back

other voices



Fashion, and perhaps even more second hand clothing, is a vehicle with which we can contemplate the mystical relations between mind and matter. Through our relation with the second skin we can meditate on the realms of spirit, matter, life, death, ephemerality, eternity and grace. How can fashion be a matter of presence rather than representation.
The connection between clothing and the stains created by the carnal existence of the body forms the ultimate reality of clothing and fashion. Can real fashion have stains? There is nothing more "unfashionable" than sweat stains or other revelations of undesired somatic expressions. Take for example second hand clothing; How do former users live on in second hand clothing, and how much do we accept as new wearers? How much of senior carnal reality do we accept as we inhabit these skins and make them our own.
A stain is a proof of casual relations, a symbol of a factual confrontation with reality. The damage is a symbol of what semiotician Charles Sanders Peirce would call an "indexical" sign; a sign linked to its reference object by an actual connection or real reaction or relation. The stain is a direct passage between two realities, between two worlds that seemed separated but through the sign exhibit a direct linkage. This type of signs have always been significant within cultures of faith to verify the connection between the divine or spiritual and the realm of man.
We don't have to look long to find clothing being this special medium for connecting between the spiritual world and the reality of our everyday life. We wear clothing most of our life and special garments come to represent transition points and rites of passage. Especially within religious context this has long been dwelt upon. Garments and textiles within various faiths are used to fuse past and future, mind and matter, individual and collective.

 
Veil of Veronica
 

A famous example of everyday textile or clothing becoming a tool for spiritual representation is the Veil of Veronica. If we examine the Catholic Encyclopedia, we find that the name "Veronica" is a portmanteau of the two words Vera (Latin; truth), and Icon (Greek; image). During medieval times the Veil of Veronica was regarded as the true image and representation of Jesus as no human hand had been part of its creation. The depicted face on the veil, or rather indexical sign, or direct mark of physical presence, was formed as the sweat of Jesus formed a print on the veil as Veronica dried his face. This presence is zero degree byzantian icon; the authenticity of holy sweat condensed into veridical representation.
The direct link is made visible for what St. Athanasius of Alexandria called "God became human so humans could become God"
During the byzantine iconoclasm (between iconoclasts "image-breakers" and iconodules "one who serves images") the question concerning the position of icons within the faith became a violent struggle. St. Augustine of Hippo made a crucial distinction relating the utilization of icons, that between uti and frui, love of use and love of enjoyment. And icon could be loved for use, but not for enjoyment. It could be used as a passage to spirituality, but not be enjoyed as an image or depiction of God. Still, the only true representation or "icon" of Jesus was the Eucharist, as the bread and wine were seen as the actual body and blood of Jesus.
Indeed, the body could be said to be our most truthful representation of what we regard as "self", and within catholicism the connection between body fluids and truth is a central dogma of authenticity. Not only does the wine and bread turn into the blood and body of Christ during Eucharist or Holy Communion, but every painting of the crucifixion is a reveling in sanguinary sincerity.

 
ghost diagram
ghost shirt "kids"
ghost haunting tatty's
[ghost haunting tatty's]



As a point of reference, medieval paintings of the crucified Christ could often contain scenes where his spurting blood literally fed the craving faithful (Heartney 1999). The incarnated word of God, the flesh of faith, the pain of truth; all aspects of veracity when words couple with carnal reality. Likewise, when Thomas the Apostle doubts the resurrected Christ, the concrete test of the spirit materiality was to touch the wounds caused by the nails and spears of the romans before being convinced (John 20:24-29).
The corpus of Christ, with its bodily fluids, has a central place in Catholicism as it symbolizes of the perfect continuum between the realms of God and man. Indeed, the meeting between spirit and body always creates rather complex theological argument about the relation between the divinity and humanity of Christ. When Jesus tries to explain spiritual reality to his apostles it is his body which becomes the vehicle to embodied human experience. And touching a wound might just be the zero degree reality check, as exemplified below in Caravaggio's "The Incredulity of St Thomas" (c.1601).

 
Caravaggio's Thomas
 

This notion defies an absolute split between the physical and spiritual realms, as it also calls to attention the mysticism of carnal reality, rather than restrain the mystical to the spiritual realm.
Also within less institutionalized faith systems, such as the belief in ghosts or spirits we can see connections to clothing. The spirits (from Latin "Spiritus"; Breath), are the ethereal incarnations of life, the phantasms of lost physical being. Ghosts are "specters", images or specific frequencies stuck in the line of unification between the extremes at either end of life and death, mind and matter, eternal and ephemeral.

 
ghost diagram
"granny" shirt
ghost haunting tatty's
[afterlife at tatty's]
 
The "Other Voices" project was an attempt to reinterpret "spirit photographies" as a means to divulge on the possibility for former owners of clothes to have an "afterlife" with the new wearers. Spirit photographies has been a genre of paranormal depiction all through the history of photography but has often revealed as simple double exposure. These photographies are meant to portray spiritual entities, often departed relatives or ghosts bound to specific places. The spirits of these photographies apperar as unintended "stains" on the original image. The medium of photography, as a hertzian capture-device, has long been thought to reveal more information than what can be seen with the bare eye and as such penetrate deeper into the eather of dead souls.
These types of phenomena are usually sorted under the term of parapsychology (Greek Para; "alongside"). Thus a type of existence parallel to, or on another axis, than that between life and death. As anomalous processes of information or energy transfer these forces are usually termed "psi" (from Greek "psyche"; mind, soul).
Fashion, being pure transcendental myth, meets the corporeal stains of body presence as fashion's incarnation, clothing, becomes tainted by the "paranormal" forces of life. Garments stained by life contain the psi of other voices. These are voices generally unheard of in fashion. Other wills and destinies once lived within the boundaries of these skins. Old garments were once fashion, full of life, zeitgeist and excitement, and are now haunted exoskeletons of lost dreams. If the dreams and expectations were still valid the clothes would probably not have been discarded.
Could stains on photos and stains on garments reveal a new perspective on used garments?

 
ghost diagram
hood hoodie
ghost haunting tatty's
[revenant at tatty's]
 
 
Values, memories and ideals of beauty are embodied in matter through social rituals. Cosmetics is an everyday manifestation of such rituals; in 1933 Vogue magazine declared the act of applying lipstick to be one of the "gestures of the twentieth century". (Peiss 1998: 155) Likewise, cosmetics have also been thought of as a therapeutic tool, such as when a spokesperson of the cosmetics industry asserted in 1937 that "many a neurotic case has been cured with the deft application of a lipstick" (Peiss 1998: 156). The industry has its own goals but builds on a solid foundation throughout history of rituals of fashion.
Parallels can be drawn to archaic religions with rituals of transsubstantiation and eye-appeal. The connection between beauty and the gods were very close in ancient Egypt and cosmetics was a liquid interface between worlds. For the egyptians, the quest of embalming and conserving beauty (or the body) continued also after life through the act of mummification. Beauty was a very physical characteristic of a divine connection and not only a question of "inner beauty" of the spirit. Hathor was the goddess of beauty and love, the whose priestesses were schooled in the sacred feminine arts of ritual adornment. For example Malachite, an ingredient of ancient Egyptian cosmetics, was mined in goddess Hathor’s province of Sinai, and was the base for eye make up.
The act of worshiping Hathor transgressed the spiritual prayer by wearing her mineralized essence upon one’s body, creating a physical connection with the divine in the process of beautification - using the goddess mineral as a passage in creating a beatific image of oneself. Hathor's image was even reproduced on the reflective surface of mirrors, where she would be looking back at the observer, both as a background foundation and as model of beauty, as true godly inspiration engraved over the user's reflection. The same mirrors would also later be brought with the owner to their grave, because without one’s mirror image one was not complete and would thus be crippled in the coming life. Physical rituals with spiritual links were one with the concept of beauty. Today's visual culture is indeed similar, but today beauty is engraved on our iris through reproductions of endless perfection - is that our contemporary eternal bliss of beautification? What physical marks can arouse the extramundane qualities of fashion, yet anchor us in tangible reality?

hathor

Quite like the Veil of Veronica, stains from paranormal poltergeist disturbances, or the cosmetics of Hathor, we take delight in the continuum between the spiritual and physical world where incarnations and transsubstatiations leave their marks - and leave us with quesitons. Where are the owners of these second hand clothes today and what kind of life did they live in these skins? Where did these textile vehicles take them?
What are the faces of these spirits? What are the traces of these dead dreams once draped in clothes?
By merging spirit photographies into "ghost archetypes", the aim has been to let other voices manifest themselves onto second hand garments, quite as old stains and wear patterns reveal something of the use of old clothes.
When you find a garment that is just "you" in a second hand shop, you know that someone was quite that "you" before you. Someone dressed in the same dreams as you. Like a Rorschach test, you can try to identify traces of the previous owners and their desires.
Through the psi of fashion you can hear the distant noises - of other voices.

 
ghost diagram
ghost shirt
ghost haunting tatty's
[evoked spirit at tatty's]
   
 
with great thanks to Textile & Design Lab, AUT, Auckland,
Tatty's Designer Recycle, Ponsonby and model Rebecca Rose
.
   
 
references:
Heartney, Eleanor (1999) "A Catholic Controversy? - parallels between earlier and modern Catholic artists" in Art in America, Dec 1999
Peiss, Kathy (1998) Hope in a Jar: The Making of Americas's Beauty Culture. New York: Metropolitan Books

back