Colloquium | Jeppe Ugelvig “Memory Garments: The Non-Archive of Susan Cianciolo”

Colloquium | Jeppe Ugelvig “Memory Garments: The Non-Archive of Susan Cianciolo”


It’s really exciting to listen to such a
broad variety of approaches to the theme of unraveled
fashion and in this presentation I hope to return to many of the conceptual
issues that were that have been raised today. Particularly in relationship between dress and memory history writing and the archive.
But before speaking about my case study I want to make a few general remarks or
ask a few general questions about the temporalities of fashion. Most generally
because when we talk about unraveled fashion or unfinished fashion and the
methodologies of unfinished or an unraveled fashion, do we assume that we
know exactly what finished fashion is? What is a finish for fashion object and
what process leads to finish fashion and what keeps it there and how can we
conceive on fashion that maybe never finishes and how of course do these
concepts looks like in practice? Because fashion is a temporal art. Stylistically
it operates on a variety of economies of time of repeatedly of reappropriated
and presence. It is a cultural phenomenon sitting at the very heart of Walter
Benjamin’s labyrinth of history. But materially fashion exists on a strict
temporal logic structured by systems of production, circulation, exchange,
preservation, and waste making. In its constant pursuit of the new fashion
constitutes a kind of time taking and time making in its own right but a kind
of time that is both linear and nonlinear, progressive and regressive. So
to talk about my case study. Susan Cianciolo. Susan was born in 1969
in Long Island and the New York-based artist designer emerged in New York’s
downtown fashion scene in the 1990s. She graduated from Parsons in 1992 with
a degree in fashion design and she would afterwards go on to work as an
illustrator and designer across the city’s fashion and nightlife scene.
Finally launching her own label in 1995 with the help of her roommate and studio
partner artist Rita Ackerman. Naming her fashion line Run, Cianciolo
staged her first presentation in the gallery of Andrea Rosen who lent her
Prince Street gallery space to her for a single evening.
Susan quickly developed a highly personal and aesthetically idiosyncratic
approach to fashion production. Keen on reviving social and collaborative
histories of craft and garment making but also due to the absolutely minimal
funds on which her line was running she would enroll friends, family, and partners
to help out with the production of her line. Organizing large sewing
circles where skilled artisans, artists, and family members would work alongside
each other to produce her garments. This reflected materially in her designs
which had a distinct naive quality to them. Their execution often seeming
hazardous with visible rips, unfinished hems, and randomly placed embroidery as
well as stitched in drawings and handwritten notes. Fabrics were mostly
mended or upcycled. Procuring garments that were
procuring garments that addressed their own material history in a patchwork
erratic logic. As no two Run garments were identical Cianciolo transgressed the
conventions of traditional high fashion production by imbuing her garments with
the emotional trace of the hand. [Unknown name] wrote of Cianciolo’s work in
2005 that the design appear as hazardous combinations of DIY couture and
calculated artwork. The clothes put the aesthetic of customizing of
personalizing existing fashion structures in order to find a motive
individual expression. Yet their detail decreed by the designer and
sense a level of artistic commitment that runs counter to naive intuition. So
following Lehman’s analysis of Cianciolo’s work and in trying to engage
this unique kind of materiality that is really visible in her work I would like
to argue that Susan proposes a kind of aesthetics of the archive in a variety
of ways. So to kind of backtrack a little bit and also because I think we’ve been
talking about archives all day. I would like to first define the archive as a
kind of repository or ordered system of documents and records both verbal and
visual. An archive is a structure based on the perception and understanding that
events and experiences always leave behind them a residual mark of their
occurrence in the form of a document. The document functions therefore as a trace
left by the past collected and organized these documents become the theoretical
premise and material basis for the construction of the archive and the
writing of history. Freud famously conceived of the document as a kind of
magical writing pad. A place where memories can be deposited and
reproduced later in time with the certainty that it will have remained
unaltered. Archiving is a memory practice in as much as memory is an archival
practice and certainly there is a distinct archival impulse in the most
Freudian sense in Susan’s work in that her garments cite the past by directly
addressing their own material history. Not only does Cianciolo’s work
function as historical relics of its makers as traces imprinted into
materials by laboring hands but by upcycling and scavenging textiles as
relics of a larger production system of fashion including the circulation
systems of waste and recycling. She and Joe Lewis work does not assimilate
materials to create any kind of image of newness but instead revels in their
inherent histories of use as kind of wearable palimpsests imbued with psychic
energy and I think in a way Susan takes on the kind of impossible task of
archiving fashion production altogether. Repeatedly
recalling the memory of production through fashion objects however abstract
unfathomable or broken this kind of memory is because of course this is a
broken memory. We don’t know the stories of our clothes.
We can’t visualize the journey of the textile from farm to factory to
secondhand store and this kind of loss, this amnesia or entropy is essential in
both Freud and later Derrida theorization of the archive. A death
Drive really that only feeds a desire for more archives as we’ve seen
today for more memory really an archive fever on [unknown word]. So Susan closed her
line and studio in 2001 and immediately recast herself as a fine artist
thus switching from one cultural production system to another.
Interestingly in her practice she’s continuously
revisited her fashion archive consisting of garments, lookbook, sketches, and photo
collages for exhibition context and it is this that I will focus on for the
rest of my exhibition for my presentation sorry. That will also
involve a slight methodological switch to art history. Please forgive me.
Mainly because archives take such a different presence in contemporary art
theory. So it was Foster who wrote that the presence of archives in
contemporary art is a tactic to make historical information often lost or
displaced physically present. He elaborates that archives and art
are not databases for studies like traditional archives such as fashion
archives but that they are recalcitrant material fragmentary
rather than fungal and as such they call out for human interpretation not
mechanically reprocessing. Concerned less with absolute origins than with obscure
traces archival art is often drawn to unfulfilled beginnings or incomplete
projects in art and in history alike that might offer new points of departure
for the materials. Archiving through effective association Charles Merewether has discussed functions as a kind of idiosyncratic memory making,
however partial or provisional and constitutes a gesture of alternative
knowledge or counter memory which can Harbor the possibility of an unexpected
utopian dimension. And I think the history of utopian dress might be
something that would be really interesting in discussing in this
context. But as Merewether also argues presenting historical documents in a
seemingly personal or idiosyncratic fashion only underscores the nature of
all archival material as found yet constructed factual yet fictive public
yet private. All archives possess a trace of the hand and the idiosyncrasies of
subjective memory and association but some strive to erase this aesthetic
while others celebrate it. Cianciolo’s archival strategy is indeed
idiosyncratic, very associative, and highly unpredictable and it’s
interesting because she only engages one archive which is her own. Since 2015
Cianciolo has included her archive into her fine art practice effectively
distributing it into small clusters such as boxes which you see here, books
tapestries, or wall based collages. This is the inside of her boxes that are
actually when you buy them you’re meant to use them and take them
out almost like a treasure box. Focusing on material remnants and in between
documents from her fashion business as much as from her personal life you
encounter in her work photographs, newspaper cutouts, pieces of fabric, music
tapes, dolls, handwritten notes, old costume history books plastered with
images and sketches clustered together and ordered by no real legible system
but always in beautiful ways. At first sight some of her pieces seem most of all
like private photo albums or a child’s treasure box but they are very
labored and indeed aestheticized constellation at times even environments
that ultimately serve an exhibition area purpose.
So why archive and why this memory practice for a fashion designer? As I
mentioned earlier archives have long been theorized as a way to retain access
to memory and to history. As Merewether writes elaborating on Freud
this form of writing through materials can serve as a way to stave all
forgetfulness and the passage of time even temporality itself and there’s a
really direct and quite apt connection to Susan’s practice here in that Susan
actually suffers from partial memory loss permanent memory loss following a
serious accident in the mid-2000s which made it hard for her to recall old
memories as well as generate new ones. But working with her as a curator it was
really a joy to see how these materials from images to garments serve as a kind
of like quite literally as material memory prompters enabling her to
precisely place them in time and space in relationship to each other. During the
install of our exhibition we brought up at large box of old Run garments many
unlabeled and within seconds she was able to classify each according to year
and there was a picture of the garments here. Echoing Freud susan has explained
to me how she has learned to rely on archives to build new memories and to
make new work and find a comfort and regenerative energy in repetition such
as restaging old installations or performances. But as much as this story
is quaint for a theory of the archive I’m also cautious about setting up such
a causal relationship and I actually really want to propose how Susan
radically challenges the normative idea of archiving fashion and this happens
mostly through her absolutely unstatic irreverent and uncalculable methodology. Working with her in her archive housed and cared for by
her gallerist I learned how the materials of her archive, from close to
miscellaneous materials, constantly figure in an internal process of
recalibration and reordering only assuming a static form if they are sold
for example as her boxes or her tapestries.
So here archival materials such as fabrics garments drawings notes and
images might find new life as components of an art installation or as new
garments just debris broken up once more in the future.
Naturally this causes quite a bit of logistical stress for both gallerists and
for curators and for example a few days before the install of my exhibition the
Fashion Work, Fashion Workers at the Hessel Museum I got a call from Susan’s
gallerist apologizing that the five scrapbooks that I had reserved from my retrines were no longer available because Susan had incorporated them into one of
her new library installations and so I ended up getting another set of books
that were just as amazing but some that I had never seen before but she had sort
of pulled out from under her bed. But really incredibly this also extends to
the archive of her fashion proper of her Run collection. While Cianciolo’s
pieces have been acquired and systematically archived and preserved by
museums including this one her own archive is a moving entity that
constantly reinterprets and renegotiates the past and future of her garments as
they are deconstructed and reassembled copied and worked on for the further
several decades later after their initial presentation. So while the
temporalities of the Run collection counted as run one, run two, run three, etc
might allude to sort of modernity rapacious emphasis on progress run is
actually running in circles. Bridging connections across space and
time from the 90s to the 2000s from fashion shows to art installations and
you can see that but these are basically archival garments but some for example
the one in the back is a pattern that from run three that she recreated for
run 8. While it’s the skirt in the front is a run two I believe is like
pattern but that was recreated in 2016 and she’s sometimes just simply rips up
old pieces of garments and remakes them into art installations and the way that
she then nominates or sort of classifies objects historically is really
interesting and sort of changes all the time. So what we’re looking at here is
certainly not a practice that furthers the conventional temporality of archives
which systematizes the past as well as fashion which emphasizes newness
rather it’s a persistent undoing of them. Susan Cianciolo’s archival practice
works against the archives by constantly deconstructing it while at the same time
being wholeheartedly devoted to it. Almost all of her work sites and
juxtaposes stuff from her past and this poses I would argue a radical challenge
to and critique of art museological and fashion institutional archiving
practices alike in that it challenges us in how we remember fashion as
individuals institutions and and industries.
Cianciolo presents a refined reflection on how fashion garments in particular
occupy a strange asynchronic position in our life. As at once memory objects in
possession and in possession of the excitement of the new. Cianciolo’s
archival practice excels because it doesn’t dictate a given structural order
of how to inscribe order or recall history but rather exposes how memory is
a concept that excels temporal or historical modalities dominated by the
present or by the past of memories fixed in time and this resonates with Derrida
who in his discussion of Freud located exactly this deconstructive practice at
the heart of all archives. Derrida writes that the architecture that the
archive will never be either memory or recall of a spontaneous alive or
internal experience on the contrary the archive takes place at the place of
original memory and in fact marks the structural breakdown of the set memory.
Archive fever then which I think all of us have here it means to run pun
intended after the archive even if there’s too
much of it right where something in it and archives itself. It is to have the
compulsive, repetitive, and nostalgic desire for the archive and an
irrepressible desire to return to the origin a homesickness and nostalgia for
the return to the most archaic place of absolute commencement end quote.
But as [unknown name] has elaborated assembled archives demarcates itself against any authentic moment of archivisation of itself. It is an impossible archive which only begins or
comes too late but never is as such. So to summarize I’ve tried to show how
Susan’s archival practice challenges the idea of fixed archival documents and
this includes the notion of a finished fashion item locked and ethics to a
particular fashion temporality. Rather archives unfold as entities which has
layers and layers and layers of meaning in the prime past as well as in the
present grounded in a material objects as much as in the mind and to finish I
just wanted to end with a quote by Jean Francois Liotta who that I found
yesterday and which I think might resonate really nicely with all of
today’s presentations. It’s from his 1990 book Heidegger and the Jews that writing
becomes the memory that never forgets that there is the forgotten and never
stops writing its failure to remember and to fashion itself according to
memory. Thank you.

One Reply to “Colloquium | Jeppe Ugelvig “Memory Garments: The Non-Archive of Susan Cianciolo””

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *