Interview: Counter-Fashion and Alternative Dress with the Rational Dress Society

All images by Lara Kastner

The Rational Dress Society is a collaborative art project founded by Maura Brewer and Abigail Glaum-Lathbury that produces a multi-use monogarment called JUMPSUIT as an alternative clothing option and way to directly combat the harmful practices of mass-market fashion companies. The piece’s design is ungendered, fits over 248 different sizes, and is often created in workshops the pair run as temporary pop-ups across the country.

In addition to JUMPSUIT, the pair started the project MAKE AMERICA RATIONAL AGAIN (or M.A.R.A.) following the 2016 election. The project encourages consumers to recycle their old Ivanka Trump brand garments, which the they plan on recycling into further iterations of JUMPSUIT.

The Rational Dress Society is included in our recent piece Not So Tight: Adjusting the Seams of Art and Fashion which takes a look at the intersection of art and fashion from a cultural, historical, and institutional perspective. Like many of the projects mentioned in the piece, Brewer and Glaum-Lathbury aim to present a project that pushes fashion to be more conceptual, and create art that bleeds further into design.

Exhibitions on the Cusp: How did the idea for JUMPSUIT grow out of each of your individual art practices?

Maura Brewer: Abigail has a background as a designer. My training is in visual art, and I do performance work and I make video. In the beginning, we were talking a lot about persona and artistic identity. When you are an artist you are frequently in social situations where you may be in the same room with people with a lot of money. There is this economic gap that happens socially in art. For artists, the question of what you wear in those situations becomes a problem. Thinking about this, Abigail and I started talking about the usefulness of having a uniform in these situations. She asked if I could have an everyday uniform, what would it look like? I automatically responded with a jumpsuit. The more we talked about it, we realized it wasn’t necessarily a project that was solving a problem for an artist, but it could rather be a project that was solving a problem for a widespread variety people.

In terms of how it relates to my practice, one thing I am very interested in is popular culture, and there is nothing more at the heart of mass cultural than fashion. In some ways it is less obvious how it relates to my practice than Abigail’s, but it has become very important for me to think of the world of digital images and the world of fashion as two kinds of analogous discourse.

Abigail Glaum-Lathbury: One of the other big components of the project was talking about where the fashion industry is, and how much we didn’t want to participate in its current state. It is cruel in a very unproductive way. Maura and I were talking about what a utopian or universal garment would look like, and were curious about the structural challenges within the industry that bar this garment from happening. We talk about JUMPSUIT as the opposite of a normal fashion company. Instead of producing a lot of things in a few sizes, we produce one thing in a million sizes. We turn everything inside out. The project is largely about mass culture, but it is also about economy and fashion’s larger structures of production.

Where does this desire for a daily uniform stem from?

MB: A lot of people that are in creative fields want a uniform. There have been studies that show that you can only handle so many choices before you stop being able to make meaningful choices later in the day, which is called cognitive overload. This is why Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg have become famous for their daily uniform. The act of putting your creativity into your clothing selection in the morning can prevent you from marking meaningful choices in your work or art practice later in the day. We’ve found that eliminating these choices by having a uniform is a common artists’ dream.

How did you come up with the design and pattern of JUMPSUIT? Did you tweak a form you had already found, or did you compile its design from multiple inspirations?

AGL: I invented the whole thing from a variety of areas of research. I am a fashion design professor, so the first place that I went to for sizing data was the textbooks that I teach from, but they proved to be wholly inadequate. The way that sizing works in fashion is that you make your sample size, which should be in the middle of the size range, but no one does that. Companies tend to start out with a small size, and then blow that up for larger sizes. That is just not how bodies work. I started to look at anthropometry, which is the study of human measurements as it relates to design. It is not a topic that gets discussed as often as I would like. I started looking at designs by NASA, uniform companies, and the military. There is this whole interesting history of standardized sizing which has been attempted to be adopted into ready-to-wear a number of times. It has always been without success because we do not come standard.

In what ways did you design JUMPSUIT, both in terms of aesthetics and functioning needed for daily movements?

AGL: One of the big things we needed to figure out was how the garment could function as a chameleon. How did it look when put in a wide range of settings? When we first started talking about it, people wondered if it was going to ugly. Instead of putting everybody in tin foil hats, we looked at what people were already wearing and wondered how we could work with that. Essentially it is a denim pant/trouser with a button-up shirt, but instead of button it has a zipper. It has something called a raglan sleeve which is basically the Goldilocks and Three Bears of sleeves. With a blazer sleeve, your arms are basically sewn down, and with a t-shirt sleeve there is a mass of bunched fabric when you put your arms down. A raglan sleeve splits the difference. It maximizes range of movement, while also looking formal.

Each of your JUMPSUIT sizes has an arbitrary name as a classification, like “lima,” “pause,” “quark,” and “rice.”  What was the reasoning behind these seemingly random names?

MB: We didn’t want to have any names that had a relationship to small, medium, or large, classifications that might make our users feel bad. If you look at our sizing chart, we have 248 sizes, but the chart is infinitely scalable. We also teach people to make the garments at hosted workshops. If you show up to make a garment and you are off our sizing chart, you get to name your own size.

Encouraging people to learn the skill and labor that comes with a garment seems extremely important. In what ways do people that attend your workshops learn to connect with the production of everyday clothing items?

AGL: One of the first things that happens in our workshops is that we teach visitors to sew the sleeve. They have a top seam and an under seam which are both not complicated. Once you put those two things together, you can slide them up your arm. After this happens in our workshop there are immediately squeals of delight. We don’t have relationship to the way our clothes are made. All of a sudden there is this understanding of production which then transitions to how impossible it is for Forever 21 to sell a top for $1.90.

MB: Capitalism deliberately distances us from the sites of production. Clothing companies are massive international corporations, and one major effect of that is that it becomes very difficult for us to conceptualize how and where our clothes are made, and our clothing becomes very abstract to us. Our wardrobe seems like something that has just appeared magically. I think for us, a lot of the joy of the project comes from the workshops because we want to demystify garment production. Once you learn that you can make your clothes, it really changes your relationship to them.

Would you situate the project in this movement of eco fashion that has been gaining momentum in the last few years?

AGL: I would say no. We need an alternative to the current system because it is not possible to continue at this pace, whether that is from an environmental, social, or economic standpoint. The problem that I have with eco fashion is that it frequently doesn’t address any of the underlying problems with clothing production. We are sold the idea of garment recycling, in which you make a t-shirt, and then someone wears the t-shirt, and then the material goes back into making another t-shirt. There actually isn’t really textile recycling like this. Recycled fibers break down and need to be combined with virgin cotton and polyester. But more than this,capitalism demands constant growth. More and more clothes are being produced each year. Am I critiquing the independent designer? No. Can everyone wear JUMPSUIT? No. I just have a hard time with the eco fashion movement because I feel like it doesn’t address many of the underlying structural concerns.

MB: I think when people ask if eco fashion projects are scaleable, what they don’t understand is that the problem is the problem of scale itself. Zara produces 1.23 million individual garments per day. Now extrapolate that out to H&M, or any other fast fashion company. We have never in human history seen that scale of mass production. It is incredibly inhuman to the workers and it is also an environmental catastrophe. We can switch out the fabrics, but it still doesn’t address the underlying problem that if you are a CEO of one of these companies you have to show increasing returns or the company is failing. The only real solution is a strategy of degrowth. Things need to slow down on a systemic level, and the only way is for people to stop buying clothes in the way that they buy clothes now.

What was the inspiration behind your project Make American Rational Again?

AGL: The Make America Rational Again campaign was born out of our horror and frustration after the election, and thinking about all of the false promises many clothing brands share. At Forever 21 you are given the idea that you should have endless self-expression. With Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, you are told you can have professionalism and are given the promise of upward mobility.

MB: …but only for a certain class of women. It is always hiding this aspect. One of the reasons we were interested in this project is the ways that clothes become this token of a promise of professional success or a watered down pseudo feminism. Meanwhile the garments are being produced by women working for slave wages in factories. There is no professional ladder for them to climb. What are the ways that we are being sold this vision of prosperity at the expense of the people around us? We were also thinking about how Donald Trump’s hats are made in Mexico and the other lies the family is spouting. The Trump family presents this glossy branded exterior while embodying the exact opposite of whatever is promised  

How will you transform Ivanka’s old clothing into new pieces for JUMPSUIT?

AGL: We still need to figure out the textile recycling. We have had quotes from $10,000 to $50,000. One of the things that was most interesting and surprising while researching this new stage was just how next to impossible textile recycling actually is, especially on a smaller scale. You can’t properly recycle mixed fibers. If you look at most of the clothes that are available today, they are a blend of different materials such as a cotton-poly blend, acrylic-cotton-poly blend, acrylic-wool blend, etc. Who actually knows what is in our clothes.

MB: Now we know textile recycling have these very limited circumstances, and is not truly circular because you are always adding back in virgin fiber.

How has the collaboration in turn influenced your individual practices?

AGL: What has been so exciting for me is that the project has shown how possible it can be to do things in a different way, and that critical clothing exists, which has been a carry through to several other personal projects.

MB: For me, learning about how artists and designers have historically worked together to create alternative and utopian dress has become a really interesting topic for me, and one that I feel has often been overlooked. I like seeing the space between fashion and art as a space of radical possibility. If we were a normal clothing company we would have to make decisions based on maximizing profits for the structural reasons we talked about. But because we are a sort of a fashion company and sort of an art project, we can get grants, we can price our garments where we want, and we can develop experimental models of production. This project has opened up new ways of thinking for me.Sitting around critiquing things is not enough. We need to start making new and better things.

How was the project informed by the 1881 Rational Dress Society

MB: We are very interested in the history of counter-fashion and alternative dress. One of the things that has been important to us is to draw attention to the ways that our project is not actually new, but is part of a long history of social reform through garment design. The original RDS were a group of feminist dress reformers who wanted to get women out of their corsets. They recognized that the impractical, elaborate and often uncomfortable fashions of the Victorian Era were holding women back, limiting their mobility and preventing them from holding down jobs and supporting themselves. It’s very important to us to honor and continue their legacy.

In what ways have you treated JUMPSUIT as an arts-based project, and in what ways have you treated it as a fashion collaboration?

MB: I think JUMPSUIT is a true hybrid. We often exhibit the project at art galleries and museums. Right now, for example, the staff of Art in General have committed to wearing nothing but JUMPSUIT for an entire summer, to see if adopting a uniform might bring them together and work to create less hierarchical group relations. These kinds of experiments are possible within an art context. On the other hand, we produce and sell the garments, and are committed to making them available for anyone to wear, just like any fashion company. JUMPSUIT isn’t a costume, it’s a useful garment that is meant to be worn on a daily basis. So it’s a little of both.

Interview: Creating Engaging Accessibility Programs With Sandy Guttman

A fair-skinned hand holds a small tactile replica of Yayoi Kusama’s painting Infinity Nets Yellow. The small square-shaped painting is bright yellow with a black background, and is five inches by five inches in size, with yellow paint that is applied over the black paint in a swirling repetitive net pattern, fanning out from the corner of the canvas similar to a spiderweb. The large painting, in the background is also bright yellow with a black background, and measures at about eight feet by ten feet. The small painting is meant to be touch by visitors while discussing Kusama’s painting methods. All images and verbal descriptions provided by Sandy Guttman.

This month we talked with Sandy Guttman, Curatorial Assistant at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. about her role in bringing accessibility-based programs to the museum. In addition to co-founding the museum’s Accessibility Task Force, Sandy also spearheaded the implementation of verbal description and American Sign Language tours, produces transcripts for time-based media, and collaborates with ArtLab+ to create 3D tactiles for touch tour experiences. You can learn more about Guttman, her role at the Hirshhorn, and the reason she uses verbal descriptions on Instagram in our new interview below.

Exhibitions on the Cusp: What are the most common accessibility programs present in large museums/institutions?

Sandy Guttman: Accessible tours tend to be fairly common in large museums. These tours utilize multiple forms of communication, which might include American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation, touch tours, and verbal description tours for visitors with vision impairment. While some institutions have incredible robust programming, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, each museum is different based on their visitor base, funding, and their educational programs. It really varies from museum to museum.

Other initiatives also include programs like the Smithsonian’s Morning at the Museum, which is designed for visitors with cognitive or sensory processing disabilities, and invites visitors to experience the museum before it opens, while also providing hands-on activities, and a quiet space to take a break from the exhibition. In order to prepare for the visit, a social narrative is shared with program participants, which details what the building is like, what they might experience when they get here, and some of the objects they may encounter.

Which accessibility programs do you hope to be common in museums in the near future?

This isn’t a program per se, but the implementation of captioning and transcriptions for time-based media and artworks that have sound is a growing interest in the field of contemporary art. With many art museums collecting and exhibiting works that include sound, there is the question of how the work may be made accessible to Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences, as well as those who might not understand the language spoken in the artwork. The production of transcripts for these works is one way to make them accessible, though it is not a common practice in all museums.

Storytime at the Hirshhorn Museum inside of the Mark Bradford work “Pickett’s Charge” this morning – with American Sign Language interpretation. This is just one of the accessible programs we’ve started in the last year, and seeing these young visitors engaging with the work fills me with such joy. Bravo to our team of educators! [Image description: A crowd of children and adults gather in a museum gallery looking at a person reading from a book for Storytime. A woman in a blue shirt stands next to a woman leading Storytime, interpreting the story in American Sign Language. The walls in the gallery are covered from floor to ceiling in an abstract work made up of torn paper and colored paint. The work is by the artist Mark Bradford and is titled “Pickett’s Charge.”]

What is a program you are working to implement or hope to implement in the near future at the Hirshhorn?

We were recently awarded a grant to research and develop an app that will take a transcript and caption the video or sound-work in real time. Similar to captioning you would see on television or lyrics on a karaoke screen, this app would deliver the transcript onto a mobile device timed perfectly with the artwork! The idea for this stemmed from an issue – how do we make our transcripts available and easier to use? There had previously been suggestions to caption video works, but adding a caption to a video changes the aesthetic and tampers with the integrity of the artwork. The proposed app would put the accommodation into the palm of the user’s hand, seamlessly syncing the captions with the artwork. No muss, no fuss.

Another similar program we are trying to pull together is a tour of our time-based media exhibition The Message given in American Sign Language. Two of the works in the exhibition have powerful poetic and musical components that simply wouldn’t translate well in a transcript. We are looking into having the works live-signed in ASL, in a way that is demonstrative of the power of the music in the background – similar to the sign language interpreters at concerts and festivals. Following the sign language interpretation of the work will be an educational discussion in both spoken and signed language.

What does the future of museum-based accessibility programs look like?

At a holistic level, museum accessibility will be rooted in inclusion, and will be built into the foundation of the museum – from the curatorial projects, to exhibition design, public programs, and community engagement. A key to the success of some of the programs we’ve implemented at the Hirshhorn Museum in the last year is the creation of our Accessibility Task Force, which includes members from departments across the museum: Curatorial, Exhibits, Public Engagement, Conservation, Photography, and Communications. Our bi-weekly gathering is where we brainstorm programs we would like to see happen, reflect upon programs we’ve completed, plotting our moves for the future – dreaming big and small.

Once a museum has the infrastructure in place to support programs, including accessible exhibition design, accommodations like transcripts and verbal description on audio guides, and staff devoted to improving and maintaining a standard of inclusion, the sky is really the limit.

Nine museum tactiles of various shapes and colors are placed on white table. In the upper left corner of the table are three small replicas of Yayoi Kusama’s sculpture titled Pumpkin. They are black and a translucent yellow color, with raised and inverted bumps that indicate the polka-dotted pattern of the pumpkin sculpture. Below the pumpkin tactiles are two replicas of Kusama’s Infinity Nets Yellow painting, comprised of black painted backgrounds with yellow net patterns painted over them. The painting on the bottom left is small and square shaped, the painting on the right is larger and rectangular in shape. The tactiles on the right side of the table are soft and phallic, made of red and white patterned cotton stuffed with cotton filling. There are four soft tactiles in total, and they are each about the size of a banana.

Can you describe the ways that you give tours of the museum’s exhibitions? How do you view your roll as an interpreter?

My role as an interpreter varies from tour-to-tour. At the Hirshhorn, we’ve devised several verbal description tours for exhibitions and our sculpture garden. Each tour starts with a description of the building, with a moment to touch some of the furniture and architecture in the lobby, which also serves to orient our visitors in the space and give a little bit of background on the museum’s history. Once we’re in the galleries, the tour is very similar to the standard tours we give, about 45 minutes long, often with a guiding theme. What is different about this tour, is that we give a brief description of the work before we discuss it, so that our visitors have some of the visual gaps filled for them. This practice is great as an educator and as a sighted visitor because it invites close and slow looking. In addition to describing the work, we often have tactiles – items a visitor may touch. For Janine Antoni’s work Lick and Lather (1993), we pass around chocolate and soap for visitors to smell and touch, since the sculptures are made of the same materials. For other works, we make replicas either by hand or using our 3D printer. Beyond verbal description of the work, I also like to describe the other work in the room and the way the space is lit to give the visitor a better sense of how the room was curated and what happens when works are placed in conversation with one another. As an interpreter, it is my job to provide our visitors with the tools they need to be an active participant in their own museum experience.

Todd, Félix, and a portrait of Ross. [Image description: A man wearing all black with white shoes and a white tote bag bends down in front of a large pile of colorful metallic wrapped candy, placed on the wooden floor of a white walled exhibition space. The candy is a sculpture titled “Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)” from 1991.]

Can you talk a bit about why you have chosen to integrate image captions on your Instagram and why others should adopt this same methodology?

Instagram is my favorite social media tool. After conducting research on verbal description, I grappled with how inaccessible it is as an app – that it is image based, but there is no mechanism for describing images. A few of my friends who are disability rights activists started writing verbal description for their photographs and I found the gesture to be both critical and powerful. Writing verbal description is such a beautiful practice. It forces me to think about the image, what I believe to be important about it, and what information I want to communicate. It’s sort of like composing a poem to go along with your image, offering a meditative pause for me and an accommodation for some of my followers.

Interview: FICTILIS on Curating Outside of the Traditional Institution

Museum of Capitalism Exterior Sign

Banner announces the Museum of Capitalism’s entrance on the waterfront side of the building in Oakland’s Jack London district

For our Curatorial Stories edition, we reached out to two previous awardees to speak about the process behind their Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation exhibition and how it connects to their wider curatorial practice. For our first interview, we spoke with FICITILIS, a project-based duo focused on interdisciplinary research that often unites social and environmental activism.

FICTILIS talked with us about how they organize curatorial projects outside of the traditional institution, and why they often choose to develop their own. We also explored the concepts that prompted their 2017 exhibition Museum of Capitalism, and how the pair plans on continuing its momentum as an established institution without a permanent location. You can read our interview, and view selected documentation from the Oakland-based exhibition, in the piece below.

Detail of Futurefarmers installation

Detail of Futurefarmer’s installation “For Want of a Nail” at the Museum of Capitalism

Jennifer Dalton's

Jennifer Dalton’s “Ask Not for whom the Art is Intended” at the Museum of Capitalism

Jordan Bennett's

Jordan Bennett’s “Artifact Bags” at the Museum of Capitalism

Exhibitions on the Cusp: What do you view as a few of the key drawbacks of housing an exhibition inside of an institution? How does your collaborative practice attempt to work against these drawbacks? Why does FICTILIS tend to develop its own institutions for your projects?

FICTILIS: We’re not sure it’s possible to work completely “outside” of institutions, whether they’re art institutions, markets, or capitalism itself. Though the Oakland exhibition may have appeared at some remove from traditional institutional sites, it is still thoroughly shaped by them. One of our strategies has been to put the drawbacks you refer to on display, as it were, as part of the work, reminders that it is still unfinished. We tend to think of institutions as inherently limiting, but well-designed institutions can also create new possibilities. Just as the solution to a bad economy is not no economy—no labor, no exchange, no enterprise, etc.—but rather a good economy, The question becomes: What is an institution for? What (else) can an institution do?

There is a rich history of artists working in and through institutions to offer “critique.” We’re inspired by contemporary projects like Not An Alternative’s Natural History Museum that are doing more collaborative work within and across institutions to effect an institutional “liberation” that goes beyond symbolic oppositional gestures. We think of our own work as a kind of institutional production, along the lines of Cornelius Castoriadis’s ideas about how society is always in a process of instituting, or Gerald Raunig’s recent writing on the “instituent practice” of art. But we’re still feeling our way through this process.

Of course, there are practical reasons for avoiding certain existing institutions, which may have prohibitive entrance fees or may simply feel inaccessible because of their location or assumed audience—who belongs and who doesn’t. While not totally avoiding these issues, our attempt to develop our own institutional identity and site the Museum of Capitalism exhibition in a space not already ‘marked’ by other (art) institutions was an attempt to reach broader audiences, whether as visitors to the physical exhibition or simply as consumers of the news (and propagators of the concept) of a museum historicizing capitalism.

Was the Museum of Capitalism an extension of a previous project? How did it intend to activate communities that exist outside of the traditional art world?

The 2017 exhibition was the first physical full-scale exhibition of a concept we’d been working with for several years. Other manifestations of the Museum of Capitalism included an artifact drive, an architecture competition, a book, and several workshops with artists, anthropologists, and other groups. We think of the larger project as a framework or scaffolding upon which a variety of practices—‘artistic’ or otherwise—can build and grow. This has meant collaborations with archives and archivists, activists, educators, and many ordinary people. Though the framing of the exhibition may seem specific—a potential drawback of working within our own institution!—we try to keep the framework open enough for those who choose to work within it to have some room to explore.

And while the museum functioned as an exhibition, it was also intended as a place for learning, feeling, imagining, meeting, and organizing. And it was used in these ways by many of the over 10,000 people that came through in two months. So in addition to art, what the museum “exhibits” is the need for a better understanding of capitalism and means of processing our emotional attachments to it, as well as the need for creative entryways to civic engagement that might avoid the deadening familiarity of the present.

Our museum doesn’t have the kind of historical distance from its subject that other museums may have, but it also suggests that no historical tragedies have the definitive closure that would allow them to be neatly contained in a museum.

Evan Desmond Yee's

Evan Desmond Yee’s “Amber” and “Core” series, and Kambui Olujimi’s “The Gini Quotation” at the Museum of Capitalism

Why was Oakland an appropriate setting for the exhibition?

To some, Oakland represents the shining star of 21st-century global capitalism. Oakland is also one of the most rapidly gentrifying cities in the US, caught in the middle of the Bay Area tech boom, with a rich history of radical thought and social movements. And it’s the people living in this place, or visiting it, who really complete the exhibition, bringing their histories to the experience of this collection of objects in space, and getting different things out of it. For an exhibition whose perspective has a certain “untimeliness,” memorializing capitalism too soon (as some would argue), there is a corresponding relation to space—to what is considered to be inside and outside the museum’s walls. One of the ways we played with this was by labelling parts of the building and the neighborhood as included artifacts and exhibits. Our museum doesn’t have the kind of historical distance from its subject that other museums may have, but it also suggest that no historical tragedies have the definitive closure that would allow them to be neatly contained in a museum. So rather than grasp for some pure space outside capitalism, the exhibition reveled in the messy contradictions and questions raised by putting a Museum of Capitalism in present-day Oakland.

Oakland also happens to be home to our studio as well as several amazing artists like Sadie Barnette, Carrie Hott (both recent Artadia award recipients!) as well as Gabby Miller, Packard Jennings, Center for Tactical Magic, Kate Haug, Art for a Democratic Society, and others. It was incredibly gratifying for us to share conversations together and witness these artists, coming from different perspectives, engage with the museum concept in a variety of ways. We’re grateful to them for being open to what must have seemed an unusual curatorial invitation, and in the end making the museum a reality through their works.

Will there be future iterations of the Museum of Capitalism? How do you hope to continue the momentum created in the inaugural exhibition?

The Museum of Capitalism is definitely an ongoing project. We see it as the founding of an institution whose beginnings are a bit humbler than historical museums of similar scope. It’s an interesting challenge for us to develop ongoing programming for a museum with no permanent physical location. We created a publication for those unable to visit our physical exhibitions and events. It was published by Inventory Press and contains short speculations we commissioned on the museum concept by various writers and documentation of some of our artifacts and exhibits.  We are currently working on bringing a version of the museum to Boston later this year, then New York, and other cities in the future. We hope to partner with other institutions and communities to realize the potential of the museum as a framework for curatorial and artistic work, but also pedagogical, civic, activist, and so on.

Blake Fall-Conroy's

Blake Fall-Conroy’s “Police Flag” at the Museum of Capitalism


Superflex’s “Bankrupt Banks” hangs over the mezzanine to the first floor in the Museum of Capitalism

Oliver Ressler's

Oliver Ressler’s “Alternative Economics, Alternative Societies” installation, shown for the first time in the US at the Museum of Capitalism

Do you view your collaborative projects as having stronger ties to an art-based or curatorial practice? In which ways does FICTILIS operate as both? Do you each have your own personal practices?

Our projects sit squarely in that gray area between art and curatorial practice. But this isn’t unique to us. The role of the curator has expanded beyond the acquisition of artworks for a collection to include the creation of creative thematic exhibitions and events. And artists are often collectors—of images, experiences, references, objects and materials—to use as inspiration, reference, or as raw material in their work. It seems the line between artist and curator has blurred, and keeps blurring. More and more artists create work that consists in creative display, organization, re-purposing, or re-working of pre-existing content, rather than producing their own “original” works, both as exhibitions and as the work itself. To say nothing of the long history of artist-run spaces and artist-curated exhibitions. So art and curating are not so different to begin with. For us the two are intimately intertwined, and we emphasize one role or the other at any given time based on what’s best for the work. We tend to focus on doing justice to the project without stopping to ask “Am I an artist or a curator right now?” In the case of Museum of Capitalism, we are working with the museum as a form, a practice which has its own rich history. We have separate practices that are more focused on text and sound, but our current priority is collaborative work, which provides outlets for our interests and can often take on a life of its own.

Can you tell us a bit about the origin of FICTILIS? Why did you choose to work under this title rather than your own names?

FICTILIS began as the name of our artist/curatorial studio in Seattle in 2010. We chose the name, which comes from a Latin word for “capable of being changed,” to describe the form of our multimedia, project-based work, as well as the culture it operates in and on. It was pretty apparent to us from the start that collaboration creates things that are not necessarily a straightforward combination of two people’s identities, so it was never a question that we would need a name for this thing that wasn’t us.

What is a unifying theme amongst the several projects you have curated as a team?

We’re constantly trying to explore links between what are considered social and environmental issues and to complicate their all-too-common separation into distinct domains (or what we call “confluency,” with a nod to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s notion of intersectionality). Other common themes are language, waste, and practices of collecting, display, and exchange. However, as our name suggests, we’re not overly concerned with maintaining the kind of consistency that might make our output more legible as a body of work. We’d rather stay flexible and adapt to circumstances.

(Images by Brea    McAnally  courtesy the Museum of Capitalism.)

Reader Poll: How can we support curators with technology?

Calling all curators! We’re wondering what you need to better incorporate technology within your practice.

Please take a moment to share your thoughts.

Artists, Curators Gather for Content Focus Group

On October 24, 2017 the Exhibitions on the Cusp team hosted a content focus group at Hunter College in New York City. Artists, curators, and arts industry professionals were invited to hear more about the publication and share what they’d like to read from a contemporary art publication.

photo: Whitney Browne

What resulted was a lively discussion on issues shaping contemporary art and we were thrilled to collect a plethora of responses that will inform our content strategy for the year. The results were compiled into a Google Doc, which you are welcome to comment on.

Read the Results

The focus group was moderated by Julia Kaganskiy, director of NEW INC, the New Museum’s incubator for art, technology, and design.

photo: Whitney Browne

Julia lead us through three group exercises where attendees shared what perspectives they feel are missing from contemporary art writing, discussed ways of sharing content online, and voted on their favorite topics for future issues of Exhibitions on the Cusp.

Many thanks to everyone that attended the content focus group!

photo: Whitney Browne