we have the possibility of choice, either to buy the goods or make them ourselves. Either work to earn the money to buy the object or service, or learn to make it ourselves. If we do not have the skill there is no choice, so in this way the DIY is not a question about making “everyone” making their own things, but creating the room for choice. Skills creates action spaces, room for navigation and negotiation.
To better understand the practice of Giana we must look closer into how we can interpret the concept of code.
The concept of “code” has been used in semantics for a long time, and Roland Barthes employ the term to describe fashion in his book The Fashion System, as a rule for converting information into another form – in this case clothing details. The code is a representation of meaning, decoded by the users and viewers to form statements of some sort. He speaks of three levels of vestimentary code: “real code”, which represents the technical/real garment, “terminological code”, which represents the terminological system (articulated language), and “rhetorical code” which is the representation of clothing (written clothing and images). In his analysis he focuses on the rhetorical code, the signification of fashion, and especially favours the written clothing compared to image-clothing thanks to its “structural purity”.
Barthes’ use of code is very mechanical and it could indeed be mistaken for the mathematical code of computer programming. However, when reading fashion code the hardware is organic and the interpretations are highly cultural or subcultural, like a multitude of decoders running on various levels. Thus the decoding contains very much information, often contradictory, as the execution of fashion has a tendency to constantly twist its codes, to personalize them slightly. In the computer the decoding is done in the compilation process, the translation of source code into the target language (the object code, readable by the processor). Similarly our understanding of fashion codes is somewhat a compilation process, where the fashion key is the codes transmitted through the fashion channels.
To better understand how Giana uses fashion code the code of Barthes’ can be blended with how media ecologist Alexander Galloway frames this concept. He means that code is a stronger text, “code is the only language that is excutable”(Galloway, 165).It is not only a messenger, but also a container of activity, carrying an impetus or a force of execution. Its basic function is to facilitate, to run, but also to control operations. “Code has a semantic meaning, but it also has an enactment of meaning.” (Galloway, 166)
The code in the fashion magazine is the key to the code, but also the program itself, showing the “correct” way on how to execute code. It dictates acting, not looking. However, we can of course alter the code as we reproduce it, as we imitate it. We are thus not only slaves to fashion cot passive consumers of code, but inside its frame of activity also resides a tempting and active possibility of tuning and modulating it. Code in this sense is a form of active information, and to stress the concept of fashion “code” before “expression”, “style”, or “information” is to accentuate the active usage of the code.
For fashion then, code works as a set of situated instructions (but not mathematical or mechanic). Opposite of the computer code, they are imitated or mimicked, but not exactly copied (even if that is suggested from the code-key of fashion – the fashion magazine). It is reinterpreted, assembled, mixed, and redistributed through various steps. Every step translates it into new shapes, executes it to new programs to set off shows, photo sessions, texts and events.
The code is thus the “raw format” of fashion. The molecules of its element. It is the basic “Lego” of a brand, a style, a manner, a fashion, the body of rules binding it together. It is not born out of thin air but collected from the street, subcultures, history or popular media, but it is when executed it takes form. This form can, when filtered and amplified through the system, become fashion. In the fashion world or on the streets code is executed in various contexts and on different hardware, the programs run on top of different applications: high fashion runs on the catwalk, street fashion runs on the sidewalk.
This is the code used by Giana to be reverse engineered, opened and tuned by the participants in the workshops. The brand is presented as having a source code, explored in collaboration with the participants and later executed into new programs or patches, relating to the source code of the brand.
The actual process is formed by Giana to create a workflow similar to basic programming. She starts by presenting the brand history and basic expressions as she has identified them through her research. These expressions are becoming subfolders of the brand, in which the codes are sorted. The codes are presented as black Polaroids with images copied from the brands advertising, catalogues,, books and site. In the workshop’s first step she mounts some of these Polaroids on the wall, connecting the folders and codes with thread, showing the flow of code through the brand. The participants have a stack of extra Polaroids with new images and they are free to reinterpret the structure, move images and create another form or flow of the brands code.
From this code the participants are to create new programs or patches, “Guccify” clothes by combining the various codes found on the chart. The new programs, garments or accessories, are photographed with a Polaroid and mounted back onto the chart. The Polaroid is then connected with thread to its inspirational code cards to show how the code was used.
The code is thus a visual expression, caught on image. This visual code is extracted from the image as inspiration for the participants and they use it as reference when they make their own physical interpretation. The code turns into action, and into a garment or accessory. This in turn gets photographed and turned back into image. This last step is very apparent in Giana’s own images and videos where she performs brands and step beyond the mere representation of a sewn garment. Here it is instead the posing, the make-up, the context of the photo that makes the full hack visible.
What is central in Giana’s practices is this shift from code into execution and back into open code again. There is required a practice of skills for the code to take physical shape. A mere collage technique of images is not enough (this could have been an alternative to her workshops, still playing with the code). The importance is how participants work with the physical material, going from image to physical garment and back again, to once again start the circle for other participants – inspired by the previous crafters’ code.
This work process is in my interpretation highlighting how flows of information, code, and will merge to become a furthering of merging craft and imagination into a hands-on transformation of how we meet fashion. A dialogue with the material and media at hand, a process of negotiations between two actors channelling different flows, as author (Gucci) and reader/re-author (participant).
Actually, every discussion, reading, or situation of use is conformed of small “mistakes” in communication. The full intention of a brand or author is never flawlessly imitated by the wearer or reader. Since we never read a book as we were intended to by the author (who is according to Barthes “dead”) every use and reading is an act of micropirating, an act of post-production.
The actors in this dialogue are practical negotiators, remaking the concepts they are using to better inhabit the tools and flows they surf upon. In his book Postproduction Nicholas Bourriaud calls the actors of this space “semionauts” – producing own pathways through sign systems.
The semionauts in this process are working with already defined concepts and signs but transforming them through re-linking and cross-over-formations, inventing new protocols of use transgressing modes of representation and formal structures. “The prefix ‘post’ does not signal any negation or surpassing; it refers to a zone of activity.” (Bourriaud, 17) It is a practice of forming new connection between disparate sites, exploring how signs and channels can be inhabited through unlimited use. “We tinker with production, we surf on a network of signs, we insert our forms on existing lines.” (Bourriaud, 19) Post-production is a tactic, the semionaut an agent in a culture of re-appropriation. Surely this can be said to be an old practice but what Bourriaud emphasizes is that it now is the dominant one, and it done not try to establish a position of the radically new or the avantgarde. Instead it is referring to the heroes of our time, the sampler, the remix, the DJ.
The “zone of activity” where “surfing on signs” happens becomes through these actions a zone of commons, just because the open sharing of raw-material, signs, and co-production of meanings. The commons are institutialized spaces where agents can act free. They are ruled by a particular type of freedom, freed from some constraints we normally accept as preconditions of the market place (Benkler, 6-9). Signs are sometimes materially bound, connected to a specific material, of limited accessibility. But signs are open and communal, though controlled by discourse or even copyrighted. They are not anarchic spaces (totally free action is illusory) as they usually have certain governing arrangements or property regimes. For example guiding villagers use of the village commons or irrigation, being a property vis-à-vis the rest of the world.
What Giana does in the Hacking Couture workshops is to highlight these practices and help us form the tools with which we can better understand what is happening when we “hack” fashion.
Barthes, Roland (1977) Image, Music, Text, New York, NY: Hill and Wang
Barthes, Roland (1983) The Fashion System. New York, NY: Hill and Wang
Benkler, Yochai (2003) “The Political Economy of Commons” in UpGrade: The European Journal for the Informatics Professional. Vol. IV, No. 3, June 2003, at: www.upgrade-cepis.org
Bourriaud, Nicholas (2002) Postproduction. New York : Lukas & Sternberg
Galloway, Alexander (2004) Protocol. Cambridge: MIT press
The Swap-O-Rama-Rama is a public clothes swap and series of do-it-yourself workshops where participants swap clothes and modify them at the spot with the help designers and friends. The swaps are big public events, often gathering over a thousand visitors, all sharing clothes, skills and ideas to create new skins out of the old ones. Materializing ideas together and bringing a new form out of discarded trash.
The events were first created in 2005 by Wendy Tremayne in New York and she released the format of the events under a creative commons license to make the idea open and free to use everywhere and beyond her control. The last years there has been swaps all over the planet and many send her information and images of the events uploaded to the swap website.
The method itself is very simple, this is a short version:
1. As visitor, please bring at least one bag of your unwanted clothing – this is your entrance ticket to the event.
2. When entering, put your clothes into the giant collective pile of clothing, consisting of all unwanted clothing of all who attend. This is the raw material of the event, and everyone is welcome to dive in and find their next new/used items.
3. After you have chosen your new clothes slide on over to one of the sewing stations and attend a workshop (sew, embroider, bead, fix, repair, knit).
4. Swap-O-Rama-Rama also offers on site DIY (do it yourself) with skilled artists to help you get started. You'll find professional designers with sewing machines ready to teach you how to make modifications to your new/used duds.
5. Prepare yourself for the catwalk that will present the highlights from the Swap.
This transformation of both material (old garments, and old materialized “codes”) in a community format is very much like resurrection rituals where a group of people sharing a belief (in resurrection) gathers and performs their ceremonial practice. In this case not to a “higher” ideal, but to an idea of a community creating their own regenerations.
As mentioned before these revitalization rituals are not isolated and performed outside of a system of belief, but more redirecting the energy of the system into the ritual – and as such much of the design at the swap is not as much free and chaotic creation but also a very systemized “updating” of garments to reconnect with the zeitgeist or contemporary fashion. The fashion system outside is brought inside, slightly imitated, but with a very personal touch, in the form of garments as well as in the creation of a fashion catwalk.
However, this imitation is only one side of the process, and perhaps the most obvious and visual one, but the core at the Swap-O-Rama-Rama is the mastering of skills and the sharing of ideas and material within a community. Thus the swap is an idea- and skill-expanding event where people in a group come to experience a collective empowerment as they together form a temporary and complementary fashion scene. The lonely fashionista remaking clothes at the kitchen table is no longer secluded but in the crowd of similar minded friends.
This step of forming a loose and self-organized group with a catalyst loop triggering each other makes the Swap-O-Rama-Rama an actual fashion event, however outside of the actual fashion system. By forming an own scene the people at the swap can form an own expression, share it and build a congregation with its own format, protocols and doctrine of fashion – which in this case is an open model of believers and makers, a critical mass empowering each other even after the event itself has ended.
What especially interests me in in the Swap-O-Rama-Rama in relation with fashion is how the second skin is used for empowerment, self-enhancement, and social change. For anthropologist Jane Schneider self-enhancement loosely refers to:
energizing the self and close others, perhaps organized in small groups, through life-affirming practices and rituals. Examples involving cloth and clothes include transforming the body and its surroundings in ways considered aesthetically or sexually attractive; dressing well to accrue prestige, the respect of others, a sense of worthiness or empowerment […] (Schneider, 203)
As a second skin cloth and clothing is always firmly connected to rituals within most human cultures.
As James J. Fox summarized for Indonesia’s outer islands, it ‘swaddles the newborn, wraps and heals the sick, embraces and unites the bride and groom, encloses the wedding bed, and in the end, enshrouds the dead’ (Schneider, 204)
Cloth and clothing follows us through life and especially mark the rituals performed at transitions between roles, entitlements, and life stages. Even the dead are wrapped or clothed believed to ensure their continuance as social beings.
As followed by this she claims two crucial aspects for understanding self-enhancement in relation to clothes: their aesthetic characteristics and their spirituality. Most often these aspects are combined into for example patterns and symbolically coded colours. The spiritual aspect can involve very distinct signs and symbolic functions, such as prints and applications protecting against the evil eye or black magic, but they can also connect the living with the world of spirits and divinities in more direct ways. In examples of spirit possession the restless spirit is not only believed to need a human body, “but human apparel, and to reveal its identity through demands for specific items of cloth and clothing.” (Schneider, 204)
Spiritual rituals are not only performed by wearers of clothes but also by the artisans and craftsmen making them. There are many ethnographic descriptions of
artisans performing rituals and observing particular taboos in the course of spinning, weaving, embroidering, brocading, dyeing and finishing their product. (Schneider, 205)
This especially involves dyeing, which before chemical colouring was a very secretive and expensive practice. It made dyers often closely connected to royal monopolies with “exotic substances, training, talent, and closely guarded secrets”. (Schneider, 205)
But what Schneider most expressively states is the spiritual value of clothing, is its relation to gifts and consumption, from potlatch rituals celebrations (of often spiritual meaning) to courtly consumption (as the “engine of sumptuosity”). The later is exemplified in the sixteenth-century court of Elizabeth, as she
communicated her aspirations for legitimacy, magistry, and godlike status by manipulating mythical, quasi-religious objects, and ensured the dependence of noble men and women by rewarding their self-indulgence at court. (Schneider, 207)
She continues further to distinguish these aspects as something more than mere communicative practices.
At the core of courtly sumptuosity is a complex of relations between persons and things in which persons make themselves, their surroundings and their close others, more vital through myriad rituals performances, through hospitality and generosity, through absorbing energy from spiritual and aesthetic dimensions of objects, as well as through showing off. Overtly communicative displays are only one piece of the puzzle and perhaps not the most significant. (Schneider, 208)
Consumers are not passive agents but navigate trough a dialectic of rebellion and appropriation (and more alternatives), but often the rebel style becomes yet another niche market. Likewise also spiritual rebellion takes shape through clothing, and vice versa. The contemporary discussions of the veil reflect some discussion of the early twentieth century introduction of trousers for women. There are also moralistic responses similar to that of St Francis, “the son of a prosperous leather merchant in a time of spreading opulence in Florence, held his rough, undyed robes together with a (pointedly not leather) rope belt.” (Schneider, 218)
This rebellion resembles the approach where the spiritual aspects of clothing are used for self-enhancement and inner change. St Francis could be seen as a punk from a communicative perspective, but he was much more, and his teachings reflected more of inner practices than a communicative trend of clothing (even though the discussions in Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose center around the question if Jesus owned his sandals or not)
The Swap-O-Rama-Rama is a method that shows alternatives to ready-to-wear consumption, interpassive fashion dictations, and the corporate rule of how fashion is produced and consumed.
By showing and sharing the methods and the open format of the whole event the swap creates courage and self-enhancement to the participants as well as it fights the anxiety of fashion (the anxiety of constant change and the “need” for change).
The open ritual of Swap-O-Rama-Rama shapes a congregation of hacker fashionistas, sharing skill, code and forms their own scene of fashion.
Fox, James, J. (1977) “Roti, Ndao and Savu”, in Mary Hunt Kahlenberg (ed.), Textile Tradition of Indonesia. Los Angeles: Country Museum
McCracken, Grant (1990) Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ. Press.
Schneider, Jane (2006) “Cloth and Clothing” in Handbook of Material Culture. (ed) Tilley, C. et al. London: Sage
Stephanie Syjuco / Counterfeit Crochet project
Stephanie Syjuco is a San Francisco-based artist who has for a long time been exploring counterfeits, black markets, and bootlegging industries as a part of her artistic practice. As a part of this practice she has also been running her own clothing label, Anti-factory, since 2003. It is a self produced brand of hand-made clothes which she sells over the internet and started out both as an art project and as a means for supporting herself.
Stephanie has been running her other craftivist project, the “Counterfeit Crochet Project”, since the beginning of 2006 when she started to make copies of exclusive fashion bags. The project grew into becoming a participatory counterfeit globally distributed factory as the bags now are produced by volunteers from all over the world.
The produced items of Anti-factory she also uses for trading artworks between participants in her projects; participants take part in her craft projects and get an anti-factory piece as “reward” or their work – and exchange of craft and time between fellow crafters. But this exchange is also a symbol of how the production economy works, “outsourcing” work, and replicating the global fashion market (she has participants from all over the world creating bags to the project – though they own their work themselves and they are credited for their work when the bags are exhibited). But his small economy is also a micro experiment on how an alternative economy can work at a low scale, still respecting and honoring the participation of everybody involved in the process, quoting each other’s “code” and building further on the project together.
The Anti-factory is totally home made and is released in a few collections a year of unique clothes where every piece is a unique combination of fabrics and cut. In the summer of 2007 she had made about 1500 pieces in the Anti-factory, which she has sold over her site, and the craft retail site Cut+Paste (www.cutxpaste.com)
The workshops are craft events from one point reclaiming skill and production back to the consumers – finding simple ways how to playfully learn to craft. Craft that can be both just for learning and practicing, or as a small sit-in and hands-on protest to factory working conditions, even if this is something not emphasized by Stephanie. Instead, by counterfeiting there is a direct relation made to the real objects of desire, the big brands and high-end consumer goods. The crocheting is not a drop-out position, neither a radical construction of a new fashion or utopian position. Instead it is a craft session in connection to the big mythology of fashion, connecting the craft into the channels of glamour, both in relation to commodities and practice.
This glamorous connection is easily made to the latest trend of celebrity knitting happening in for example Hollywood where a lot of knitting cafés have sprung up the latest years, symbolizing a new awareness of craft as a symbol of mindfulness and spare time leisure (Parkins). Also in popular Yoga magazines knitting and craft are accentuated as “the new yoga”, leaving distractions behind for mindful practices where craft and handiwork are said to connect to deeper insight and inner peace (Everman).
This development in what we view as exclusivity should be viewed together with the raise of the “it-bags” the iconic consumer commodities that have over the last decade become legendary objects of desire. Despite their prize, luxury goods have become less of a status mark as the social terrain is levelling out. It is a levelling not in the sense of material income, but many luxury brands offer cheaper alternatives, and of course there are the endless amounts of copies confusing the stratified system of distinction. But lately consumers have also shifted their behaviour. Instead of looking upwards to imitate prestigious groups, we look at our equals. Exclusivity has reached the masses, or as fashion theorist Junya Kawamura says - “Idolatry diminished; rivalry increased” (Kawamura, 98). The more equal possibilities we are offered in society, the bigger feeling of lack and anxiety. Envy grows as we flatten structural hierarchies, when anybody can have the position of a king, as argued by philosopher Alain de Botton in his book Status Anxiety.
The “it-bag” has diminished as a class marker and instead become a tool for expressing high-end identity – a combination of cultural and economic capital to use Bourdieu’s terminology. This development is captured by fashion theorist Diana Crane, and she remarks that today “the consumption of cultural goods, such as fashionable clothing, performs an increasingly important role in the construction of personal identity, while satisfaction of material needs and the emulation of superior classes are secondary.”(Crane, 11)
Stephanie herself calls the bags for counterfeits in “low resolution”. The images of the exclusive consumer goods are downloaded from the internet and printed, creating a pixilated look of the images used a reference for the production. This expression corresponds quite well with the pattern and method for reproducing them in crochet as the imitated designs get a rough expression with the crochet technique. Through this process the counterfeits explore the limits of craft as technique as well as political act, where questions are raised on where the borders are between copy and original as well as revaluing the worth of labor.
Every bag is made through “freeforming” where no formal pattern is made but the bag grows out of resemblance with the original image, leaving room for interpretation and improvisation. The projects is not made to encourage a basic set of instructions to be followed but Stephanie tries to promote a “healthy sense of experimentation on the maker’s part” (Syjuco, 58). Instead of using small needle and thin yarn she promotes the use of thick yarn to make the process fast and easier. It is not a question of making a perfect copy with exclusive threads but instead to “debase” the original and using common materials to interpret the couture.(Syjuco, 58)
I have dreams of an army of crocheters putting busy hands toward crafting their hearts’ desires, and both laughing at and paying homage to the “high-end” fashion world! (Syjuco, 60)
What Stephanie does in the Counterfeit Crochet Project is negotiating a special space for design dialogue between craft and fashion, between traditional skillfulness and the glamorously exclusive. She creates a new passage between two separated spheres and merge them into a new practice of dialogue.
A dialogue is about creating an interface, a platform for performing the dialogic act, a somewhat neutral ground. This interface is a thin space or membrane of “inter”, an in-between. It is not a line or border dividing as much as uniting. In itself it is an integrating force, as in “intermediality”, and a space of transition focused on by Dutch philosopher Henk Oosterling where he explores “the unstable and non-discursive quality of the being (esse) of this in-between (inter) as inter-esse.”(Oosterling, 2003, 31) This space is the room for the Gesamtkunstwerk, where different disciplines converge, complement and form an alloy in symbiosis.
Oosterling further argues that this in-between as factuality exists “before” any position, although we can only describe this before afterwards. It is a position of synthesis and a point of interest (interesse). He quotes Heidegger who means that “Inter-esse means: being with and between the things, being in-between and enduring this”.(Oosterling, 2003, 45)
As such we as persons have also become in-betweens: “former autonomous individuals, have turned into […] dividuals – split, cross-eyed persons (di-videre) whose lives are contractions of at least two perspectives”.(Oosterling, 2005) The subject is not a whole, not in-dividual, and neither can it enforce its own (auto) rules (nomos) on itself. It is not contained within itself. We are hybrids of many forces and by the media we have invented, channelling these flows at even greater speed. Of global and local, virtual and actual, private and public, they are no longer opposite but merge in conjunctional forms. Being and objects come to exist at the convergence point of flows and forces. Everything as “things”, parliament of forces and meanings, in the Heidegger sense.
This confuses our classic view on fashion as a mass-producing system of dictations and as fashion theorist Elisabeth Wilson says: “What we engage in is no longer only the relatively simple process of direct imitation, but the less conscious one of identification.”(Wilson, 157) Imitation is simple and employed by the classic Paris-based notion of fashion. Identification requires more influences and negotiations, and also more skilful attention. It can be an operation of creative “poaching”, but can also be more active with own participation and hands-on crafting of an own design position.
For understanding this design position we better return to Oosterling’s interpretations of Heidegger. Oosterling furthers his argument by examining the concept of Da-sein which Heidegger qualifies as Being-in [In-Sein] and Being-in-between [Zwischen]. (Oosterling, 2003) The Da-sein as in-between is at the heart of the inter-esse. The position of design is right there in the middle. Being present in-between, as mediator, negotiator or meddler. This is what Oosterling means: Design is the same as Da-sein.
As crafty fashionistas we are trapped in the in-between, remixing identities from various sources. But with the tools and skills we can at least have a wider choice of methods to get by. But we still face a negotiation with fashion, and fashion is a tough negotiation partner when coming to questions of identity. Since, to use the words of sociologist Rosalind Coward; “One thing fashion is quite categorically not is an expression of individuality.”(Coward)
de Botton, Alain (2005) Status Anxiety. London: Vintage
Coward, Rosalind (1984) Female desire. London: Paladin
Crane, Diane (2000) Fashion and its social agendas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Everman, Victoria (2007) “Stitched together”, Yoga Magazine. Issue 205, Sept 2007
Heidegger, Martin (1954) “Was heisst Denken”, in Vorträge und Aufsätze.
Kawamura,Yuniya (2005) Fashion-ology. Oxford: Berg,
Oosterling, Henk (2003) “Sens(a)ble Intermediality and Interesse” in Intermedialites. No 1, Printemps
Oosterling, Henk (2005) “Radical medi@crity” in Ba-bel, Photo Illustrierte, Berlin
Parkins, Wendy (2004) “Celebrity Knitting and the Temporality of Postmodernity”, Fashion Theory. Vol. 8, No. 4, Dec. 2004
Syjuco, Stephanie (2007) “Anatomy of a Counterfeit” Craft, Jan 2007, Vol 2
Wilson, Elizabeth (1985) Adorned in Dreams. London: Virago
Megan Nicolay - refashioning the elementary
Megan Nicolay started remaking clothes when she was very young and self-made clothes have always been an essential part of her wardrobe. The Generation-T book, which is a collection of 108 step-by-step t-shirt transformations, came out in 2006 and has been very popular in the US over the last years. At the gallery she showed the methods of refashioning to the visitors with a lot of humor and great skill, as the number of participants reached new records.
With an explicitly open approach, as almost everyone has some t-shirts and a pair of scissors, her practice is to make it very easy for people to start refashioning their t-shirts. As Megan explains it everyone can participate: “Generation-T is all-inclusive – if you wear T-shirts, you’re part of it.” (Nicolay: 2) The first third of the book displays methods of only cutting the t-shirt in various ways, and thus to get started no sewing skills are needed. Her methods are encouraging simplicity and an easy way to engage with the material. Start where you are and use the tools at hand: “If you own a pair of scissors, you’re already equipped to make one-third of the projects in this book. The others that do require a needle and thread can be made entirely by hand, no sewing machine needed…” (Nicolay: 3)
A basic question raised in Megan’s practice is a redefinition of the exclusive. How an everyday piece of clothing as the t-shirt can be made into something unique and rare. A mass-produced object appropriated and turned into something personal. However, one can object that following a manual from a best selling book is hardly neither unique nor personal. This view though focus on the wrong side of what Megan tries to say. The skill of refashioning is not so much a material aspect as a question of exploration and skill. The final outcome – the t-shirt – is a token and a proof of the journey, more than the aim in itself. The exclusivity is not so much about having a transformed garment as much as spending the time and effort to do so.
The use of second hand t-shirts as raw material for the re-fashioning exercises is interesting as it turns the lowest of the low of used clothing into the potential of the empowered new. In fashion theorist Caroline Evans article “The Golden Dustman” she traces the history of use of second-hand clothing and relates it closely to the marginal position of rag pickers as similar to prostitutes. They were the lowest and weakest of citizens together with scavengers and pedlars inhabiting the slums and rookieries of central London (Evans: 83).
As argued by dress historian Madeleine Ginsburg second hand clothing has at least since the seventeenth century dealt in “need and aspiration” (Ginsburg: 101). She continues; “secondhand clothes became in the working class mythology … a symbol of poverty and lower class oppression and patronage” (Ginsburg: 128). Second-hand clothing was also to be endured as enforced “gifts” from an employer to a servant (Ginsburg: 129) – something we can easily identity in the t-shirt these days, a highly common merchandise and advertisement gift, where the wearer becomes yet another branded product and often unreflected advertiser.
The “abject” second-hand material is processed with the help of Megan into something highlighting another side of the garments life. Reincarnated they go through an alchemic process and turns from lead to gold, and with the help of Megan anyone can become the “Golden Dustman” (Boffin, the “Golden Dustman” in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, turning dust-heaps into profitable business – as Margiela in Evans’ article).
Megan’s choice of t-shirts as material is not only because their everyday presence in our society, but also because of the material: Jersey.
“Besides being one of the most accommodating fabrics out there, jersey is especially amenable to being cut up and refashioned. A little insight into my relationship:
1. Jersey doesn’t unravel or fray, so you can leave your cuts raw and unfinished for that rough-ended look.
2. It’s incredibly low-maintenance – it doesn
’t require ironing and demands less upkeep and care than most other fabrics.
3. It’s easy to sew and fit, and drapes well.
4. It tends to curl at the ends when you cut it – which is especially handy when cutting drawstrings.
5. Did I mention it’s just plain fun to wear? But you already knew that.”(Nicolay: 4)
At the core of Megan’s practice is a lustful and almost disrespectful play with the material. DIY is fun and a pair of scissors is the entrance into this world, a place of endless possibilities, where you are the designer and main character. In a consumer culture, which can be seen as radically disempowering and disabling, Megan wants to draw us into action and help us to engage in free activities, leading to a basic sense of independence or freedom.
It is a methodology of engagement, fighting passivity. A passivity Tom Hodgkinson phrases nicely in his book How to be Free:
“We watch other people doing things instead of doing them ourselves. This makes us radically powerless, and powerlessness leads to anxiety. And anxiety leads to shopping. Shopping leads to debt. Dept leads back to anxiety.” (Hodgkinson: 15)
It is from this anxiety Megan helps us into DIY-therapy. By facing the boring nine-to-five system we are stuck in, where we only work to earn enough to try to buy our way out of this boredom. “We pay someone else to alleviate our boredom. We bore ourselves in order to earn the money that we later spend in trying to de-bore ourselves.” (Hodgkinson: 24)
Instead of subscribing and accepting this logic of work and leisure (or as Hodgkinson phrases it, to continue “feed the hand that bites us”), it is at the everyday the battlefield is situated. Megan helps us experience the many-faced power of DIY refashioning, not only doing unique things and gaining skills and independence, but most important - fight boredom and have fun on the path to emancipation!
Evans, Caroline (1998) “The Golden Dustman: A critical evaluation of the work of Martin Margiela and a review of Martin Margiela: Exhibition (9/4/1615)”, in Fashion Theory, Vol. 2, Iss. 1
Ginsburg, Madeleine (1980) “Rags to Riches: The Second-Hand Clothes trade 1700-1978”, Costume, 14: 121-35
Hodgkinson, Tom (2007) How to be Free, London: Penguin
Nicolay, Megan (2006) Generation-T, New York: Workman
Cat Mazza and the operations of consumer myth
The works of Cat Mazza can be seen as a prolific example of craftivist practice as she elaborately bridges many levels of skill, participation and networked protest. Her agenda is facing both very specific politics as well as consumerism in general and she in a very hands-on way creates interfaces for participation and sharing of craft skills. The projects she run has a sharp edge against how fashion operates at the heart of capitalism and consumerism. To frame her practice I will try to highlight it from two perspectives; the contemporary society engulfed in consumerism myths and its radical critique from the ideology of primitivism.
We can view fashion as a myth in Roland Barthes’ sense; a specific language forming a system of belief, as he means in his famous book Mythologies. A myth is a social construction, rooted in our experience of living in the world and it forms the basic for our understanding of it. The myth is in itself the “first explanatory principle formulated by men” as French philosopher Michel Serres means (Harari & Bell). As a culturally situated knowledge, it is based on intersubjective agreements, developed from our shared experiences. For fashion, it is a myth about status, clothes, and society, elevating this shimmering concept into a “higher” order of narratives and social existence.
Fashion in contemporary society is deeply connected to a myth of consumption, based on endless chains of transformation and exchange. In haute couture these transformations (of goods, physical garments, collections) still happen in seasonal cycles, in collections, and these form the heartbeats vivifying the myth. In retail chains, like H&M and Zara, these regular pulses have now become a constant flow where new looks emerge in a continuous stream. The energy comes from “linguistic theft”, argues Barthes, making natural something that has been culturally or socially constructed (Barthes). And indeed, to fashion consumerism is its natural habitat. Jean Baudrillard means:
Consumption is a myth. That is to say, it is a statement of contemporary society about itself, the way our society speaks of itself. And, in a sense, the only objective reality of consumption is the idea of consumption … which has acquired the force of common sense. (Baudrillard: 193)
Like myth it is about a continuum of meaning, something that happens all the time, recreating itself, as we live in it.
It should however be noticed that the consumer myth is not a veiled situation of obscurity or uncertainty, but an enlightened order, rationale and central to our phase in modernity.
According to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman the solid modernist society of production has been transformed into a liquid modernist society of consumption. In this new form society is not organized around production but instead around consumption, meaning that we as subjects also turn into objects of consumption – the “commoditization of consumers”. The subjects need to recast themselves into new forms that are “simultaneously, both the promoters of commodities and the commodities they promote.” (Bauman: 6) We are subjects who are at the same time objects and our independent or autonomous subjectivity is highly instable. “Just like the commodity fetishism which haunted the society of producers, the subjectivity fetishism that haunts the society of consumers is ultimately grounded in an illusion.” (Bauman: 19)
Consumers’ ‘subjectivity’ is made out of shopping choices […] its description takes the form of the shopping list. What is assumed to be the materialization of the inner truth of the self is in fact an idealization of the material – objectified – traces of consumer choices. (Bauman: 15)
Bauman further means that as consumption becomes the “principal propelling and operating force of society” we enter a situation of consumerism. Consumerism is an attribute of society while consumption is a trait and occupation of individuals. (Bauman: 28) It is a society where individuals in a situation of need always look to commodities for satisfaction; “New needs need new commodities; new commodities need new needs and desires”. (Bauman: 31)
Consumerism is based on and extension of the division between production and consumption through human history, a divergence that has been established through the establishment of civilization (the city) and especially capitalism. The consequence was that “an extendable space opened up between the act of production and the act of consumption, each of the two acts acquired growing autonomy from the other – so that they could be regulated, patterned and operated by mutually independent sets of institutions.” (Bauman: 26)
Critique of the consumerist society is effectively absorbed into the body of consumerism itself, as effectively shown in Potter and Hearth’s book Rebel Sell, where they argue that it is non-conformist counter-culture itself that is one of the major engines of competitive culture today, triggering even further consumption. This is a view similar to that of Bauman. He means effectively all and any dissent can be absorbed and “integrated in the prevailing order in such a way that dominant interests continue to be served. This way they are made unthreatening to the prevailing order.” (Bauman: 48f) This is a stratagem called “silent silencing” by sociologist Thomas Mathiesen where every act of resistance is converted into an actual reinforcement of the current consumerist society. Resistance in consumerist society is not only futile, it is also counter productive.
There are however some movements who consider themselves as more radical than simply counter-culture as they propose a deep change of contemporary society and its myths. One that could be interesting to explore here is the extremist DIY movement of primitivism (or anarcho-primitivism), an ideology against not only consumerism, but also against its source; civilization and technology in general. The aim is to re-wild our society, for some as far as back to a feral and egalitarian hunter-gatherer state. Their goal is to destroy all institutions, mediations, systems, abstraction, and specialization – to become uncivilized. Most known of these theorists (and activists) is John Zerzan, principally against agriculture and every form of compromise like permaculture, horticulture or gardening, and the very hands-on critic Theodore Kaczynski (the Una-bomber).
For primitivists, the division of labour is a typical example of disempowerment perpetuated by civilization; “We are more useful to the system, and less useful to ourselves, if we are alienated from our own desires and each other through division of labour and specialization.” (Green Anarchy) They also see our dependency on technology and the alienation that happen through institutionalization as an oppressive and unsustainable mechanism. The brutality of civilization takes many shapes, from state and school to central government and our dependency on symbols, text and interpretation. Not all primitivists are against literacy but most are very skeptical to our culture’s fixation on mediation. “Symbolic culture filters our entire perception through formal and informal symbols. It’s beyond just giving names, but having an entire relationship to the world that comes through the lens of representation.” (Green Anarchy)
However, primitivists usually make a distinction between technology and tools. For them technology is the supportive system for techno-capitalist industrialism, science, division of labour, exploitation, resource extraction, factories, and mass production. According to John Zerzan technology is a form of specialization and it “divides and narrows the individual, brings in hierarchy, creates dependency and works against autonomy. It also drives industrialism and hence leads directly to the eco-crisis.” (Zerzan) The technological systems leads to an existence independent of its makers, and thus without responsibility, that meticulously abuse and subordinates humans and nature. Even if technology sometimes can be used for good it embodies overtly bad qualities. Tools are instead immediate and simple extensions of our bodies, not complex systems creating alienation. As primitivist John Moore states: “Tools are creations on a localised, small-scale, the products of either individuals or small groups on specific occasions. As such, they do not give rise to systems of control and coercion.” (Moore) They enhance skills and our engagement in our immediate surroundings, but do not form “impersonal institution” as primitivist Fredy Perlman calls it. The simple transparency of tools avoids delegation and thus authority to instead reclaim freedom of action to the wielder.
Even though their uncompromising rhetoric (and in many cases “eco-fascist” viewpoints) it is this last part of primitivism that I want to intersect with craftivism, DIY culture and especially the practice of Cat Mazza. Cat has nothing to do with primitivism and is in no way proposing any return to hunter gatherer state or that we all should be totally self sustaining (she even uses a high-tech knit-machine!). But her practice involves a radical critique against our passive role in consumerism, our loss of initiative, quality and craftsmanship, and she turns this into a very political agenda. How to use craft as a tool for building another understanding of how we live and can sustain a critical edge in consumerist society.
This view of craft as an anchoring of skill into our lives she shares with sociologist Richard Sennett who elaborates on this in his book The Culture of the New Capitalism. In this book he means the new spirit of capitalism (which is similar to Bauman’s description of consumerism) can only be fought through narratives, meaning, and craftsmanship. Especially the craftsmanship is central to Sennett. It is the skill of exceeding the ordinary with quality, getting the job right with patience and artistry, and doing something for oneself in a kind of altruistic spirit, for the joy of creation. A specific characteristic of quality anchored to history and cultural tradition.
Cat’s craftivist methodology is based on broad participation and the creation of several interfaces for spreading the knowledge of knitting as well as organizing collaborative knit-ins, both through workshops and with home-made internet tools on her site microRevolt.org. One such example is the Nike petition patch-work, a 14 feet wide blanket with the Nike swoosh, where participants from over 20 countries collaborated to knit over 500 patches. The finished blanket will now be sent to Nike founder Phil Knight as a petition for fair labour policies for Nike garment workers. On the microRevolt site there is an interactive map of the blanket where the visitor can identify the name and hometown of every patch in the assemblage.
In her most recent project, Stitch for Senate, she reverses the traditional knitting on the “home-front” in support for a war effort (there was a special knit-issue of Life magazine when the US entered the WWII encouraging homework for the front). In Stitch for Senate Cat organized a network of home knitters to create knitted helmet linings or balaclavas. A solidarity knitting from the home front that goes the way over the US senate before reaching the soldiers as a petition against the war.
The tool-craft of knitting is taken back from the division of labour and consumerism through the works of Cat and put into a context of protest. On a low level the knitting is about re-learning a traditional craft and skills that are disappearing for many families. Knitting is in this sense a traditional transparent tool and a form of volunteer primitivism. But Cat’s practice is also about building community and forming alliances for protest and has a very political agenda of empowerment in the face of consumerism. Cat makes knitting is a tool for enabled and skillful dissent.
Barthes, Roland (1957) Mythologies.
Baudrillard, Jean (1998) The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Sage: London
Bauman, Zygmunt (2007) Consuming Life, Cambridge: Polity Press
Green Anarchy Collective (2003?) Green Anarchy, vol 4, at www.greenanarchy.org
Harari, J.V & Bell, D.F, “Introduction: Journal à plusieurs voies”, in Serres, M. (1982) Hermes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U.P., page xxxi.
Moore, John, “A Primitivist Primer” at www.eco-action.org/dt/primer.html
Pearlman, Fredy (1983) Against His-story, Against Leviathan! Detroit: Black & Red
Potter & Heath (2005) Rebel Sell, Chichester : Capstone, 2005
Sennett, Richard (2006) The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press
Zerzan, John, interview at www.primitivism.com/zerzan.htm
Junky Styling artfully deconstructing the suit
Junky Styling has been operating their business from the Truman Brewery by Brick Lane in London for over ten years, starting out from the beginning recycling suits. During the years they have perfected their skills and are now creating highly exclusive finish on their innovatively de/reconstructed garments. Their approach is still, however, very accessible and thus their work really gives street style a new stylish and very well dressed meaning.
Their method is all about “deconstruction”, a style that became popular in the 90s through the works of haute couture brands like Maison Martin Margiela, Comme des Garcons and Undercover. This style of often recycled or dismantled garments came into the spotlight of fashion media in a time when vintage clothing became hyped together with the grunge style and the heroin-chic ideal, all styles reaching the haute couture with a slight decadent and non-glossy approach to dress. Still a highly elitist ideal, it had not much to do with punkish DIY but instead of economic regression and uncertainty after the fall of the Berlin wall. The October 1989 show of Martin Margiela in the Paris banlieue, featuring many of his deconstructed and recycled garments echoed, according to photographer Bill Cunningham who documented the show, “the collapse of political and social order in Eastern Europe.” (Cunningham) However, the style of Junky is always (paradoxically) performed with great skill and quality finish. Their work is produced with high precision, never having an appearance of distress or of unfinished tacking (which, on the other hand, is often done on purpose and with great skill in the haute couture).
The method of Junky is to reuse the well made sartorial material of the suit for creating unexpected new forms, but also to preserve its stylish “nature” or connotations. This could mean to break open instabilities in its form, to reinterpret specific shapes in the pattern and transform into new functions and forms, such as unstitching the front piece of a suit jacket to make it into a woman’s “cross-over-top”, folded over the breast. Their practice of “sartorial surgery” (also expressed in the use of scalpels for unpicking garment seams) is a way of revealing the “secret” craftsmanship hidden inside suits, their concealed “intelligent design”. This sartorial secret is usually, as expressed by fashion theorist Alison Gill, hidden “seamlessly” inside garments (Gill: 27).
What happens when a garment is recycled or even “re-imagined” as in the practices of Margiela and Junky is that it is repurposed and transformed beyond the original intentions (“hacked” it could be said). According to Gills this can be defined as “a practice of ‘undoing’, [as] deconstructionalist fashion liberates the garment from functionality, by literally undoing it.” (Gill: 35) The concept of “liberation” is interesting as it is a rhetoric used in many abstract hacking practices, such as liberation theology or the stealing of clothes by the Spanish YOMANGO movement. Liberating clothing from meaning, function, or ownership. The practice of Junky can be read as highly liberating as they openly re-imagine the forms we understand and engage with the use of men’s suits.
Like Margiela, Junky is working with remaking old clothing and in the process reformulates one of the basic logics of fashion; making new of the old and in the procedure get a singularity of unique garments out of general methods or designs. This is a fascination of the single piece, as highlighted by fashion theorist Barbara Vinken, something that traditionally was exclusively reserved to the artwork. It is the initiation of a fashion based on duration rather than change. (Vinken: 143) In her book Fashion Zeitgeist she raises this approach on fashion design as one aspect of what she calls “postfashion”:
"Every piece that is made according to this method, regardless of how many versions there may be, is a unique piece, because the materials that are used in it are unique. […] Since the piece has taken time into itself, Margiela can hope that the traces of time will complete the work: it can age like a painting." (Vinken: 143)
To call Junky’s or Margiela’s practice “recycling” would be too much of an understatement as it is so much more and actually reinforces the material into an object of higher status than its original incarnation. If the garments are in some relation “cycled” they are “upcycled”, quite like the art pieces produced by Austrian art group WochenKlausur. “Upcycling is a procedure akin to recycling in which waste material and worn out goods are reprocessed directly into new products without being reduced to raw materials.” (Zinggl: 87) They are even so upcycled that they leave the consumer object cycle to enter the timeless state of unique artworks.
Another aspect of deconstructed fashion taken up by Alison Gill is the purposeful use of “traces” in garments. This reuse practice that underlines the object’s history is “both a critique of fashion’s impossibility, against its own rhetoric, to be ‘innovative’, while at the same time showing its dependence on the history of fashion.”(Gill: 31) According to Gill this critique can also be seen in how Margiela “also deconstructs the hierarchical relation that persists between the exclusivity of designer fashion and everyday clothes.” (Gill: 31) Nevertheless, Margiela’s final garments are highly exclusive, fashionable, and pricy, and still represents the top of the fashion hierarchy. Gill’s assumption that Margiela’s deconstructed garments somehow should bridge the gap between fashion and the everyday might be true on a material level, but hardly from a perspective of participation.
On the contrary, the fashion of Margiela is in no way inviting to any form of participation or co-creation from the customers or public. Even the shop attendants in the Margiela stores wear white lab coats to identify with a total expert role, cold disinterest and disconnectedness from the everyday world (even of they can be very helpful). With Junky, their practice is the opposite. The closeness to the everyday world is something emphasized in the way Junky worked in the workshop, where participants were offered the patterns and methods to remake garments the Junky way, or rethink new way with their assistance.
What is so beautifully exemplified in the works produced by the participants with the supervision from Junky is how a democratization of fashion does not have to be unedited, unskilled or looking bad. Contrary to how many see DIY or amateur work as dilettante practices, it can essentially produce highly crafted objects. An example of this ridiculing view on DIY and amateur culture has reached a lot of readers through Andrew Keen’s book “Cult of the Amateur” where he discusses how the Internet is changing our culture to the worse. Already in his definition of “amateur” he is putting the tone of his argument:
“The traditional meaning of the word "amateur" is very clear. An amateur is a hobbyist, knowledgeable or otherwise, someone who does not make a living from his or her field of interest, a layperson, lacking credentials, a dabbler.” (Keen: 36)
What Keen so happily neglects is the etymological root of the word, from Latin “amare” – to love. However, his view is very typical for these days, where it is usually only the work of “professionals” (e.g. paid to do what you do) that counts as real contributions to our culture. The better paid - the better work, is a type of reasoning making its logic clear.
Further, Keen is not only against open sharing of knowledge ad skills, open licenses and collaborative work processes. He despises democratization in his relentless attacks on the amateur: “Because democratization, despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience, and talent.” (Keen: 15)
However, what he misses is the continuous re-editing that opens through democratization, as well as the possibility to develop new skills and practices. This generates the possibility for a continuous process of step-by-step reformation of the everyday. Open platforms offered by these new scenes and tools also bypass gatekeepers and gives room for skills to grow at places where they before would be regarded as meaningless.
Out of old and used things new beauty can emerge, praising a system of exquisite elegance. However elitist the fashion system is Junky Styling shows how amateurs can form the most graceful garments out of the discarded. This is not only an embodiment of hope for individual change, but also an example of how a seemingly oppressive system can be tuned into a tool for aspirations and high esteem. As such this highly skilled craftsmanship, manifested from the hands of a collective of laymen, brings hope to the ones shut out from the exclusive fashion system. The beauty created can raise us from our average dullness, liberate us from daily despair, and motivate us in the change of society and its structures. Such as trying to create fashionable beauty, collaboratively, and outside of the fashion structures. In a small place not on appearing on the fashion map.
Cunningham, Bill (1990) “Fashion du Siecle”, Details 8, no. 8.
Gill, Alison (1998) “Deconstruction Fashion: The making of Unfinished, Decomposing and Re-assembled Clothes”, in Fashion Theory, Vol. 2, Iss. 1.
Keen, Andrew (2007) Cult of the Amateur, New York: Doubleday
Vinken, Barbara (2005) Fashion Zeitgeist, Oxford: Berg
Zinggl, Wolfgang, ed (2001) WochenKlausur, Sociopolitical Activism in Art. Wien: Springer
Rudiger Schlomer and the Evil Eye of Media Attention
In the project by German artist Rüdiger Schlömer a “Button Exchange” was established in the gallery, a former bank office. Together with his partner, Irene Breckner, he created a pool of new and used buttons from which visitors could exchange their buttons, either to a new one or to one inherited from a previous owner. Every participant was photographed with their new buttons and the polaroids put onto the wall.
The buttons exchanged were “updated” with reflexive fabric into “special effects” buttons. Either by wrapping them into the reflexive fabric or creating a slightly larger “Halo” of fabric to put behind the reattached button, like a reflexive shadow a few millimetres larger than the button diameter. This halo acts like a “sleeper”, an infiltrated hidden agent. It acts as an potential asset activated at a later point in time by a photographic flash. If in sudden attention, the reflexive button will flash back at the camera, releasing its hidden potential of being a very special button.
Through the lifetime of the button exchange visitors exchanged their buttons for other ones, attached on cards on the wall. The cards holding the buttons had the previous owners name and contact information written on so the contact information was exchanged with every step. Together with their photo long chains of button ancestry could be traced on the wall.
Of special significance in understanding these new buttons can be the similarity with the Turkish Nazar-talisman – the blue medallion protecting from the Evil Eye. Rudiger’s button, as a new “Media Nazar”, acts as a protective amulet for the Evil Eye of media attention, shining back into the camera lens as the owner gets their 15 minutes of fame or walks the red carpet.
Let us look deeper into the meaning of the Evil Eye. The Evil Eye is a curse of envy, of an envious person casting a spell. According to political writer Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson) the Evil Eye is an “invidious Envy - the active manifestation of passive resentment - projected outward thru the gaze.” (Bey)
At the core of the belief in Evil Eye is that some people can bestow a curse on victims by a “magical eye”, malevolent gaze. However, in its most common form it attributes the cause to the malediction of envy. Here the envious person casting the “spell” does so unintentionally. But according to Bey this is its strongest application:
It's especially when we're unconscious of such magic that it works best -- moreover, it's known that the possessor of the Eye is nearly always unconscious -- not a true black magician, but almost a victim -- yes, but a victim who escapes malignity by passing it on, as if by reflex. (Bey)
The specific harm done by the Evil Eye is that it causes living beings to dehydrate, animals fall ill and wither, buildings crack or burst. Usual illnesses caused by the evil eye are loss of appetite, excessive yawning, hiccoughs, vomiting and fever – all causing the effect of “drying up”. (Dundes 1992) As a consequence, the cure is usually related to moistness, to the sea, to fishes, something that explains also the predominant blue colour of the talismans.
As mentioned the Evil Eye is a jinx or curse called forth by the sin of envy – protection can come from symbolic talismans but preferably through the “good eye” (sometimes called the “eye of Abraham”), which is the protection from envy, through modesty, humility, and good faith, through the wisdom of God and his messengers - the insight that we are but dust and ashes. (Ulmer: 11f)
To understand the “evil” in the Evil Eye is thus not to frame it into some satanic or morbid position, but to bring forth its unintended and ubiquitous practice. Not to think of it as a planned conspiracy or part of a greater evil plan, but an unfortunate part in the small play of everyday life, however bitter and cynical that may be. “The opposite of the gaze of love is not the gaze of hate, but that of envy, passive, unliving in itself, vampirically attracted to the life in others.” (Bey)
The protective talismans can be seen more as reminders of the existence of the Evil Eye, more than supernatural artifacts, a “memento mori” of our inherent ability for falling into envy.
To put the Evil Eye into a contemporary and possibly fashion related perspective it can be interesting to juxtapose it with what is immanent in our concept of the Eye – “attention”. And this is a concept highly important in an age of “information”. As mentioned by social scientist Herbert Simon; an abundance of information causes a scarcity of attention. (Simon) Indeed, this notion causes big changes in how economists understand the paradigm of industrial production, as it is today easy to mass-produce a wealth of products and information, but harder to grasp the audience’s attention, something modeled by economists as “attention management” or “attention economy”. It is an economy where the currency itself is ephemeral and priceless. To handle attention is, in today’s management, “the single most important determinant of business success.” (Davenport and Beck: 3)
Following this, the value of attention (or of attention multiplied with credibility) becomes a hard currency in the hands of those collecting, analysing, and understanding it. We can see more and more of this these days, with the algorithms mapping our web searches (Google advertising), social networking (Facebook), and shopping behaviours (Amazon). The ownership of this data is heavily debated, as it is indeed very personal and private, and can be used for guided spamming or information pollution. Following the corporate ownership of this sensitive data the “AttentionTrust” was founded as a lobby to guarantee users' rights to own, move, and exchange their attention data – to put “the user in control of their Attention data.” (AttentionTrust)
Within this new economy it is possible to argue that desiccation (to fall out of interest, to lose energy) is the worst curse possible, an Evil Eye of attention. To run out of “juice” is to run out of power. The humour becomes “dry” and the laughter sardonic.
It can be interesting to intersect these two lines of argument, the curse of the Evil Eye and the Attention economy, with a logic of fashion.
Philosopher Jean Baudrillard has argued that on top of all consumer products “floats” a layer of “simulation” (as shimmering oil on water), a symbolic value, disconnected from Marx’s use- or exchange-values This is a value connected to advertising, hype, and social relations, and it masks the “real” to instead become the factual value of a product (Poster). From this notion of the “floating” simulation fashion can be understood anew, as the value of fashion can be said to “rain” down on garments to make them fashionable (mostly, as we usually imitate behaviours and values from persons we “look up to”).
For better understanding the forces behind this symbolic “rain” that comes down over the garments, it might be illuminating to use the ideas by physicist Arthur Iberall when he describes societies in various states engaged in phase transitions. In stages between gas, liquid and crystal he sees various forms of interaction and stability of systems. If we use the stages of water H2O, as steam, water and ice, we can say that fashion “rains” down over the garments in liquid form. Fashion as a symbol is amorphous but still recognizable as fashion. We notice when we are wet by it, it reflects the light differently, it shimmers. When a fashion “dries up” on the garment, it is once again just a garment, keeping all its other values, but looses its fashion value.
Street fashion and styles are usually in gas form, in turbulent clouds. They are in low density form, not stable and hardly recognizable. If contracting the heat from the media flashlight it evaporates upwards. If it reaches the high-rise glass pyramid of the fashion system the gas condensates on its surface, to become part of its translucent exterior. It liquefies and can rain down again.
On the contrary, some styles are more solid, not so much in change in their expression. They are crystallized, in ice format, being constituent elements having fixed positions in space. Such as institutional garments, priest robes, coronation mantels, Vatican guard uniforms. They rarely change, if ever, since their foremost value lies in their crystallised form. Once they were in fashion (or at least in relation to it), but now they are petrified forms of clothing, in a fossilized state of “anti-fashion”. (Bernard: 12) It sometimes happens though that crystallized code is once again heated up in the spotlight of fashion, actualized, to become part of a new liquefied fashion, or to solidify once again but under the influence of the current zeitgeist.
The code, the expressions, of the sign system is then the molecules of H2O. They move and interact differently in each state. In gas state they are energized wildly and interconnect in a savage and unorthodox swarm-like manner. In liquid form they are institutionalized but still flow in an ephemeral, but very recognizable form. In crystal shape they are stratified and still, not to effect the surrounding environment very much. (Iberall)
To once again return to the curse of desiccation, the jinx of the Evil Eye, it is a curse of “drying up” the fashion value, due to overexposure attention has melted away in the heat of the media flashlights. In a climate of heated envy the liquid fashion evaporates. The shimmer is gone; the glistening surface is once again lifeless and dull. To protect oneself there is a need for a talisman. A reflective medallion, to cast back the light, to deflect the heat wave. But also as a “memento mori”, a reminder that we will never be in control of the 15 minutes of fame media might offer some of us in the flashlights of fashion.
Bernard, Malcolm (1996) Fashion as Communication. London: Routledge
Bey, Hakim (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson): “Evil Eye” at www.hermetic.com/bey/evil_eye.html
Davenport, Thomas and John Beck (2001) The Attention Economy : Understanding the New Currency of Business. Harvard Business School press
DeLanda, Manuel (1997) A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History. NY: Zone.
Dundes, Allen (1992) The Evil Eye: A Casebook. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press
Iberall, Arthur (1987) ”A Physics for the Study of Civilizations.” in Self-organizing Systems: The Emergence of Order. ed. Yates, E. New York: Plenum
Poster, Mark (ed.) (1988) Jean Baudrillard / Selected writings, Cambridge : Polity
Simon, Herbert (1971) “Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World”, in Martin Greenberger (ed.) Computers, Communications and the Public Interest, Johns Hopkins Press
Ulmer, Rivka (1994) The Evil Eye in the Bible and in Rabbinic Literature, Hoboken: KTAV Publishing House
SHRWR - Fashioning the commons
SHRWR is a group of young designers and critical theorists based in Göteborg, Sweden, with an aim to set fashion free, free from ownership. For the exhibition they were represented with a four member team to share their modus operandi of fashion. Their process relies on three lines of action and approaches to their basic element – clothing. “From scratch” are garments made from open source patterns, patterns they shared in the gallery for visitors to make copies of. “Stolen” are garments liberated from the market to become freely shared (with a change of labels to SHRWR ones). Finally “remade” garments converted in form into free fashion for the public domain.
SHRWRs statement begins:
Sharewear is clothing owned and paid for by no one. With no restraints we’re keeping things free. We make original clothing-lines with global distribution. We also take and re-make existing clothes, setting them free into the world. Because sharing is caring. Ownership is out of fashion.
During their workshop SHRWR made new garments, printed free t-shirts which they got in Istanbul, as well as reconstructed garments collected at the gallery during earlier workshops. As seem above, SHRWR proposes that fashion and clothes should be shared, not possessed – or as they phrase it; “Ownership is out of fashion”. In this form, their line of argument is very close to the discussions of “gift economies” in the open source programming community (from which they have also created their name – Shareware – Sharewear - SHRWR)
Typically, a gift economy occurs in a culture or subculture of social relationships that emphasizes social or intangible rewards for generosity. These might be connected to religious beliefs, such as karma, but also stemming from social commitments through honor or loyalty. The basic format of a gift economy is founded on a mutual understanding - the gift recipients are expected to give something in return, such as support, services or loyalty, or even return gifts and favors in some way. Or at least live up to the “expectations” concealed in the gift, to be used according to the intentions of the giver. It is in this way a form of reciprocal altruism (the reciprocal behavior or transaction being the key component of an “exchange” in economy).
Sociologist Marcel Mauss argued that gifts are never "free". Instead, human history is full of examples that gifts give rise to reciprocal exchange, or as he terms it: "the objects are never completely separated from the men who exchange them." (Mauss: 31) This means certain favors are indeed tied to specific obligations. Even if Mauss does not see it, these obligations are sometimes enforced through various forms of, if not physical, but social power.
However, not all gifts lead to a bond between the giver and taker – as in the situation of passers-by giving money to beggars, with no intention of the money ever being repaid. This is something underlined by cultural critic Lewis Hyde as he means "
There are times when we want to be aliens and strangers." (Hyde: 68) One of the freedoms of the “free” commodity market is that we can remain anonymous to each other, for good and bad. A gift creates a social connection, a "feeling bond." Commodity exchange does not. (Hyde: 56) This makes commodity exchange more efficient and the foundation of what we today regard as economics. Using the medium of money also helps escape the reciprocity of the gift, as money seldom possesses personal qualities.
What SHRWR is doing is to explore a possible approach to an access based understanding of fashion, something resonating well with how the history of computing has developed. From very few big computers to a mass of small devices, ubiquitous computing. Or as argued by Jeremy Rifkin; from possession to access. Rifkin proposes that as markets make way for networks, ownership is being replaced by access-rights (leasing, subscriptions etc) because ownership becomes increasingly marginal to business success and economic progress. Likewise consumers prefer to lease and rent instead of “owning things” as the speed of consumerism makes products (emotionally) obsolete ever faster. It is no longer maximizing production and sales that matter but minimizing commodity production and instead earn from usage time and access. One of the reasons for this change is that the value of commodities was before linked to material scarcity, but what is scarce in the “network economy” is time. Disney is one of Rifkin’s examples, of how it mines our cultural heritage to transform it into easy accessible formats of entertainment experiences, in movies, theme parks and cosy residential communities. Disney’s economy is based on the access its customers pay for.
Design theorist Ezio Manzini puts this evolution into a historical perspective as he means that this change is actually a return to pre-industrial economy. In the early industrial era services became materialized as products, and these were encouraged to be individually owned, as they then took an basic commodity form, easy to frame into an emerging capitalist market economy (laundry service becomes washing machine, playing music becomes the record player). This democratized access (to an initial high prize), but petrified the service into a physical configuration. In Manzini’s argument, this process is also the foundation of our contemporary un-sustainable western lifestyle, as almost every service and its physical machinery is environmentally cumbersome. In late modernism products once again turn to services, but in the form of experiences. The shopping mall (that offer any product) turns into the theme park (offering any experience), etc. However, this service usually adds on top of the ownership, not replacing it. Those who can afford get both a spa-treatment at their luxurious retreat AND beauty products, while the poor get the cheap creams at Wal-mart and dream of remaking their bathroom.
In the argument of Manzini our current society if funded on a product-based well being, and for us to shape a sustainable future we must think beyond the products, expose the underlying services we need and to create a more service (or access) based well-being. This can be something aiming to the heart of especially the fashion industry.
Quite like SHRWR we can look into the world of software for inspiration. More specifically to the sharing of resources and codes in the open source world. However, there is a key difference between the two: SHRWR proposes the sharing of clothes (hardware) while open source is based on the sharing of software code. This highlights some of the fundamental problems of sharing and the commons, fiercely debated during the last decade (Something to be discussed at some other occasion).
The free sharing and gifts of clothes to the commons in SHRWR work highlighted the hidden protocols of fashion. Fashion is usually consumed according to certain unwritten conventions, parallel to the expectations of the commodity market. SHRWR however, not only gave away their garments for free but introduced a new protocol of ownership, written in their labels and addressed to the new “owner”: To freely share the garment provided by SHRWR. Or more correctly:
THIS IS SHAREWEAR owned and paid for by no one do with it as you see fit keep things free, because ownership is out of fashion
This new protocol confuses the situation of how we think about our clothes and possessions in everyday life. The reciprocity-price of the gift was perhaps larger than the new owner could first imagine (and is perhaps ignored today by most of the new garment “owners”, who has become more traditional owners).
However, what became very apparent in the workshops by SHRWR is the relation between the sharing of code and sharing the accessibility or the skills to work on it. To the average user an open source application makes very little difference from the proprietary one, since the user will never get “under the hood” with the software. The user, who has to delegate the responsibility and trust to the open source community, does not understand the code processes. For some it feels more reliable to trust a company (which can eventually be held responsible), before the trust of an amorphous mass of volunteer coders. However, what was most clear at the SHRWR workshops was that there was a certain disinterest in the SHRWR clothes themselves, which were given out for free, as gifts, and instead a greater interest in learning the skills. The ready-made garments of SHRWR, with prints and labels, were not as popular as the possibility of printing or relabeling garments by the participants themselves. They wanted to see, experience, and learn from the processes, more than getting the finished products. Transparency is best performed practically, hands-on, also the writing of protocols. Free gifts are indeed not as popular as free skills.
At the beginning of their workshop period the SHRWR team mounted their brought garments onto the wall panels of the gallery. The garments contours were then traced with ribbons of their labels, drawing borders of a area where things are free. It was however, not until the last day of the exhibition that their wall-mounted garments were to be taken (most of the t-shirts were delivered on the fly as they were relabeled and printed). Finally, at the end of the last day, the gallery was emptied of clothing, evacuated from possessions. Everything set free, unbound for an uncertain journey into the public domain. Left were only the empty contours of once proud garments on the walls. Like crime scenes in American detective stories with the white painted silhouettes of bodies the gallery was once again empty.
Rifkin, Jeremy (2000) The Age of Access. New York: Putnam
Hyde, Lewis (1983): The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, New York: Random House
Manzini, Ezio (2002) “Context-based wellbeing and the concept of regenerative solution”, Journal of Sustainable Product Design, Surrey: Center for Sustainable Design
Mauss, Marcel (1990) The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. London: Routledge.