This body of work, Tees & Tabs is an attempt to create an imagined cultural costume for the 21st century addressing issues of North American identity. Using deconstructed recycled t-shirt parts I have created six garment like forms. Each form has been constructed by hand with simple embroidery stitches. All forms are further embellished with embroidery and reclaimed aluminum can pull tabs. The suggested narrative behind this work is portrayed through the dichotomy between today’s garment industry of over produced, globally manufactured, generic clothing versus the traditions world wide of culturally distinct, individually hand crafted garments involving highly time consuming textile skills passed down from one generation to the next.
In contrast to the traditional relationship between person and place as observed through ethnographic textiles, these twin images of a costumed figure (one in front of a green screen and one in front of a specific location) represent the disassociation of contemporary society from the physical environment which it is dressed by. In today’s consumer world where the textile and fashion industries are considered some of the largest environmental polluters world wide, we choose to remain ignorant in regards to the unsustainable path we are carving for ourselves. Nowadays, it is common that we do not know who makes our clothes or where they are made. This lack of a tangible relationship with our own clothing is highlighted in the series of twin photographs created by using Photoshop compositing techniques and random background location photographs pulled from the Internet. The figure is repeatedly shown placed in locations that aim to reflect the true cost of our culture’s material identity.
Traditionally, in order to decipher the layers of information embedded within a culture’s costume one can investigate the materials being used, the craftsmanship, design, decoration and embellishment. At the macro level these areas can traditionally communicate information such as worldviews, value systems, spiritual/mystical beliefs, and geographic environment. On a micro level, a culture’s clothing can reveal internal social structures such as: status, wealth, age and gender. Additionally, each handmade garment from a regional, indigenous, or tribal group reflects the personal artistry of its maker in both design vision and technical skill. Using this information as an outline to guide my project, I chose to address North America’s contemporary material identity by using two common and universally recognized, abundantly available items from today’s recycling industry, tees and tabs. T-shirts speak directly to what North American cultural identity, or lack thereof, looks like today. Through t-shirts, group identity is created regardless of ethnicity or gender. We identify ourselves as part of the larger, comfortably casual group by wearing t-shirts but specifically claim allegiance to a smaller more individually defined group through what is printed on the t-shirt whether it be: logo/brand name, music taste, sports team, ideology, or through whichever kind of commercial/artistic graphic best portrays our sense of who we are or who we want to be. The choice to use aluminum can tabs as a form of embellishment enhances the narrative of a disposable identity. The can tabs are factory made and give a modern day impression of cowrie shells which were frequently seen to embellish garments from Africa to India. Additionally, cowrie shells were a form of currency and so when used for garment embellishment they gave an impression of wealth. Similarly, aluminum pull tabs are a monetary marker – that of a 5 cent returnable deposit. However, the association in this case is with the opposite kind of wealth, the lack thereof. As it is most frequently our homeless that search out empty cans for the minimal money they can provide.
Each garment like creation is formed without preconceived visions of what it will look like or what I want it to be. In an improvisational way I let the material I am working with guide me. In this case, t-shirts and what they have to offer set my creative boundaries. Initially, I was inspired to deconstruct the t-shirts focusing on making new forms through the identifiable parts such as the crew neck, hems, and seams as seen in the tunic like garment above. The creation of what could be done in one garment would then inspire the following form and so on. Along the way, inspired by the shape created by removing and opening up the t-shirt sleeves I began layering them upon each other thus leading from the floor length dress like garment form to the front & back paneled skirt like form. The three garments to follow (not yet shown here) continued with the idea of layering, additionally focusing attention on design possibilities created by repetitive cutting.
The creation of this body of work was supported by a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.