In my first year of grad school, I started experimenting with different elements. I found myself contemplating their meaning… what they communicate or convey. There’s something about fabric. It connects us in a way that nothing else tangible does (not even dirt). We all wear it, sleep on it, and use it every day. Fabric can be soothing and comforting, or it can be rough and uncomfortable. Even in the poorest of countries, cloth is used, touched, worn, and felt. It keeps us warm. It keeps us cool. It keeps us hidden. It can make us stand out in a crowd or blend in. We use it to protect our bodies from freezing temperatures or our hands from a scalding hot oven. From birth to death it is part of our lives.
[In the U.S. alone, we generate an average of 25 billion pounds of textiles per year of which less than 15% is donated or recycled. This leaves more than 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste (PCTW) per year. This amount continues to increase.]
Fabrics have a significant influence on who we are. The clothes that we wear impact how we see and feel about ourselves and others. In everyday interactions, the clothes that we choose to wear serve as a critical site of identity performance. In conveying who we are to other people, our bodies, and our clothing project information. The fabrics that we use as a part of our routine help contribute to what defines our identity as individuals and as a culture. What touches our skin, what we feel, regularly becomes a component of us. Just as what we see, hear, and read…all becomes a part of who we are. It’s like trying to un-see something. You can’t, that image is now in your brain and is a part of you… whether you wanted to see it or not. All these things, with repetition, influence our thoughts, words, and even our character.
Like everything else (including our bodies), fabrics do age. The fabrics that I use are old, discarded, or unwanted which means they have a history. These materials have repeatedly been in contact with someone’s skin. The textiles themselves don’t have a memory, but they do have the ability to produce recollection. Cutting these discarded textiles into small pieces creates a workable filler. Each piece then represents a moment, a familiar time, an experience, or a memory.
When the remnants are inserted into sheer nylon they can be shaped and formed into a figure. I started exploring what these abstract figures communicate individually, in masses, and in photographs. By photographing mass quantities, the formation of a crowd becomes visible. When looking at this crowd I became aware of the fusion of individual minds into one collective mind. The individuality of each is stripped and becomes absent. Gender becomes irrelevant. The clothing worn by each individual is now insignificant and carries no value, no memory.
What if we were to take away all that fabric brings with it? What if we were to strip away all of the classifications, cut designated stereotypes into pieces, and tear apart all normalized predispositions? When one’s identity is removed from all social constructs, when one’s security blanket has been shed, there is a failure to achieve ego. This offers an opportunity to see and to know each other on a more personal level. It makes our similarities more visible.
This process of cutting the materials gives a new identity to the fabric, giving it a new purpose and a new meaning. This process of deconstruction and reconstruction became an exploration of individuality and self-identification. By repairing and rebuilding the pieces there is the hope of discovery or rediscovery of the self. As we look back at our own history, personal choices, and circumstances it helps us to understand how we arrived where we are now. But, if we do not like the now, we need to tear apart our past and reshape it, giving it a new purpose. Everyone has their own personal history, struggles, and their own life story. As unique individuals in a world of multiple cultures, it is so easy to find many differences between us. Fabrics possess connections that human beings share. We are all woven together as we share the dirt on this rock. This work is about exploring humanity’s correlations rather than our differences.
My hope is that while we all still celebrate our differences... we don’t forget how similar and connected we truly are.