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“A Tale of Inscription/Fashion Statements” by Kim Sawchuk Fashion History and Culture Thursday 31 January 2013.

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Presentation on theme: "“A Tale of Inscription/Fashion Statements” by Kim Sawchuk Fashion History and Culture Thursday 31 January 2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 “A Tale of Inscription/Fashion Statements” by Kim Sawchuk Fashion History and Culture Thursday 31 January 2013

2  Valerie Steele, Curator at The Museum at FIT, NYC: Is Fashion Art? Published on Jun 28, 2012 at the mumok, Museum of Modern Art Vienna. {Watch the whole thing, but especially the first 15 min.}   The big thing you get in the first fifteen minutes of the video is that fashion represents the fleeting and the frivolous vs. art representing the timeless and pure/elemental truth.  Similarly, Modernism (like high art) represents the pure timeless truth and postmodernism represents constant change and instability (like fashion and historically-contingent notions of physical beauty). *And, go to 35 min. mark. Pierre Bourdieu quote. *And go to 45 min. mark for art-context.

3  In reading the article, a few things to preface:  You can substitute Kafka’s allegory “In the Penal Colony” for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”

4  “Like the women at Harboourfront, whether through economic necessity or their internalization of patriarchal values, they turn themselves into objects for this gaze and further reinforce this phallic economy of desire,” 477.  However, are women automatically objectified by men? What about the Cougar objectifying men? What about the educated, professional, upwardly mobile female in Sex In the City cruising New York City preying on men for their, not his, pleasure? 

5 Derrida: “…no element can function as a sign without referring to another element which itself is not simply present…This interweaving, this textile, is the text produced only in the transformation of another text….There are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces,” 478. This economy is present at the core of other culture: the Chinese have no character for the pronoun “I.” It is impossible to define an individual in Chinese language that exists outside relation to others and your communal network, called guanxi, 關係.

6  Ants: “there’s no such thing as an individual ant.” “When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.” – Edward Osborne "E. O." Wilson, Harvard University, the world’s leading authority on ants.  Derrida’s theory of texts bears this out. The context matters: Steve’s Neiman’s store about the same handbag in L.A. vs. Minneapolis.

7 Images are not literally absorbed.  The visual world is not static, rather images depend on  Context  Circumstances of its production  Circumstances of its circulation (especially how technology impacts circulation)  Circumstances of its reception by consumers, 478.

8 Fashion’s context comprises several things, 478:  1. It is located in a discourse on health (examples: corsets, sun tanning, fitness, eating disorders)  2. It is also located in a discourse on what is beauty (examples: ideal shapes of breasts, buttocks or lips)  3. It is also located in a discourse on morality and sexuality (examples: is this dress prudish is another “smart”)  4. It is also located in a discourse on nation and economy (examples: veiling in Algeria, pant-sagging in Dallas, American Apparel in Los Angeles, skinheads in London)  5. Finally it is located in a discourse on location (examples: climate, seasonal variations, thongs in Rio, white tennis attire at Wimbledon)

9  So, all these variables produce a multitude of meanings….  …And we want to see how our idea of What is Fashion changes over the course of this semester…let’s open it up for discussion given what we’ve covered thus far.

10 In the future….  “Gone is the archaic writing machine (from Kafka’s allegory ‘In the Penal Colony’) which treats the body as a tabula rasa upon which a predetermined message is scrawled. In the present age, forms of self-discipline anticipate the self- colonization of the body and its enslavement in an intertexual web,” 482.  How do you “enslave” or “self-colonize” your own body through fashion?

11  p. 483: Baudrillard’s “hyper-reality” is a KEY concept that we’ll return to later in the course.  Also, Walter Benjamin’s distinction between decoding (wherein there is a master system to which all signs can be returned) and deciphering (acknowledges the instability of all meaning) fashion objects and other cultural texts, 484.

12  The breakdown of old boundaries (such as particular female dress signifying domesticity) on the one hand is liberating, “while at the same time making possible hegemonic manipulation through control of capital flow and the production of new technologies,” 483.

13  So the colonization that late capitalism achieves is also an imperialism of the imagination – not just domination over such physical spaces as the third world (as in the Banana Republic Mail Order Catalog, the Highland Clearances (which we will talk about in Spinning the Ephemeral or Dior’s Les Coloniales, 485.  Big Brother, then, is not centralized as in a socialist command economy, but is driven by the controllers of capital flow and the crucial construction and dissemination of imagery.  Watch Apple’s famous Super Bowl advert from 1984: 

14 Modernism as a romantic discourse, which longed for a return to some prehistoric origin, the real, and positioned itself, as educated critic outside and above the culture it criticized – in the place of God, 486.


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