Fashion Work, Fashion Workers brings together five artistic projects that engage the production, presentation, and distribution processes of the fashion industry. Through a combination of archival material, moving images, and garments, the exhibition explores fashion work in all its complexity, tracing it from the atelier of the garment-maker to the post-production editing suite of the campaign photographer. The historical arc of the exhibition draws connections between the collaborative, DIY-approaches to fashion design and promotion of the 1990s and the digitized and increasingly corporatized system of fashion of the 2010s, one in which aesthetic activities such as styling and creative directing have become ubiquitous. The exhibition suggests that in the creative economy of a post-Fordist society, the fashion worker is one of particular relevance, dynamically navigating the precarious platforms for critical expression while ensuring economic livelihood within the cultural industries. Collectively, these artists present a rigorous analysis of the industry of fashion by engaging, distorting, or circumventing its rules and conventions.
From 1995 to 1998, the shape-shifting cultural collective Bernadette Corporation operated as a ready-to-wear brand, releasing biannual collections and staging fashion shows that warped the conventions of traditional fashion communication. As an operational meta-brand, they examined fashion’s corporate co-option of urban youth culture, only to later re-cast their practice as magazine editors, releasing the short-lived but impactful magazine Made in USA between 1999 and 2001. At the same time, artist-designer Susan Cianciolo operated at the intersection of New York’s art and fashion worlds, staging conceptual fashion presentations through her idiosyncratic label RUN. Working closely with her friends and family, who she would enroll as co-designers, RUN functioned as a kind of total work of art that defied the norms of both fashion business and art practice. Her raw and ethereal designs, all handmade and unique, reflected Cianciolo’s personal and highly original approach to textile production, often making use of pre-existing materials that she would upcycle and recontextualize in new ways. For over twenty years, the European duo BLESS has devoted themselves to rethinking the conventions of fashion production and presentation. Bypassing definitions of art, design, and ready-to-wear, the duo has defined a new, idealist approach to fashion practice and business, one that, in their own words, functions as “a visionary substitute to make the near future worth living for.” They present their interdisciplinary work exclusively through “services,” which they display concurrently in museums, art biennales, and fashion stores around the world. Finally, fashion’s image culture is dissected in the work of the collective DIS, who has occupied a variety of roles in the worlds of art and fashion since their founding in 2008. Committed to exploring the status and politics of the image in a post-digital consumer society, their 2012 campaign Watermarked for fashion brand Kenzo critically reflects on the nature of commissioned image-making for corporate fashion brands.