Meta-Practice, Research, Thought Experiments in Agency

Ways and Means: Points of Reference

A few past notes and new points of reference related to my Ways and Means project, on view through October 15 at Kala Art Institute.

Ways and Means came out of my Inter/dependence ‘zine, a report focusing on self-organizers. I loved the way Adam Gopnik wrote about Jane Jacobs’s interest in self-organizing [emphasis added]:

[In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs] told the story of a little girl seemingly being harassed by an older man, and of how all of Hudson Street emerged from stores and stoops to protect her…. She made the still startling point that, on richer blocks, a whole class of eyes had to be hired to play the role that, on Hudson Street, locals played for nothing: “A network of doormen and superintendents, of delivery boys and nursemaids, a form of hired neighborhood, keeps residential Park Avenue supplied with eyes.” A hired neighborhood! It’s obvious once it’s said, but no one before had said it, because no one before had seen it.

The book is really a study in the miracle of self-organization, as with D’Arcy Thompson’s studies of biological growth. Without plans, beautiful shapes and systems emerge from necessity. Where before her people had seen accident or exploitation or ugliness, she saw an ecology of appetites.

Adam Gopnik, “Jane Jacobs’s Street Smarts,” New Yorker, September 26, 2016

This sense of acting out of necessity, or appetite—the agency and empowerment of creating a desired condition to exist within—is a huge inspiration to me.

Most of the activity kits in Ways and Means have two components: printed ephemera, housed in a canvas tool pocket or pouch (which can be attached to an apron, belt, or garment). The pouch is important to me, as I see a strong connection between physical agency, and social or political agency. Freedom is first and foremost about mobility. And feeling free—say, as artists—means that we don’t have to shape our lives around systems whose values we don’t believe in. In many ways, the project is about recognizing the tools, skills, and resources (read: each other) that we already carry, made physical by the tool pouches.

Activities housed in canvas pouches, displayed on a wall. Participants can attach them to garments using the snaps. Supported by a Fellowship from Kala Art Institute and an Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant from the Center for Book Arts. Photo: Jiajun Wang

Activities housed in canvas pouches, displayed on a wall. Participants can attach them to garments using the snaps. Supported by a Fellowship from Kala Art Institute and an Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant from the Center for Book Arts. Photo: Jiajun Wang

With that in mind, Chelsea G. Summers’ “The Politics of Pockets” (Racked, 9/19/2016) is an intriguing history of pockets from a feminist perspective. It starts with the fact that in Medieval times, men and women carried pouches attached to their waists. (The following several hundred years of gender-policing-via-pockets seem like an aberration to me.) The essay also touches upon the intersection of pockets and bicycling—again, mobility implying freedom.

One of the responses to Ways and Means has to do with the number of components involved. As there was a lot of letterpress printing, the process was particularly preparation-intensive. Here’s how I kept track of things:

Workflow spreadsheet for managing each activity kits across multiple stages.

Workflow spreadsheet for managing each activity kits across multiple stages.

I am not saying this level of nerdiness is always warranted, and I think many people would chafe at organizing creative production this way. But letterpress printing takes a special kind of detail-oriented person—hence the aphorism, “check your ‘p’s and ‘q’s.” This chart was useful for getting all the pieces—plates, type, paper, board, fabric—in place before I started printing. And getting different activities to converge at similar stages was helpful, e.g., buying paper in one trip, or binding all at once. Seeing that things were in-progress helped me stay focused; there is always something to do. And when you’re working in more than one space—such as a studio and printshop on opposite ends of a complex, or a home studio and a printshop in another borough—it’s nice to remember to pack the right materials for the day’s tasks.

A minor innovation that took a while for me to arrive at is this (it’s also a peek at a forthcoming activity):

A chart of printing passes.

A chart of printing passes.

Some activities entail multiple printing passes using different inks and media, and it could get confusing. I found that charting it this way helps me to visualize the steps, and prepare the plates and type accordingly. I may have even saved myself a fourth pass on this one. Pass 1 is done, 2 and 3 remain. To be continued…

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Techniques, Thought Experiments in Agency

A Simple Bookbinding How-to

[Reposting from Instagram] Here’s a bookbinding how-to I made while binding a collaborative activity with Leah Rosenberg for Ways and Means (on view now through October 15 at Kala). The project was printed at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA, and bound at the Center for Book Arts in NYC.

Bookbinding steps, part 1 of 2, for collaborative activity with @leahmartharosenberg. Make a 10-hole guide. Transfer with a pin tool (to your block squared out and bulldog clipped between boards). Drill holes with a Dremel. Beat down the swell (burnish burrs with a bone folder). Wax 18-30 gauge linen thread. Straight stitch forwards then back. Snug it up. Tie a square knot in the middle of your text block. Beat down again. #waysandmeans Techniques picked up from @centerforbookarts teachers and renters.

Bookbinding steps, part 1 of 2. Make a 10-hole guide. Transfer with a pin tool (to your block squared out and bulldog clipped between boards). Drill holes with a Dremel. Beat down the swell (burnish burrs with a bone folder). Wax 18-30 gauge linen thread. Straight stitch forwards then back. Snug it up. Tie a square knot in the middle of your text block. Beat down again. Techniques picked up from Nancy Loeber and Uriel Cidor at the Center for Book Arts.

 

Bookbinding steps, part 2 of 2, for collaborative activity with @leahmartharosenberg: Glueing the spine wrap. Cut paper and score to depth to cover stiches. Fold up using triangle and bone folder. Mark spine width, score and fold. Dry fit. Brush on PVA from folds outward using a newsprint mask. Place on block and burnish top and spine. Stand up book on spine and repeat on back.

Bookbinding steps, part 2 of 2: Glueing the spine wrap. Cut paper and score to depth to cover stitches. Fold up using triangle and bone folder. Mark spine width, score and fold. Dry fit. Brush on PVA from folds outward using a newsprint mask. Place on block and burnish top and spine. Stand up book on spine and repeat on back.

 

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Art Competition Odds

Twelve Months in Art Competitions

Stats on my art competition applications from July 2015 to June 2016.

Though my goal was to apply to 18 competitions, I applied to only 6 in order to fulfill opportunities received in this period.

I applied to: 2 residencies, 0 fellowships, 1 exhibition/museum submissions, 1 studio program, 1 grant/award, 0 public art commissions, and 1 professional development programs.

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I received: 1 residency.

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One application was solicited following a recommendation from a fellow artist. Following another application, I received an inquiry for a studio visit with a curator.

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Of the 6 entries, my overall success rate was 1 out of 6, or 16.6%.

I paid $15 for a single application fee. Five out of six applications were free.

0$0000

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Art & Development, Thought Experiments in Agency

Kala Fellowship: Residency Notes, Part 2

A few notes on my residency in June and July, with personal reflections. A continuation of “Kala Fellowship: Residency Notes, Part 1.”

Christine Wong Yap, including collaborations with Sarrita Hunn, Leah Rosenberg, and Elizabeth Travelslight, Ways and Means, in Kala's Fellows exhibition, Appro-propagation, on through October 15. Photo: JiaJun Wang. Works developed at Kala Art Institute's Fellowship program, as well as in the Center for Book Arts' Workspace Grant program.

Christine Wong Yap, including collaborations with Sarrita Hunn, Leah Rosenberg, and Elizabeth Travelslight, Ways and Means, in Kala’s Fellows exhibition, Appro-propagation, on through October 15. Photo: JiaJun Wang. Works developed at Kala Art Institute’s Fellowship program, as well as in the Center for Book Arts’ Workspace Grant program.

I returned to Kala from early June to late July for a second residency stint. Over those six weeks, I developed new work—including collaborations with Leah RosenbergElizabeth Travelslight, and Sarrita Hunn (Institute for Autonomous Practices)—and installed it in the Kala Fellows’ exhibition (currently on view through October 15). [Update: I’ve posted photos on my website.]

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Screenprints in the drying rack for a game developed in collaboration with Sarrita Hunn (Institute for Autonomous Practice). The top layers are cards, including some inspired by questions in my recent zine on interdependence. The bottom layers are canvas game “boards.”

 

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Press lock-up on the delightfully light Vandercook SP-15. For Friendship Field Trip, a collaboration with Elizabeth Travelslight. It comes in four pieces, each describing an activity to deepen a friendship. The back of all four assembles into a map/poster.

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Detail of Color | Cootie | Feeling | Catcher, an activity developed in collaboration with Leah Rosenberg. 13-color woodcut and polymer plate letterpress print.

This experience was extraordinarily positive, like my January/February stint. Here are a few updates:

Busier printshop. There were more AIRs and Fellows in town for the summer season. The chill, atelier-like vibe often gave way to a bustling hive of printing. The screen printing equipment was especially popular.

Fellows and staff took a break for lunch.

Fellows and staff took a break for lunch.

 

New Fellows Ronny Quevedo (Bronx, NY) and James Voller (New Zealand/Melbourne), Honorary Fellows Katie Baldwin and Chris Thorson, and AIRs Aaron Hughes and Mikey Kelly arrived or continued their visits, and I enjoyed getting to know them and work alongside them.

Staff changes and special mentions. New Studio Manager, Ben Engle, is upbeat and enthusiastic about printmaking and helping people. Artist Program Manager Carrie Hott is leaving to pursue other things (check out her show at Mills College Art Museum through August 28).

Kala is a special place, run by extraordinarily dedicated people. For example, I needed to borrow a table from Southern Exposure (thanks SoEx and Val!), and Art Sales Manager Andrea Voinot picked it up on her day off. I feel indebted to Kala and the people whose labor, energy and generosity make it work.

Deadlines. My prior stint involved experimenting to learn techniques. But for this visit, I had to focus on finishing work for the show. The numerous steps involved in my project—preparing the art, printing, binding, sewing, installation—quickly became an unyielding reality I had to cope with.

I think I could have scheduled my production a bit more strategically, especially when it came to collaborations. I felt like I was running out of time. As an art handler, I felt that my work should have been done ahead of the installation period. But as an artist, I realized that this is all new work—quite a bit of it, with an involved installation, and it’s not the same thing as installing existing works.

Thankfully, I received assistance with perforation, lighting, and photography from interns Katrina and Sean, and sewing assistance from my mom, Sophia Wong.

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Mom proudly sports the apron she just finished sewing in the artist’s project space at Kala.

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Detail of a lab coat sewn by Mom.

 

Work/life balance. As with other residencies, I got really invested in productivity. I was often at the printshop by 7am—partly to beat the bridge traffic, and partly to get things done (aided by starting out on East Coast time). I made the most of my time at Kala, but I can’t say the same about the Bay Area…

Early mornings in the printshop.

Early mornings in the printshop.

I could have been more present for family and friends, been a more patient and kind collaborator, seen more art (especially the new SFMOMA, Ed Ruscha show at the DeYoung, Torreya Cummings’ installation at the Oakland Museum, Postscripts to Revolution at Southern Exposure, and Bizarre Bazaar at Root Division) and spared myself some of the 12-(up to 15.5-)hour days. It’s paradoxical to sacrifice relationships to make art about interdependence. But I’m not sure what I could have changed, if I had the chance to do it again. There’s only so many hours in the day, and it was already a privilege (as well as financial and marital stretches) to be away so long.

Interdependent, communal spaces. At Kala, I thought about Elizabeth Travelslight‘s description of being a co-op member in CO-LABORATION:

It becomes quite habitual—you get in the habit of seeing people fully and being seen fully.

That was how I felt at Kala. The collective ethos there can be enlivened with little effort, mainly greeting people, communicating openly, and generally having faith in others. I had to adopt these attitudes and behaviors (it felt almost Midwestern…). I felt welcomed and very much like a thread in the social fabric. Colleagues were encouraging, helpful, and friendly. Even with my middling technique, I was accepted… It was validating.

[Addendum/Tangent:

With the help of LR, I realized that these are the same feelings I felt at gyms Pacific Ring Sports and Fight and Fitness this summer, and are the same motivations for training amongst others. I hadn’t realized the connection until LR visited PRS and pointed out how members can similarly cultivate a spirit of mutual respect and encouragement. That validation grew my sense of value within these communities, which can become like chosen families. To be encouraged to keep training, and to come back anytime by people who’d easily submitted me, or who I’d accidentally headbutted, melts my heart. It’s about sportsmanship, but moreover, shared experiences of hard work and growth. These gyms and Kala provided opportunities to be humbled, to develop new skills and new friends, to be accepted, and to be grateful. I felt my sense of value and integrity being grounded by being seen and seeing others, and gained lived experiences of ordering aspects of life interdependently.]

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The head coaches at Pacific Ring and Fight and Fitness were all from Fairtex, whose SF gym has since dissolved. I started out there too, about 15 years ago. After a hiatus following my move to NYC, I’m revitalizing my appreciation for the development and relationships gained through this type of training. The Bay Area has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to quality muay thai and BJJ training; I recommend residents avail themselves to it.

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Community, News

7/14: Opening @ Kala Art Institute, Berkeley

After five weeks of intensive printmaking and sewing, I’m happily exhausted and happy to share Ways and Means, a new body of letterpress-printed activity kits, collaborative games, and custom garments exploring interdependence and resourcefulness. The project includes collaborations with Leah RosenbergElizabeth Travelslight, and Sarrita Hunn (Institute for Autonomous Practices). Ways and Means is participatory—come, interact, bring a buddy, and make new buddies.

Details from Ways and Means: letterpress printed cut-and-assemble activity on interdependence (two-color linoleum and polymer printed and bound at the Center for Book Arts) and apron (two-color screenprint on canvas, sewn with Sophia Wong).

Details from Ways and Means: letterpress printed cut-and-assemble activity on interdependence (two-color linoleum and polymer printed and bound at the Center for Book Arts, NYC) and apron (two-color screenprint on canvas, sewn with Sophia Wong).

July 14 – October 15, 2016
Appro-propagation
Residency Projects: New Work by 2015-2016 Kala Fellows

Opening Reception: Thursday, July 14, 6-8pm

Kala Art Institute
Gallery: 2990 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702
Gallery Hours: Tue-Fri, 12-5:00pm; Sat, 12-4:30pm

Takuji Hamanaka
Jamil Hellu
Lucy Puls
Ronny Quevedo
Neil Rivas
Leah Rosenberg
James Voller
Christine Wong Yap


This experience has been so positive in bountiful ways. I’ll elaborate more later, but at this moment I am moved to share my gratitude for the organizations and so many individuals who have made this possible: Kala Art Institute; the Kala Fellows Program; Kala staff (particularly Carrie Hott, Paper Buck, Ben EngleAndrea Voinot, and Mayumi Hamanaka for their help and trust, and Archana Horsting and Yuzo Nakano for having the vision to create and maintain such a special place); Kala fellow Fellows, Honorary Fellows, AIRs, and interns for contributing to the spirit of welcoming community and knowledge-and-resource-sharing; the Center for Book Arts’ AIR Workspace Grant program; Val Imus and Southern Exposure for non-profits’ mutual aid; Kevin B. Chen and Genevieve Quick for believing in me; collaborators Sarrita Hunn, Leah Rosenberg, Elizabeth Travelslight; installer Gary and interns Katrina and Sean; Sophia Wong for sewing assistance; and Michael Yap for unending support. I am also grateful for Susan O’Malley, to have shared in her life, work, and wisdom, and—I believe—a feeling that interdependent entanglements such as these swell our hearts and lives… Thank you.

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Meta-Practice

Center for Book Arts Residency Notes, Part 1

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Ways and Means tool roll, 2016, two-color print of line cuts, linoleum, and moveable type (not shown) on canvas.

For the past three months, I’ve been taking classes and doing lots of letterpress printing at the Center for Book Arts in their Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant program. It’s been neat to get to know this compact Manhattan non-profit printshop, bindery, and gallery, and the community that keeps it running and makes it vital.

Right after returning from Kala in February, I dived straight into a five-day, intensive Bookbinding class at the Center for Book Arts. The class was taught by Nancy Loeber (see her beautiful books of reduction woodcut portraits). I loved the pace of the class—she kept a phenomenal energy up, and exposed students to a tremendous amount of technical knowledge. We made many different soft and hard cover book structures, made our own book cloth, and practiced techniques to make our books more precise and tidy. The class was also a great way to spend time at the Center, and get to know a few of my fellow AIRs, Scholars, and other students.

I learned about pressure printing in a fun weekend class with Macy Chadwick. I’d never heard of pressure printing before. It’s a sort of ingenious process, similar to collagraph. You make a plate out of paper or other thin, flexible materials, only instead of inking up the plate, you sandwich it with your printing paper that you set in the grippers. That all goes around the cylinder, where your paper picks up ink from a thick acrylic plate. The result is a print that is mostly solid, with texture and ghostly halos. It’s loose, quick, and experimental—qualities that are opposite of most other letterpress methods.

I also took a broadsides letterpress printing class with Rich O’Russa, who encouraged my wacky experimentations printing on cloth and locking up type on angles. It was a great way to get more practice setting type and learning the quirks of some of the Center’s seven letterpresses.

After taking these classes and the Renter Training class, and printing during the Supervised Printing nights, I was recently given the go-ahead to print unsupervised in May.

I’ve been printing activities for activity kits using moveable type, linoleum, and polymer plate.

I find setting moveable type to be incredibly time-consuming, frustrating, and both antagonistic and contiguous with my typographic sensibilities. On one hand, I have a pretty good sense of typography from doing graphic design and calligraphy, so the shapes of my typeface of choice, Lydian, is familiar. On the other hand, my discernment is also the source of friction—it’s hard to express how much it gets my goat when I find an italics or condensed letter in the roman job case, or worse, in my lock-up when I’m already on press.

Letterpress is physical in the extreme. Every letter, every point and pica of space, has to be accounted for with a corporeal material, which has to be stored and organized to some extent in a communal printshop. The reward is an ineluctable perfection of slight imperfection, that polymer plate doesn’t achieve. After setting type for a few projects, polymer plate feels so fast and painless—and the painlessness is both relaxing and unnerving. I got the feeling I’m not learning anything right now. But it’s also nice to go home at a reasonable hour.

The Center is located in NoMad. As the site is not capacious, and is also used for classes and events, it is helpful to approach with flexibility, cooperation, and forbearance. The location is great—close to many options for transportation, food, and art stores around 23rd Street, Madison Square, and Koreatown.

The 2015 Workspace AIRs’ exhibition, along with two other shows, are on view through June 25. Stop by to see eclectic interpretations of the book form; you will also see the studios as well.

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Sights

See: Denim @ the Museum at FIT

Three garment exhibitions.

Lately, as part of a larger project, I’ve been researching garments, especially workwear. The more I learn about sewing, the more I realize what I don’t know and can’t yet do. Though I’ve sewn flags and banners, I’m thinking about more complicated items and garments. I have a long way to go, but it’s nice that even my modest experiences help me appreciate construction better.

Front: Reproduction of Claire McCardell's "Popover" dress, circa 1942, blue denim and red cotton. Also: denim jumpsuit, as women joined manufacturing for WWII.

Front: Reproduction of Claire McCardell’s “Popover” dress, complete with a matching oven mitt, circa 1942, blue denim and red cotton. Also: denim jumpsuit from when women joined manufacturing for WWII.

Denim: Fashion’s Frontier @ the Museum at FIT
Through May 7, 2016

Though it’s less than two blocks from the Center for Book Arts (where I’m a current resident; learn more about the AIR program at the 2015 AIRs’ exhibition, which opens tonight), I first visited this museum yesterday. They have good spaces, quality shows, and strong exhibition design; I look forward to seeing more shows there. I went for their exhibition on denim—one of the workwear fabrics I’ve been printing on. Here are a few thoughts:

  • The show is composed of garments from the museum’s collection arranged in chronological order. I was most intrigued by the earliest garments. The curatorial statements insisted that denim has been used for workwear for men and women since its earliest days, exemplified by a women’s skirt-set for work from 1912-15.
  • There’s a great video (though the audio is too quiet) about a pair of cotton pants with denim patches. A conservator explains the clues in the garment’s construction that helped her deduce that they were probably made in the 1840s. I love it when invisible museum work is made visible in this way.
  • Chambray became an official union shirt in the 1940s. The blue in “blue collar” probably comes from that. (Growing up as the daughter of a car mechanic, I’d associated work with stain-resistant synthetic blends that were dyed blue.)

The rest of the exhibition reviews how jeans became symbols of rebellion, and emerged as leisure, popular, and luxury goods. The connection to work became symbolic at best. Cheers to MFIT for providing an online exhibition.

Fairy Tale Fashion @ the Museum at FIT
Through April 16, 2016

Coming from the denim exhibition, with its theme of women’s labor, I couldn’t help but see this show’s content in an unfavorable way. The fairy tales here are Eurocentric (maidens with fair skin, gold hair as symbols of gold) and hetero-orthodox. (It’s 2016. I want heroines who kick ass like Ronda Rousey or Rey, who change the game like Missy Elliot and Awkwafina. Also, what’s up with the ageism of fairy tales? Why aren’t there ever evil maidens and heroic middle-aged women?) This show is not for me.

  • If you want to see beautiful gowns, dramatic capes, and nice beadwork, have a look.
  • I was impressed by the exhibition design. The space is underground, with very high ceilings. The exhibition designers did a great job using scrims and dramatic lighting to set a slightly menacing tone.
  • I noticed the use of the word, “sculptural,” to describe functionless elements that diverged from the silhouette or body. Coming from an art/sculpture point of view, it’s interesting to think that a three-dimensional object is not inherently sculptural, but becomes so after adding superfluous parts.

"Workwear/Abiti da Lavoro," at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center,  Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery. // Source: http://www.newschool.edu/

“Workwear/Abiti da Lavoro,” at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery. // Source: newschool.edu

Workwear/Abiti da Lavoro @ The New School/Parsons
Through April 18, 2016

This was also my first visit to the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center’s Kellen Gallery. While the FIT museum had carefully calibrated the lighting to preserve the garments, this space is an airy white cube with dramatic windows and plentiful natural light. I will visit again, as they’re clearly interested in pushing boundaries (check out the concurrent exhibition on mass incarceration).

  • I was intrigued by this exhibition of “garments for hypothetical, invented, coveted, imaginary jobs.” Unfortunately I felt underwhelmed by how little creativity was on display, how the speculation sometimes only made small leaps from present reality. These garments evinced whimsy, not reinvention. I am not sure that this is a valid critique—I think it comes out of an expectation that designers are technologists, and thus futurists. But sometimes designers are just designers. (I love the name of AIGA NY’s “monthly series of provocations where practitioners and critics discuss the changing nature of design and visual culture.” It’s “We used to ____, now we ____.” It’s a worthy prompt for designers and artists to consider.)
  • I was struck by how many garments were simply garments in recognizable silhouettes and forms—size o dresses, suit-shirt-slacks-tie—that were embellished to fit a theme—’girl who picks carrots,’ ‘girl who picks strawberries,’ for example. (Maybe I shouldn’t expect fashion to be less gender-binary, but I can’t help but feel disappointed.)
  • There was an outfit for a “Post-Fordist,” comprising of ready-made vacation separates, a laptop, and a Blackberry in a vitrine. I get that the banality of immaterial labor is what makes it so insidious, but that doesn’t mean creative work about it can’t be more interesting artistically.
  • Men’s ties suggest an outfit of rags under a shabby jacket—a garment for “a migrant”—in a particularly fraught misstep.
  • OK, I liked the exhibition design. An aluminum I-beam was suspended from the ceiling at an angle. Clamps on the beam held up monofilament, which allowed the garment to spin. It signaled the work theme and avoided a static display well.

Other observations:

The Garment District

One of my favorite things about living in NYC is access to all the garment district shops. The district near Hell’s Kitchen is so vital that shops can specialize in selling only one type of thing: linen, spandex, notions, textiles for men’s wear, textiles for quilting, etc. On occasion, I’ll stumble into a building full of garment industry services. Earlier in the week, I got to peek inside a huge embroidery studio. I felt so grateful that so much industry still happens in Manhattan. I hope these small businesses—and the workers doing such skilled labor—keep going strong.

 

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