Today is the final day to see Michèle Fandel Bonner’s show, Time and Materials, at Kingston’s Center Gallery. She takes upcycling to new levels, transforming her own hair into a sculpture that makes the gradual effects of time visible in one elegant tangle, and in her hands, 114 discarded t-shirts become a neat row of crocheted baskets. In her hands, discarded materials become new objects that glow with the attractive aura of “brand-new.” This ability translates into a source of hope, order, and self-reflection, interrupting the typical path of overflow that, uninterrupted, often ends in trash heaps. Indeed, Bonner pulls much of her source material from rejected clothing at the Lifebridge Homeless Shelter in Salem, MA.
The stand-out piece is in this exhibition is Hide III, part of a series of three overtly faux animal skins made from clothing labels on linen and cotton backing. Her Hides interrogate our drive to purchase new clothing before older items are worn out. She says the work “addresses how we use clothing to both hide and express ourselves.” This message hits home for me, as I own more than my fair share of J.Crew cardigans, and I don’t see that habit stopping anytime in the near future.
Bonner sources tags from clothes that are past even their thrift-shop days. The clothing is on its way to a fiber recycler to be shredded. To see the tags beautifully patchworked into a “trophy” in her Hide series is the closest I may ever come to understanding how hunters feel when they view animal trophies. It may feel harmless and even virtuous to “hunt down” sales at TJ Maxx, but Bonner wryly, and with virtuoso stitching, offers a reminder of the accumulating effects of compulsive consumption.
The conversation is ongoing, as indicated by a couple of recent blog posts. Denaye Benahona wrote about getting rid of her entire wardrobe on April 20 (she bought more, but much less and better clothes). I’ve recently shared another blog post by the brilliant Betsy Greer, but her April 24 article about Fashion Revolution Day is even more apt and a must-read on this subject. Marking the two-year anniversary of the Savar building collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 people and is considered the “deadliest garment factory accident in history (Wikipedia),” Greer’s article suggests that we mend clothing before discarding it and take note of all that our clothing labels signify.
Yuken Teruya’s impossibly delicate sculptures from fast-food bags and cardboard toilet paper rolls offer an initial message of hope and regeneration. However, they also tell us that recycling isn’t enough. Despite their potential, not every used-up roll, empty Burger King bag, or discarded shirt will become works of art. There are just too many. We are beyond recycling. Our resulting feelings of bleakness and discomfort may be productive, as awareness and acknowledgement may lead us to stop repeating ourselves, to resist the urge to buy more, and to remember the impact of things we toss away.
-Shana Dumont Garr