Fossil Garment #3 is all about repair, mending, fixing. Sewn on (and into) a slab of handmade felt, this one really does seem like a fossil. Dorothy Caldwell is the one who made me aware of the history written into clothing by repairs. Long ago, before clothing became so cheap, people mended and darned their clothes, and there are stories in those stitches.
http://www.dorothycaldwell.com/ check out her art: it's wonderful
But we need to take a detour here, in the story of my Fossil Garments. Because if we're talking about repairing clothing, we have to talk about BORO. In Japan, in the early 20th century, the people living in northern Japan had no real transportation to the southern parts of the country. They couldn't get cotton, couldn't grow it, so they grew flax. Each family was able to grow, ret, spin, and weave enough linen cloth for 2 or 3 items per year. Maybe a jacket, a pair of pants and a blanket. Per family. So if something was torn, you certainly didn't throw it out. It was mended, patched, patched again, and again, until there was more repair than original. Clothing was handed down. And darned again. And the white stitches on the indigo dyes blue fabric became living history.
After World War 2, when cotton cloth became available, people were ashamed of the old clothing, calling it 'boro' - rags. Much of it was thrown out. But a folklorist named Chūzaburō Tanaka. began collecting these garments, recognizing their beauty and value as an art form that was irreplaceable (you can now see boro at the Amuse Museum in Asakusa, Tokyo). I first became aware of boro at a show in NYC called Art of the Ordinary. I remember sitting on the floor, staring up at a jacket in awe. This marvel was a complete rebuke to my throw-away American culture. It was one of those smack-you-up-the side-of-your-head moments when you realize THERE ARE OTHER OPTIONS.
Soon after, I sewed Worn, But Not Out (47"h x 52"w)
Here's her statement:
The well-worn fabrics in this quilt personify the strength and beauty of an old woman. Constructed almost entirely from recycled materials: hand crocheted pieces from garage sales and scraps from a drapery company. The drapery fabric was repeatedly washed, which created shrunken puckers and badly frayed edges. I cut the knotted threads from these edges, formed them into ‘tassels’ and sewed them on as decorations. The background fabric was pieced together by machine. Everything else was hand sewn. All fabric in this piece is the original color: nothing was dyed or stained. The center section, and under the arms, was overlaid w/ sheer fabric to achieve the desired depth of color.
OK, tomorrow, back to Fossil Garments, and more on boro another time.
Statement: My Fossil Garments are presented as petrified specimens. The deconstructed garments – sometimes embedded in handmade felt – are offered for inspection on taut surfaces. By carefully cutting apart and arranging the garments, their human connection is emphasized. Crochet and lace, showing through the almost transparent garments, appear skeletal. The rigid framing exposes the somewhat sentimental clothing in an unemotional perspective, allowing the viewer to examine the clothing as archaeology.
I really lucked out at the Rutherford NJ Street Fair one year: several wonderful old christening dresses for cheap! They were very fragile, almost transparent, and I washed them gently, patting, not twisting. With a razor blade, I partially deconstructed them - just enough to open them up, so their form was fully visible.
The fabric was so fine that crochet could be seen right though it.
In this detail, you can see 2 cherubs and a face under the dress fabric, 2 pieces of net sewn over the dress, and wheat stalks embroidered on the dress. I was thinking about this piece as I walked through the park here in Passaic, looking at the old sycamore trees. As these trees get older, the trunks develop big sagging lumps. I decided to add just a tiny bit of that lumpy aging to this first garment - a sharp contrast in this infant dress. Look again at the sleeve pointing at you in the first image.
Fossil Garment #2 (36"h x 27"w)
Yep: this piece has everything but the kitchen sink. It has the dress, crochet, lace, handmade felt (with embedded crochet), discharged scissor and spool images, and a handkerchief that tells the story of Cinderella. This one meets all my criteria for good art: 1. it has real visual power, 2. it has content, 3. the content relates to the materials.
In the upper 'wing' above the sleeve here, you can read the embroidered word Mother (from another handkerchief) and mom's profile next to it. A little further down, Cinderella is sweeping up the threads. Another cherub is playing right over a barely visible Cinderella and her coach. If you really hunt, you might find the word GIRL embroidered vertically along one seam...
...and the prince took her away, with LOVE right over them. Which pretty well sums up the whole fantasy that was fed to little girls. Fossil Garment #2: no head, no working arms, the dress is trying to grow wings, the whole piece is falling apart (and threatened by those red scissors) and she's carrying all that romantic nonsense.
String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Artby Elissa Auther spells out the bias of the art establishment. She explains how an artist who started as a sculptor and transitioned to textiles will be perceived as more artistically valid than someone who evolved from quilting to textile art. It's the sort of book I can't read at bedtime because I will not be able to sleep, just lie there seething.
After reading it, I sewed it. If you haven't read it, please consider this piece a wearable book report. It is a textile argument, constructed on top of an old tuxedo: a formal argument, both in logic and dress.
Maybe because I had recently seen a show at the Metropolitan Museum on ceremonial clothing, I knew this had to be a garment. I googled 'ceremonial garments' and that got me started (I found a great image of Prince Charles, which explained what all his badges and medals represented).
A very nice lady had given me this old, gray woolen jacket, seen here with my banner. Over the years, I've built up a collection of thermofax screens with directions for crochet, mending, knitting or information about archaeological textiles. I printed these words on dyed cloth, and sewed together various patchwork bits.
Then I found the perfect old tuxedo jacket at a garage sale - it even fit me! The gray jacket was out - the tuxedo was in. All I had to do now was sew on all the bits and patches that I had created.
Lots of medals, awarded for DETAIL, SKILL, DESIGN, BY HAND, STITCHES (embroidered onto an old girl scout badge for sewing). The epaulets are impossibly over-the-top: I just kept making them thicker and thicker and used parts of old leather work gloves to finish them off. I had to have them. With all this business about concepts and legitimacy and hierarchies...I wanted to add some indication of the actual WORK involved.
The embroidered letters read "Oh my - there's a concept embedded here!" Couldn't help being flippant.
Formal Argument, displayed on a dress form with a black tuxedo shirt, was featured in FiberPhiladelphia 2012, where Elissa Auther (who wrote String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art) was the keynote speaker.
The infrastructure of our country – roads, bridges and railroads – is collapsing. Our rich, powerful country does not have the political will to maintain itself. Structurally Unsound embodies that incapacity: a giant teetering on wobbly legs, desperately trying to hold itself together. Structurally Unsound was assembled from Salvation Army jackets and sweaters (literally, the clothes of our workers) and embedded with construction tools. Is this piece really headless? Are we?
This piece had been dancing around in my head for a long time. It began as a sculpture, eventually morphed into a human-like figure, and then it was ready to be made visual on the computer (I really love that so much of my art starts with technology and finishes with traditional handwork). I asked my husband to take some pictures of my arms in different poses, and overlapped them onto a sweater image. By copying in some tweed patterns, I figured out how to proceed to the work wall.
This was supposed to have white edging around each section, but I happened to grab an old orange cloth, just for the initial pin-up....and I knew the orange was perfect. The color of danger, warning, traffic cones!
I worked on each section, layering it over actual tools and kiddie plastic tools. below is the wooden handle from an old saw, which I cut in half (front to back, to reduce bulk).
The rusty fencing material was found beach-combing, and my husband donated his glasses seen on the first picture(which he had accidentally stepped on, perfect for our lack of vision and planning).