As I mentioned in an earlier post the collaborative audio-visual work – Terrible Karma: reverberations of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire – created by Adeola Enigbokan and myself was being shown at Western Canada Fashion week’s official after party Splash! last Friday night (April 1st).
The audio-visual work had originally been made to mark the centenary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in which 146 workers (mainly young immigrant women) were killed on March 25th 1911. To join in with centenary commemorations that were happening in New York Adeola and I played the work – which brought together oral histories of Triangle fire survivors and photographs depicting working conditions of the period with audio recordings of mega-scale garment factories in Qingyuan, China and the protest cries and songs of present-day garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia – out of the back of a UHAUL truck parked in locations that were site specific to the events of the Triangle Fire and its aftermath (for documentation of this click here).
This way we were able to insert our piece, which sought to invoke the contemporary and global resonances of the Triangle fire, into the path of official commemorations and rallies. The work, which mingled sounds and voices from different times and places, was 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. In the back of the truck urban areas like New York, Qingyuan, Dhaka and Phnom Penh folded into each other as we traced the rhythm of the needle’s stitch over a century.
Terrible Karma thus sought to present 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.
We sought to extend this reverberation further at Splash! the official after party of Western Canada Fashion Week. The opportunity to insert the piece – which sought to make connections between the Triangle Fire centenary and the much less publicized fires which continue to kill garment workers in places like Bangladesh and Cambodia 100 years later – within the context of a party organized to celebrate the glossy and seductive world of fashion was one not to be missed.
Splash! was taking place at 10507 109 Street, formerly Donovan’s Fashions – a high-end women’s fashion outlet in Edmonton. A re-worked version of Terrible Karma was installed into the fitting rooms area, in tune with the works previous commitment to site-specificity.
Artist and creative producers contributing to Splash! were asked to make work that included new creations made from City of Edmonton leisure centre uniforms. These were featured in a silent auction of artwork and fashion fundraiser at the end of the night.
Although our work wasn’t going to feature in the auction we were asked to still make use of the leisure uniforms. You will see in the photographs how we incorporated them into the piece and how we made use a smaller fitting room connected to the main fitting-room/exhibition space.
The fitting room space we had been allocated to show the work in was off a long corridor which led you to the fitting rooms of the former department store. This was also where the coat check was positioned. This created the interesting juxtaposition of Edmonton’s fashionistas revealing their specially selected outfits for the night with the images and sounds of Terrible Karma as their backdrop (which included myself in a dress I had purchased in a thrift store in NY).
The term “fashionista” is a gently sarcastic term for a person who is an enthusiast for fashion (a term which I could label myself with). It covers not only the dedicated followers of fashion who wear the clothes, but can also refer to those who design, make, model, publicize and write about clothes, and the fashion buyers whose decisions determine the success of a collection.
The term Fashionista is sometimes used interchangeably with the term “Fashion Victim” – a term claimed to have been coined by fashion designer Oscar de la Renta – which is used to identify a person who is unable to identify commonly recognized boundaries of style.
Fashion victims are “victims” according to de la Renta because they are vulnerable to faddishness and materialism, two of the widely recognized excesses of fashion, and consequently are at the mercy of society’s prejudices or of the commercial interest of the fashion industry, or of both.
The question I hoped Terrible Karma would raise at Splash! was: who are the “fashion victims” when we think about the consequences of globalization within the fashion industry and its conditions and spaces of labour?
As you will see from the photos some people were struck by this question, while others ignored the work completely. After all, it was a party celebrating the fashion machine and not many of us like to be guilted into asking questions about the choices we make as consumers at such a party… we just hope to be caught looking fabulous.
Click on the images for a larger view and descriptions.