Triangle

 

Terrible Karma: reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

created and curated by Adeola Enigbokan and Merle Patchett

This work is self-motivated and self-funded. If you watch/listen to this work all we ask in return is that you leave a comment at the bottom of this page stating where in the world you experienced it so we can attempt to track how far it reverberates. Thanks!

Terrible Karma is a mobile sound and photographic installation exploring the global reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, on its 100th anniversary.

Terrible Karma works from the premise that ‘sound is haunting… a presence whose location in space is ambiguous and whose existence in time is transitory’ (David Toop), meshing oral histories of Triangle fire survivors with audio recordings of mega-scale garment factories in Qingyuan, China and protest songs of present-day garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia to invoke the contemporary and transnational resonances of the Triangle fire.

The title – Terrible Karma – refers to both the title of a protest song sung by Cambodian female garment workers at a union rally in Phnom Penh (July 2010 – click for translation) and to the idea that events of the garment industry past continue to haunt the present, that injustice unresolved always comes back. The work arises out of our mutual desire to mark the centenary of the Triangle factory fire whilst also exploring the constraints and conditions in which garment workers continue to work, live and die.

The work ‘takes to the streets’ on March 25th, 2011 when the sounds and photographs it presents will be projected out of a van driven through the streets of New York, stopping at various points to allow passers-by to experience the work from inside its claustrophobic confines.

Adeola and I will be out this Friday morning and afternoon (10-2) in downtown Manhattan, at Cooper Square, and near the location of the fire, at Washington Place and Greene Street. Follow the path on the map, and look out for our UHAUL truck, containing the audio-visual installation above. If you’re in town, drop by and spend some time in the back of the truck, feeling the reverberations of the fire, 100 years later.

For those not in NY the work is available to experience by watching the online version of the work posted above (to get the best effect play it full-screen by clicking on the icon between the HD and vimeo symbols on the bottom right of the screen).

You can also download the work directly from: http://vimeo.com/21261887

To just listen to the sound component of the work here it is in .wav and .mp3:

.wavTerrible Karma_Final

.mp3

To see documentation of the NY event see:

http://merlepatchett.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/documentation-of-terrible-karma-u-haul-truck-as-mobile-exhibition-space/

N.B. This work is self-motivated and self-funded. If you watch/listen to this work all we ask in return is that you leave a comment at the bottom of this page stating where in the world you experienced it so we can attempt to track how far it reverberates. Thanks!

Special thanks are due to Matthias Kispert, Jean Marshall, Gearóid Dolan and Will Zimmermann for helping us to make this happen.

***

Background and Motivation for the Work

1.5 billion garments are sewn by an estimated 40 million people working in 250,000 factories across countries designated by the UN as the world’s least developed. This army is the engine for the Cut Make Trim (CMT) part of fashion: the point in the fashion chain where the garment is assembled and sewn. Life in the CMT army is grim, particularly in Bangladesh. A report last year by the International Trade Union Confederation gave workers there the inauspicious title of “most poorly paid in the world”. The job of a garment worker is also very dangerous. On the 14th of December 2010 a fire broke out at the That’s It Sportswear factory, in Ashulia, Dhaka, killing at least 29 workers and injuring 100 more.[1] The facility is run by one of Bangladesh’s biggest garment export companies, Ha-Meem, and produces for global retailers including Gap.

The events of the Ashulia fire, which saw female workers jumping to their deaths from the 10th and 11th floors as fire exits were blocked, horribly echo the events of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. March 25th this year marks the centenary of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory disaster in New York. In that incident 146 young female garment workers were killed, again largely because fire exits were either locked or blocked. It remains one of the city’s biggest industrial disasters and marked the birth of the labor rights movement in the US. The victims are commemorated in a museum and many books. But in places like Bangladesh and Cambodia there are so many garment fires that they barely register. [2]

See also this documentary - Struggling to Stitch - produced by Nadia Sussman which takes a look  look inside New York’s contemporary garment industry, where day laborers are hard pressed to find paying jobs.

Full Description of the Work

Terrible Karma is a mobile sound and photographic installation exploring the transnational reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, on its 100th anniversary. Terrible Karma works from the premise that ‘sound is haunting… a presence whose location in space is ambiguous and whose existence in time is transitory’ (David Toop), meshing oral histories of Triangle fire survivors with audio recordings of mega-scale garment factories in Qingyuan, China and protest songs of present-day garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia to invoke the contemporary and transnational resonances of the Triangle fire.

The work ‘takes to the streets’ on March 25th, 2011 when the sound and photographs will be projected out of a van driven through the streets of New York, stopping at various points to allow passers-by to experience the work from inside the claustrophobic confines of the van. Terrible Karma presents spaces and times as folded, allowing distant presences, events, and people to become more intimate and the contemporary resonances of the Triangle Fire to reverberate. This event, which mingles sounds and voices from different times and places, is not simply a memorial for the women killed in the New York factory fire, but an exploration of the constraints and conditions in which women continue to work, live and die.

Urban areas like New York, Qingyuan, Dhaka and Phnom Penh fold into each other as we trace the rhythm of the needle’s stitch over a century. The work follows that rhythm, in its benign existence as women’s work, until the intensity of repetition, of needle-piercing-cloth catches fire. It is this repetitive quality—of machine rhythms, of  movement circumscribed, of fire, of no escape—that we draw upon to create a space where interactivity with the spectral might occur.

Curator Bios

Adeola and Merle met at the workshop Experimenting with Geography: See, Hear, Make-Do at the University of Edinburgh, May 3rd-7th 2010. This week-long international training school was dedicated to developing a diverse range of craft skills associated with audio, visual and site-specific methodologies and involved hands-on practical workshops led by leading creative practitioners from the sonic and visual arts. On meeting and realizing the affinities of their research interests and creative practices they decided that they wanted to collaborate on a project and Terrible Karma was set in motion.

Adeola Enigbokan is an artist, researcher, writer and teacher based in New York City. Her work is all about the experience of living in cities today. She has presented work in a variety of formats in diverse venues: at the ConfluxCity Festival, Anthology Film Archive in New York, The Royal Institute for British Architects, London and the Van Leer Institute, Jerusalem. She teaches Urban Studies, Media Studies, Sociology and Anthropology at universities in New York City, while completing a doctorate in Environmental Psychology at the City University of New York. For examples of past work go to: http://www.archivingthecity.com

Dr Merle Patchett is a cultural geographer and freelance curator. Her past four years of research were dedicated to the exploration of human and animal lives connected through the cultural practice of taxidermy, and wholly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This project critically examined the craft worlds and knowledge-practices of taxidermists, past and present, and their material culture of animal remains. To date, she has published on this research in international peer-reviewed journals and has been a co-curator of taxidermy artwork exhibitions at the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow.

Merle is presently based in Edmonton where she is developing a creative practice as an ‘experimental geographer’, part of which includes curating the forthcoming exhibition Fashioning Feathers: Dead Birds, Millinery Crafts and the Plumage Trade (www.fashioningfeathers.com) in association with the Material Culture Institute, University of Alberta.


[1] The final fatality list has still not been fully disclosed.

[2] The information in this section is taken from Lucy Siegle’s article “Why we must own up to the human cost of our obsession with cheap clothes”, in The Observer Sunday December 19th 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/19/cheap-clothes-bangladesh-lucy-siegle

PLEASE POST A COMMENT STATING WHERE YOU EXPERIENCED THE WORK BELOW:

30 Responses to Triangle

  1. Annelise Orleck says:

    I will be coordinating some conferences of labor historians and activists from out of town. Can you let me know where and when you will be driving and projecting your sound and images so that my group can be sure to see it?
    Best,
    Annelise Orlck
    Labor and Working Class History Association

  2. Merle says:

    Hi there,

    Adeola and I would love for you to experience the work. We haven’t quite finalized the route yet but will probably set out from the Cooper Union Building as this is where the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union gathered to discuss general strike action or set out from when they marched.

    All the details will be posted on this blog and at http://rememberthetrianglefire.org/ but if you would like to email me so that I can send you the details personally here is my email address: merle44@hotmail.com.

    Best,

    Merle

  3. Pingback: Terrible Karma: reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire | Experimental Geography in Practice

  4. Pingback: Terrible Karma: reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire | Experimental Geography in Practice

  5. Pingback: terrible karma « Archiving the City

  6. Brian Rosa says:

    Reverberations in Manchester, UK, which I suppose is the prologue to this ongoing story.

  7. Pingback: Terrible Karma: Reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire « Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition

  8. Kim Olson says:

    I experienced this in Edmonton…..

  9. Kristina Weaver says:

    The “Struggling to Stitch” documentary is a powerful piece. An example of the really interesting video journalism being produced by the New York Times.

    Washington, DC

  10. Your work reverberates in Leicester…

  11. Amy Chilton says:

    thank you for sharing these haunting yet touching stories, sounds and images….
    experienced in Edmonton…would have loved to experienced on the streets of NY!

  12. Liz Gomez says:

    Reverberating in Edmonton, Alberta.

  13. Andriko says:

    Congratulations Merle – This installation acts as a powerful resistance against the quick to forget and an even more powerful visioning of the unseen and invisible. Tarrying at the fabric of oppression and emergent women’s action, Terrible Karma serves as a relief gathered across a century. The fabric now pulled together to speak to a new generation becoming ever more aware of the haunting nature of human life existing at the margins.
    The finished video comes off clear with purpose. Saw this in Edmonton, Alberta – so I hope all goes well in New York.

  14. Gemma Patchett says:

    Looking forward to seeing the pictures of it projected onto the buildings of New York! And hearing the feedback from those who actually get to experience it…
    Best Wishes from Pitlochry SCOTLAND!

  15. Alison Roxburgh says:

    An effective and haunting memorial with a very important modern-day resonance, representing thousands of women around the world across the century. Watched and admired in London, UK.

  16. Jo Norcup says:

    Really powerful footage and fantastic project – While unable to use this today, The footage has been referenced and used with international students studying an applied humanities geography course at UCL, London. It has enriched our studies into geographies of power, capitalism, and alternatives which we have been exploring these past couple of weeks and has proven a potent event (the events themselves and your ‘terrible karma’ reverberations). Keep up the thoughtful geographical experimentals. All best to you today with your travels around NYC. Jo.

  17. Helen Wilkinson says:

    I watched it in Edinburgh’s Central Library. I found the experience as interesting as the premise and that is not always the case with me and installation pieces. It was haunting and I’m still pausing for thought an hour later. I hope it gets a permanent place in a peoples museum somewhere.

  18. Thank you for your work. I’m the author of a collection of poetry about coal mining in the southern fields of Colorado and the Ludlow Massacre (Trembling in the Bones).

    Denver, Colorado

  19. Cheryl McGeachan says:

    Loved this, really powerful and makes me want to buy a van and join in! Good luck with the project. Watched this in the School of Geographical & Earth Sciences at the Univeristy of Glasgow, Scotland, with many others who all can’t wait to hear more about how it all goes …

  20. Jero Montero says:

    Reverberations from Mar del Plata, Argentina.
    Great job, thanks for your dedication! Looking forward to some some collaborative stuff soon.

  21. Duncan Hay says:

    Very imaginative use of a mobile space that reaches those in the inner cityscape. I experienced this in Edmonton.

  22. mohoohoo says:

    This is thought provoking work and made me think what I am wearing, where it comes from, and how it was made. It is a calm piece, drawing you in, but leaving images I think will stick. Yes, you need the full screen to see the details of the photographs used. The title makes itself clear at the end, rewarding full attention. It was helpful to see the other video too.

    If you don’t know it already, you might be interested in these links. There was an exhibition at Iniva in London covering similar themes. Not the fires so much as conditions of labour, consequences of globalisation.

    Artworks:
    Chen Chieh-jen: Factory
    NS Harsha: Nations

    http://www.iniva.org/exhibitions_projects/2009/nations
    http://www.iniva.org/exhibitions_projects/2009/chen_chieh_jen

    Where I live in Scotland, there are still some niche work, making cashmere jumpers for the high end fashion trade. I was privileged to spend a couple of days in the factory, drawing what was going on and seing incredible skill with which the employees worked. Many special words, a proud tradition.

    http://inthepresenttense.net/2010/08/19/the-yarn-store/
    http://inthepresenttense.net/2010/09/14/stages-in-becoming-a-jumper-2/

    Not like your documentation at all – more celebratory. A very different thing to the unionised day labourers’ experience. Mind you, the workers in that factory are very aware that they are one of the last places still open. Also there are questions about the cashmere, its provenance. I was approaching it from the idea of the animal becoming wool.

    It seems to me it’s best just to get what you need clothes-wise, good quality as you can, fair-trade – are you interested also in documenting models of ethical practice and consumption?

    Thank you very much for your work. Look forward to seeing how the thread develops.

    Essenside, Selkirk, Scotland

  23. erikwdavis says:

    Dear Merle and Adeola, I’m so very pleased that my translation of the Cambodian unionists song “terrible karma” was helpful to you in the production of this amazing-looking work of art/action/mobile education station/commemoration (!). Your take on the relationship between the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire 100 years ago and the ongoing factory fires throughout the world is dead-on – as a global humanity, we remain haunted by the crimes and behavior of those who feel that murder can be moved without repercussion. You probably know that one of the owners of the Triangle factory was found locking his workers into a different factory less than a year later.

    These workers are the courageous people whose self-organization and actions in their own defense (quite often, literally physical self-defense) are my heroes, and I’m extremely impressed by your actions in support of them.

    In respectful solidarity,

    Erik Davis

    Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA,

  24. Pingback: Becoming Geographer-Aritist | Experimental Geography in Practice

  25. Rita Cola says:

    This is extremely touching. Thank you for sharing it. I wish you well in your project.

  26. Rita Cola says:

    Rita Cola
    I experienced this truly amazing testimony. Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey

  27. Kate P. says:

    Stumbled on this doing research for methods of geography presentation. What a moving way to display knowledge and research injecting creativity into the field.
    Montreal, Canada

  28. Pingback: Speaking with Spectres: Experimental Geographies in Practice | Experimental Geography in Practice

  29. Pingback: Using Film - Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire - Pilant's Business Ethics

  30. Pingback: Using Sound To Bring The Invisible City Out In The Open | Brandeis City Blog

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