EXHIBITION: Tattered and Torn

Here are some photos from a really wonderful exhibit I just saw at Governors Island called “Tattered and Torn: On the Road to Deaccession”. The dresses on display here are being “deaccessioned” (removed from museum collections) because they’ve been deemed too damaged to display. What’s ironic but probably not too surprising is that their compromised condition actually enhances their value as sites of critical engagement.

As museum discards, they no longer warrant the kinds of conservation measures and security that high art objects receive. There was no glass, velvet rope, or electric fence separating the viewer from the object. The result is that visitors can get very close to the displays – many were touching them – as well as walk all the way around them, seeing and engaging with them from all sides. From a curatorial standpoint, the exhibit opened up tremendous opportunities for creative display. Some clothes were simply hung on hangers in open closets and others were displayed in domestic settings like the kitchen, bedroom, hallway, etc. Whatever the reason for the institutional neglect of these couture gowns, this neglect conditioned the possibility for their exhibition in a non-traditional museum space where they could be brought back to life and really appreciated – close up.

There wasn’t a whole lot of information about where these gowns came from or why they had been so neglected but I couldn’t help comparing this collection of abandoned clothes with the kinds of clothes that are so prevalent in Of Another Fashion. The organizational structures of museums (from the public arrangement of displays to the behind-the-scenes preservation of the objects) reflect and reproduce a dominant value system about what objects are beautiful, valuable, and worth protecting. But if clothing functions as a material sign of social status and a site of knowledge production about the meanings of beauty, value, and worth, then the choice of which clothes are worth saving and studying is also a decision about what kinds of lives are valuable and worth remembering. I’ve often described Of Another Fashion, borrowing the words of Verne Harris, as “a site of oppositional memory . . . against systematic forgetting” – I think “Tattered and Torn” is created in this spirit as well.

If you’re in the area between now and September 30, I’d really recommend visiting Governors Island for this exhibit.




VIDEO: Willow Smith’s “I Am Me”

Last night at the BET Awards, Willow Smith (the incredibly talented eleven year-old daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith) debuted her new song and video, “I Am Me.” Smith has described the song as a personal anthem of sorts.

It’s just explaining who I am and what symbolizes me-like me as an energy, me as a person, just cool and rounded.

Many have also suggested that the song is a message to other kids her age. Lyrics like these confirm this.

Listen to this song, because this is real facts
That will help you move along, yeah
That’s all I wanted to say, so I love you guys so much
Hope you like the song and you know, yolo, misfits, argh haha.

But then there are lyrics like these that make it worth listening to for older kids as well as adults.

People don’t like the way I dress
So it won’t matter, I’ve been looking
I’ve done my hair and it’s not just that easy
I’ve been looking
Your validation it’s just not that important to me

You have to be yourself, be real, be honest

Cause ain’t nobody got time for that

Obviously, I’m a Willow Smith fan – have been since her anthem to hair pride. But this song and video is even more touching to me. As I explained on our Facebook page, I’m especially drawn to her oversized shirt. In one way, it suggests an adult-sized talent and maturity that’s bigger than her 11 year old body; in another way, it acts as a barrier that defies the hyperfeminization and sexualization of girls in public culture from the Toddlers & Tiaras ilk to, I don’t know, every reality show star?

Androgyny here (from her shirt to her hair, to so many of her facial expressions – isn’t she the mirror image of her dad?? -, the skateboard, etc) seems enlisted towards a feminist project in a way that is so powerful and so compelling to me. YOLO, indeed.



Commitments to Collaborations, or The Week That Was Awesome (Thanks to You)

Image by Cristy Road (

In some ways Threadbared often feels more tangible to us than our “real” publications, which tend to involve long stretches of isolation (writing, writing, writing) and prolonged periods of anticipation (waiting, waiting, waiting). So the sorts of collaboration we pursue in this space, and the forms of immediacy it affords us, are part of our efforts to “think otherwise,” as feminist scholars committed to social justice as well as cultural critique.

Nothing we’ve done so far, however, has approached the awesomeness that occurred in the last week. In an incredible chain of collaboration and support, I sent Alana a note asking if she might be interested in expanding upon some of her thoughts on wearable technologies and “cyborg” fashions, mentioned just briefly in a comment she made to the information studies blog Arcades Collaborative; Alana subsequently composed for us a brilliant and nuanced essay prompted by her initial encounter with Jessica Floeh’s designs for a line of insulin pump accessories called Hanky Pancreas; and Jezebel’s Jenna loved this essay, and agreed to syndicate it for a much broader audience than we get here. The Jezebel comments to Alana’s essay and Jessica’s designs are thoughtful, heartfelt, and otherwise truly moving, and well worth reading through. And thanks to the enormously huge platform that is Jezebel, and the crowd-sourcing powers of the internets, Hanky Pancreas is now the most e-mailed post on Coco Perez, and receiving love and much-deserved attention from far-flung quarters.

Today, we feel pretty good about Threadbared, but more importantly, about our commitment to collaboration as both an intellectual and political mode of being in the world. As Alana said in a message to me, “Amazing when words come to matter in these real, clear ways and we get to watch it happen.” So thank you to all our readers and interlocutors — together, we made The Week That Was Awesome.



ART: “An Experimental Memorial for Federico García Lorca” (2009)

More photos of this experimental memorial at

From the Cake and Eat It Collective, a group creating “installations, happenings, performances and visual art that deal with the intersection of gift economy, fashion, anarchism and queer identities,” an experimental memorial that imagines the act of clothing each other as a radical act of care and its communication, whether to loved ones or strangers:

On the morning of August 19th, 1936 Spain’s most beloved poet, Federico García Lorca, was shot near an olive tree, his body thrown into a pit with thousands of others. He was murdered by nationalist insurgents, at the age of 38, because he was gay and an anarchist sympathizer. Last week, after 70 years, began the excavation of Lorca’s grave – a tentative step towards addressing the atrocities that happened under the Falangist regime. There is a saying in Spain: everyone within this grave, all mass graves, all the disappeared, are all Lorca’s.

The installation is a take on the free store, a concept popular during the Spanish Civil War, where clothes are donated by the community and gifted back into the community without any direct exchange. Viewers are encouraged to participate in this memorial by taking a gift and/or leaving one- clothing, notes, trinkets.

An Experimental Memorial for Federico García Lorca investigates the use of gift economy to explore the way we interact with the past and how we collectively process and heal. In that context these gifts become talismans that carry the memory of Lorca, and all the disappeared, on our bodies and act as a lens by which we are able to create a collective memory of their work and their lives.

More photos of this experimental memorial at

Leave a comment


The $90M Magazine Campaign I (Almost) Missed Because I Canceled My Magazine Subscriptions

Apparently, leaders of five major magazine companies—Charles H. Townsend, Condé Nast; Cathie Black, Hearst Magazines; Jack Griffin, Meredith Corporation; Ann Moore, Time Inc.; and Jann Wenner, Wenner Media—have launched a massive print advertising campaign “to promote the vitality of magazines as a medium.” “The Power of Print” campaign, as it’s called, was launched on March 1, 2010 at the Leadership/Media Conference in San Francisco.

With the full support of the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), the campaign targets advertisers, shareholders and industry influencers, and seeks to reshape the broader conversation about magazines, challenge misperceptions about the medium’s relevancy and longevity, and reinforce magazines’ important cultural role.

Towards this goal, several splashy color spreads were created and began running in May in hundreds of popular magazines. The campaign logo which combines the distinct typography of 8 of the most well-known magazines of the 5 major companies also made its debut in May issues alongside these catchy slogans: “We Surf the Internet. We Swim in Magazines.” and “Will the Internet Kill Magazines? Did Instant Coffee Kill Coffee?”

Many bloggers, like this San Francisco Weekly blogger, view the campaign as desperate grandstanding by the print media establishment, a last grasp effort by an industry that has been on a downward spiral for years – let’s face it, that comparison of the Internet to instant coffee isn’t going to win over any bloggers and the idea that print magazine readers are national heroes like Olympian record-breaker Michael Phelps?? Yet I am intrigued by the campaign’s main talking points especially in light of the amazing discussion that continues to unfold on Threadbared about the perceived value of print magazines and blogs:

  1. Magazine readership has risen 4.3% over the past five years (Source: MRI Fall 2009, Fall 2005 data)
  2. Average paid subscriptions reached nearly 300 million in 2009 (Source: MPA estimates based on ABC first half 2009 and second half 2009 data)
  3. Adults 18-34 are avid magazine readers. They read more issues and spend more time per issue than their over-34 counterparts (Source: MRI Fall 2009 data)
  4. During the 12-year life of Google, magazine readership increased 11% (Source: MRI Fall 2009 data)
  5. Magazine effectiveness is growing. Ad recall has increased 13% over the past five years. Action-taking—based on readers recalling specific ads—increased by 10%. (Source: Affinity’s VISTA Print Effectiveness Rating Service, 2005-2009)
  6. Magazines outperform other media in driving positive shifts in purchase consideration/intent. (Source: Dynamic Logic)

Anyone else as surprised by these figures as I am? I wonder which magazines people are still reading and subscribing to? My sense – from friends and you, dear readers – is that alternative and self-published fashion magazines (many of which are ad-free, on principle or not) are gaining popularity while corporate magazines are on the wane.

Anyway, the campaign’s got my attention although it will probably need to redouble its digital efforts to reach folks like me who’ve canceled their subscriptions to mainstream magazines. (I discovered the campaign while flipping through a men’s fashion  magazine – not mine.) But if the YouTube video they created is any indication of the campaign’s cool quotient (or potential to catch on), they’re in trouble. I think a video of talking heads does the campaign a disservice, making magazines seem as stiff and stodgy as their advocates. Also, Charles Townsend should. stop. emphasizing. every. word. he. says.



THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE: Lisa Ann Auerbach’s (and Jimmy Carter’s) Sweater Advocacy

I meant to make a note of Los Angeles-based conceptual artist Lisa Anne Auerbach some time ago, but our recent “conversation” about t-shirts as a democratic garment for political messaging reminded me that I’d seen a number of her amazing sweaters at the Independent, an art fair held in the former X Initiative and former Dia Center for the Arts space during New York’s Arts Week this last March. While the sweater pictured above has no overt political message (it does remind me powerfully of tenth grade, and my friend and classmate Jennifer Lafferty transcribing these same lyrics on the chalkboard during a moment of unsupervised chaos), some of her other works do include anti-war statements (seen below), as well as Obama 2008 campaign slogans.

In Fiberarts Magazine, art critic Shana Nys Dambrot describes her work thusly: “She has recast knitting from its traditional role as a nostalgic or otherwise personally historic language to an idiomatic armature on which to pin sociopolitical commentary. It’s fine art about radicalized women’s work, belonging to a traditional of art making that is rooted much more firmly in conceptual art than traditional garment or textile craft and trade.”

I’ve also flipped through Auerbach’s book Charted Patterns for Sweaters That Talk Back, and while her work is not quite in my field of inquiry and I don’t knit, I do find fascinating the political fallout after a particular cardigan hit the national stage, described in the book’s introduction to the sweater as a political platform:

On February 2, 1977, the newly-inaugurated president appeared on television clad in that sweater, and asked us all to take a simple step to save energy: turn down the thermostat, and put on a sweater.

I’m too young to recall the aftermath of this televised moment, but this TIME editorial published soon after Carter’s first “fireside chat” seemed to find his symbolic act successful:

During his fireside chat last week, Carter introduced what may prove to be the most memorable symbol of an Administration that promises to make steady use of symbolism—the beige wool cardigan, a favorite of his. Carter wore the sweater at dinner with Rosalynn, Amy, Sons Chip and Jeff and their wives. In the library after his meal, Carter asked TV Adviser Barry Jagoda and Adman Jerry Rafshoon what they thought of the cardigan. They told him to check it himself on the TV monitor. All agreed it looked fine. Then Carter rehearsed his talk before the TelePrompTer (which was also used during the speech). “Y’all give me any suggestions you might have,” he told his advisers. Just the ending needed another run-through.

In his 23-minute talk, Carter candidly but gently served up some bad news for the nation on the “permanent” energy shortage, firmly prodded the American people to help him and defended his economic program as “the best-balanced possible.”

Conservatives lambasted Carter at the time for being a “weak” President, a thinker (heavens forbid!) rather than a “do-er,” and the sweater to them served as a risble object of scorn and as evidence that Carter was not Commander-in-Chief-y enough to “fix” the energy crisis through more martial means. But “Jimmy Carter’s sweater” has long passed into the commonsense of conservation measures, even reemerging a quarter century later in a Republican Oval Office:

Congressional Republicans will spend their July 4 recess in a renewed push to sell their constituents on the White House’s production-heavy, red-tape-slashing energy plan. And if some of them are sweating a little more than usual, remember that Thursday they got the ultimate measure of the political climate in Washington for the GOP on energy: George W. Bush sent them off in a sweater.

And of course, “blood for oil” has been absolutely devastating. Auerbach’s series of sweaters commemorating the American dead and wounded in Iraq are strangely moving. Each one marking the long years since the start of the US occupation like pages in a calendar, these sweaters suggest also the destruction of some other people’s sense of homeliness: their families torn apart, their houses foreclosed in others’ absence, their loved ones dead or damaged. With these sweaters and all the resonance of the “domestic” they invoke (the “domestic,” for instance, as the imaginary realm of the good and the true that must be protected with state violence against foreign or alien Others), we are made acutely aware that the personal is always political. is Auerbach‘s knitted-art website, which hasn’t been updated in some time, but you can also visit her at The Little Red Blog of Revolutionary Knitting or at her artist’s site, where other projects can be found. If you’re interested in more conceptual or political knitting projects, Threadbanger has a brief essay about “knitting for what you believe in.”