Phenomenon of Clothing
In her work The System: prêt-à-porter Barbara Holub addresses the shifts in economic structures and the technical circumstances of communication associated with them in the changing “western” cartographies. A review.
On the basis of the everyday phenomenon of clothing the artist analyses different economic models of the second-hand exchange or sale of clothes, ranging from a yard sale to clothing donated to charity, along with the resulting economic profit. A short video loop of a yard sale in Los Angeles that is repeated from dusk onwards focuses on moments in the changing physical posture of people who during the weekend search the front yards of their neighbourhood for second-hand clothing, and in the process encourage communication in residential areas that are otherwise completely cut off from the outside world. Holub’s short cuts with schematic silhouettes and blackouts evoke body poses similar to those of the protagonists of rap videos in which physical gestures form a significant and expressive element of language. Whereas in the videos the exchange of goods and the associated financial output form the basis of communication but are not necessarily focussed on economic profit, the reverse relationship can be seen in a panel screening a scaffold, where a system used to sort items of clothing is shown.
The provisionally fixed panel implies the transfer of economic models from the first to the second and third worlds, and in the tradition of photographic staging of images in the manner of Susan Sontag, represents a kind of “memento mori” i.e. a depiction of old, no longer existing structures. In fact this is an old clothing sorting system closed down only recently that was used by the Humana development aid organization. In its shops Humana sells second-hand clothes that have been collected in containers and then sorted according to different categories, the proceeds go to finance aid projects in various African countries. A person graphically mounted on the photograph of the sorting system stands symbolically for the vanishing (i.e. no longer needed) labour force in Vienna that, because it is no longer economically viable or because of its increasing financial demands has led to the job, along with the production process, being moved to Slovakia and to Varna in Bulgaria. In the image the person blends with the items of clothing delivered by the sorting conveyor belt, leaving the outcome of this work process open and formulating a question about economic profit models based on the exploitation of human beings.
Where will the items of clothing in the image end up? Holub makes the subdivision into around 18 groups visible on the window facade where we can read the names of categories such as Africa Light Mix or Summer/Winter/Trend etc. that are distinguished in terms of size according to the delivered volume. From the data provided it is difficult to read which of these models will be sold in Europe and how useful this will ultimately be for the people of Africa. The fact that the business with second-hand fashion offers a wide area of commercial possibilities, involving mostly practices that vanish from public view is highlighted by a searching spotlight included in the exhibition scenario that moves across the artistically handled image models – photographs, videos and text – and refers to different ways of seeing things within an economic system that performs as if it has “rationalised according to function.”
During the exhibition Humana staff members are invited to model Humana clothing and to present at a photo-shooting the different focal points of the items of clothing that have been sorted according to category. Thus Holub’s examination of the second-hand transfer of clothing conducts its significance along the circuitous route of the economic gesture back to the original level of communication.
Plymouth Arts Centre, 2007
The photos taken at the photoshooting at the Künstlerhauspassage in Vienna were transformed into a doublesided room devider which served as backdrop for a new photoshooting on the one side, and as changing cabin on the other side in the exhibition space of the Plymouth Arts Centre.
For this exhibition the artist collaborated with Oxfam, a non-profit-oganization dealing with second hand clothing. oxfam has a store in the socalled “independant quarter” in the center of plymouth. this quarter is part of a special support program of the city government in order to claim a position against international chain stores dominating the inner city shopping area.
„The System: Prêt-à-porter“
Künstlerhauspassage / Kunsthaus Vienna
Copyright 2011 Kontakt. The Arts and Civil Society Program of Erste Bank Group
"The System: Prêt-à-Porter"
Plymouth Arts Centre (GB)
in cooperation with OXFAM