Raw Material (New World Order)
Work from “New World Order” exhibition at Casula Powerhouse in 2016, curated by Ella Barclay and also featuring: Hany Armanious, Simon Denny, Beau Emmett, Eva and Franco Mattes, Soda_Jerk, Jess Johnson, Alexis Mailles and Yujun Ye, Ryan Presley, Suzanne Treister and Pope Alice Xorporation.
Installation view Zoe M. Robertson “Raw Material”, in New World Order, curated by Ella Barclay, Casula Powerhouse, 2016.
Zoe M. Robertson “Pattern, from Pater”, 2016. (Architectural) photocopy, original text. Pattern from the Las Angeles County Museum of Art Pattern Project (http://www.lacma.org/patternproject). Dimensions variable.
Text written on the pattern:
JACKET BAG POCKET.
The optimal place in which to place, take control. It becomes clearer, it is nothing... Some end of history, of human redundancy... At the face of the logic of perpetuation... And those arts, those high-minded themes, they never much concerned themselves with anything more than existence, great themes beyond mere urvival, the kinds of abstractions supposed to be available to an entire and peaceable humanity... The end (aim) of all of these processes that have corrupted the very integrity of nature.
But... Perhaps for man to realise herself she must find herself at the end of history, looking for an exponential theory of knowledge that got beyond itself and way out of hand... Out of (literally) hands... Leaves her (kind) seeking to take back basic labours for a sense of control, to compose everything that came before as a universal politics, a daily demonstration of the aesthetic of politics. Man came to herself and her senses simultaneously... With sheer boredom to blame for all this waste and bureaucracy, the self-perpetuation, the self-perpetuating logic of displeasure, Empty-headed fatalism in reply, to answer for all the crimes of “societies”, “civilisations” posited by labours of the oppressed.
(Cut two). I can't remove the scare quotes from civilisation, that, as this, is not my place. I keep up with the latest trends in science exasperated by universal incapacity to acknowledge and take pains to follow through on the myriad revolutionary promises of technology. Mechanisation and overabundance were never ver supposed to lead to contemporary inventions of labour after nothing, and these restrictions posed on development through attacks on any kind of knowledge that isn't restricted to a set of specific commands from on high. A woman with a degree in the textile technology spends her working life putting through all those discarded clothing and spend hundreds of dollars on the cereals for the tapestry she doesn't have spare time.
Pattern: from patron: from pater (father). Working all the time to get enough money together to be able to subsist, indulge in ancestral habits that used to amount to subsistance. Acting out the language of the universities, proofs of systemic imbalance, lacking the certainty and supposed sanctity of their origins. No longer to do anything different, the best use to be put to: the most use. New media as presenting interface, a world independent of its source (the matter of screens troublingly sourced from environmentally and socially destructive mining practises and all-too-easily discarded leaving burgeoning environmental disasters to those already disadvantaged by the cycles of redundancy). This, the weirdness of a society that would present itself as independent of its source materials and source narratives. This Christian fundamentalist project of immaterially realising the material world and then projecting it back into the world (a necessarily unsustainable social necessity). “Pictogrammic" painting/collage... the language as much as its physicalisation the raw material, each material, every source, every process reading into and of itself, the best expression of this helplessness, this loss. This is what I will leave you with. This is what I am left with. Raw. Raw Material.
At the time of writing this, it is still not clear if I can actually do what I set out to do and make this zoot suit. My hands are ink-stained and slippery with the machine oil from the sewing machine. I am aware of them.
As a society we are almost shockingly underprepared for the aestheticisation of our existences, the loss of necessity, the loss of the necessity of work... Where still, most of what is spoken to as advancements are devices that “save labour”.
What the mass organisation of people produces it has no use for, absurdities, inefficiencies, overproduction... These unconscious autonomous factors that drive every interaction from those inherent in the language that we use to those products that we use to both perpetuate and augment our existences, with the pressure to create I kind of social capital increasingly affecting every facet of bare life, concurrent with the realities of contemporary precarious work, unemployment, and on the other hand, longer working hour, the realities of post-industrial society seem to be the most obscure perversion of the promised future (driven by technology) of even the most Conservative economist of 100 years ago (and notably Milton Keynes).But still, the privileging of labouring against labour, ofnt being bound to the to the conditions of our existence, of never knowing how it is that this world is constructed around us, though we may lament it, though we may find it alienating, though we may spare no expense in petty exercises of our creative capacities, remains a privilege alone for the inescapable reality of world poverty, of the certain knowledge that the place of one's birth has everything to do with the relative value of one's time. I can afford to buy enough of my time back to learn to make myself a suit. I can afford the comparatively expensive raw material, the cost of virgin fabric and thread and trimmings . The same cannot be said of those involved in the majority of clothing manufacture. And my part in all of this means very little. I know enough of things of how things work that I do not need to know. This pattern was downloaded by the Internet from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, via the pattern project, they recently purchased what is perhaps the last zoot suit in existence. When I first read about it, the reason for this given was that the suits were over-large, utilising too much fabric and where cut down during the war, as part of the “war effort”. It struck me as similar to evidence of my own grandmother's wartime mentality; she worked in a textile factory in Geelong and loves to mention that when her and my grandfather was first married she used to make almost double what he did... Still an inconceivable notion for most of what remains of working class people. It also made me think of a rather silly mediaeval interpretation of ancient art, the purity whiteness attributed to marble its apparent preciousness is a material, where actually bronzes were far more highly prized, though relatively few survived due to the inherent value of bronze, which was often reused or “up-cycled” into instruments of war. The vision of the desirability of the marble complexion is a result of an accident of time and history, where marble sculptures were brightly coloured in pigments worn away by time. (Actually there was also a short period in which marble statues was ground to make lime mortar, just as an aside.) In any event, there has certainly never been a society or time history as wasteful as ours. But it transpired that this rather dismissive statement that the suits were cut down for the war effort, neglected to mention so many essential facts of the matter as to be on th borderline of an approximation of the structural racism of the media. It is true, there were sanctions imposed on fabric in America during the Second World War; though especially in California as these were largely targeted at the zoot suitors or Pachuco and Pachuca, a large number of Mexican labourers that had immigrated to California to work as farmhands while American citizens fought overseas. The Zoot suit was adapted from a revolution in tailoring known as the “English drape”, a broadening of the shoulder line against a slim waistline. This basic shape was then inflated either by local tailors or the wearers of the suits, to allow free and easy movement, necessary for the elaborate dance moves of the jazz age, and then allegedly also for the concealment of weapons. The zoot suit itself has become part of an aesthetic synonymous with organised crime, as little organised it might appear upon reflection, when it is related to those systemically a disadvantaged by their birth and the colour of the skin. For white Americans the zoot suit became a symbol of the wearer's deliberate flouting of American values, a disrespectful act against the troops sent off to fight in foreign lands. To Mexican and Mexican-American youth they were symbolic rejection of both Mexican and Mexican-American values, neither of which truly served their interest. The influence of jazz on youth culture went about as far as Hitler feared. Even in prewar Germany youth of both genders fraternised and danced freely, rejecting the values of national socialism, of fascism, on the rise. A generation of jazz-loving kids reputedly spent their time beating-up those who did join the Hitler youth in the days before the war. They have all been lost to history. The Mexican kids, the girls that wore the suits alongside the boys, were targeted by the government, and the boys accused of raping white women... shades of Trump and Schumer. The suits they took so much pride in, often their only suits, the suits that they wore to church on Sundays, were mostly shredded by ex-servicemen with razorblades attached to their shoes for that very purpose.
Raw Material, as much as this project is come to demand working through and against my own disproportionate sense of guilt. I have always used waste and by-products in my work, I've never been able to bear using virgin materials... The problem goes back as far as I can remember... Long before even I conceived of it as a kind of zero impact art, but I can't bear the thought of unsold and thereby unused paintings that would only poison the earth from whence they came. When I was younger I would fish crecycling bins for pieces of paper to work on, to satisfy this need to communicate something without taking anything. I have examined every angle for potential wrong-doing this in anomic suicide of supposed relativism. This pattern was drawn and copyrighted by the Las Angeles County Museum of Art, this pattern taken from a zoot suit commissioned by an unknown man, by an unknown tailor, both likely long-since dead, and this thing now belongs to history, and the history does not belong to me, but that history has always been claimed. At some point one can only acknowledge one's own indebtedness and with that one's complicity. The suit began its life as the innovation of an English nobleman streamlining a move away from any extraneous adornment, chiefly due to a lack of funds brought about by a lavish lifestyle, towards an obsessional level of both tailoring in grooming. Beau Brummel was famed as much for spending hours performing his toilet, which the Prince Regent like to watch. Several works of literature were inspired by Brummel, durig his lifetime, including one in which the main character abandons this “dandyism” when he comes across a waistcoat he designed being worn by a “natty apprentice”. Beau Brummel died, having been for the second time put in debtors prison, young, and of syphilis. He was a friend of Lord Byron, the very model of the rockstar who was said never to wear the same (silk) pants twice. Yves St Laurent is said to have revolutionised Fashion when he is in 1966 he released “le smoking”, a woman's Tuxedo, at a time in which it was still controversial for women to wear pants... I remember hearing somewhere of him saying that it made women appear more feminine because it made the curves of their bodies more apparent by the comparison. But in 1940s Los Angeles, young Mexican women “Pachucas” wore zoot suits, oversized suits, and behaved as did their male contemporaries. The suit would again be revolutionised in the '80s, inflated once more by the great Franco-Japanese fashion houses, Yohji Yamamoto, Commes des garcons... Like the boys... the same line, the same attitude of the 40 years previous. As practical and beautiful as ever it was. And this was the mode of dress that I grew up with, parents in uniform inflated monochromatic suits and boots against the salmon think Ralph Lauren shirts and pastel skirt-suits of '80s Adelaide money, hospitality entrepreneurs from the wrong towns, who would go on to have the coolest clubs where the bar staff and bouncers would disdain “suits” and disallow them because they would harass women. And I cannot stop thinking about how my father thought of me, and treated me as an equal.
Zoe M. Robertson “Marking the Abstract Ruins of the Pretenders to Civilisation”, 2015. Distemper and lime wash (mis-tints) on cotton (discarded quilt cover). 2 x 4 m.
UPPER SLEEVE (1.)
It wasn't so long ago that a widely held theory had it that the universe will go on expanding right up until it collapses back in on itself... Human beings have never had very much imagination when it comes to infinity... apparently now it's is believed that the universe will go on expanding indefinitely... As our knowledge, which becomes ever more improbable... As every thought leads me to another, basically a prejudice developed as it was lived. And every generation believes with some certainty, that it is will be, the last. And every generation is the last. There are those that want so much is the world to end, and so many that won't want to only our time back from for prefabricated experiences. It took me weeks of agony, of agonising to get this together, to get this right the first time. I only really had one chance. I have been no better for the technology, the exponential understandings that augmented and facilitated my existence, I have been as good or better at singing for my supper as my forebears, have not shied from hard labour. There is one constant in the human.
My father passed away two months ago, and everyone spoke of how well-dressed he was, how cool he was. It is rare to see a man to take so much care with his appearance, to have made a virtue of vanity. And I have always resented that it was expected of me, and from whoever it was so expected... But for all his myriad faults, I took from dad never let men behave as though they are invisible, as if their dress is neutral. I can never hope for positive feedback from learning and writing as I can't from a good outfit or a good photo of me posted to social media and so I am led to express myself through adornments, and so I interrogate men's dress just the same. Same as dad.
Living like there's no today... Conspiracy theory's that became practice, the future as the self-fulfilment prophesied by megalomaniacs and depressives... A heavy burden of proof on the shoulders of anyone trying to act in the interests of anyone other than themselves, to do so they must be beyond reproach, or face much harder censure than those who do harm unapologetically... Isolated the more for and by love... Wealth is proof enough of its own worth, to fail to aspire to ownership is tantamount to submitting to being owned. But these are just normal symbols... Fictions of pleasures derived from sadistic billionaires as a kind of psychosexual appropriation which woman is capable of, which has always amuse me enough to deeply disturb me, it's all quite hard to make sense of, these patterns, the structure of things as made to be repeated... Pattern from father, pattern as foundational understanding, inherent in words: their history, every tangent evident of its source, of my history, and all about or supposed to amount to what is unknowable, the closest approximation of living.
UPPER SLEEVE (4.)
The fabric coming to mean so much more from this very mundane use, the very substance of the thing... Weaving had so long been associated with femininity and wisdom, the expertise, the deftness of experienced hands... working together, talking, waiting to get the stories that all the kids must've heard, grown up with, the particularities of the cloth and the language, the underpinning of all culture. Before the Victorian era, to be a spinster was largely a positive thing, it meant that one had a trade and resources of one's own, that one was independent, not dependent on being traded off in marriage but could choose whom to marry. Industrialisation must've had the alarming effect of taking away work from women, who had always borne the largest share of it... Labours largely domestic for survival, even to thrive. To take the responsibility or even the capacity to work from women, to make them largely decorative, as the wealthy you had long since become, undermine the fabric of society, those compelled by their station to maintain the society, to provide basic needs and services were then feminised in such a way as might be considered an insult. These devices save labour, and that will be will not compel me to become a middle manager, but I will not be decorative and idle like the wealthy.
Zoe M. Robertson, “Zoot Suit”, 2016. Linen/cotton.
PEGGED TROUSER FRONT.
They that make up “the one” by which all else are “other”, they are the minority, even within their own societies, regardless of how homogenous they may be. These oversized suits, this inflation of the tropes, the impositions of English imperialism, holding itself as whiteness or Americanness... This overinflated whiteness,... Even this has been reappropriated... For my generation the most obvious reference for the zoot suit is the Jim Carrey movie, “The mask”, which is unfortunately a much more common reference, at least among white Australians, then Spike Lee's “Malcolm X”, which begins with a lot of amazing jazz dancing and beautiful zoot suits. Of course Malcolm X went on to reject this earlier mode of dress... It seems to have been all but forgotten that the first protests against the Vietnam war came out of the civil rights movement. The most democratic the most solemn reminder of inequities in the failure of an allegedly democratic society is to fairly allocate resources, the state of constant uncertainty, the lack of safety that comes with precarity, that can only get worse against the insanity of overproduction and consequent waste. It is impossible to fully quantify the influence of African-American music on the last hundred years of history. Martin Luther King Junior thanks for the soul music stations for making the civil rights movement possible... And through COINTELPRO, the American government sought to pervert the politicisation of black radio and black music. Even the language that one uses to distinguish oneself as part of the youth culture owes everything to jazz-speak... For white people words like “cool” are synonymous with youth, the aspirational and infantile... Indefinite use of privilege to work and never to maintain or to make... Until this life of middle management finally grinds one down and all that is left is the dream of use, the fetishisation of ignorance and inexperience... This is the dream sold by the wealthy, these ever smaller segments of the population that control the worlds resources... It may in fact be true that the only fact is the absurd ramblings of powerful white men, only they have the power to change, and so things will largely stay the same until they can no longer. All perverted from work to an infantilism, and this is what is desirable, it is not to do anything well, everything is homogensied, fame without substance, history without substance, more work doing nothing to distract the majority away from their own circumstance, default modes of oppression, justified by way of it just being as it is. It is never for the ethnic European, the whites, to acknowledge the weirdness the specificity of their own culture... It is not theirs (ours) that is never “other”... Realism was a conceit of the European Christian, and it was somewhat threatened with redundancy when the photograph was invented... the camera always betraying the eye of the user, the uncertainty of the world of any world, any perspective... Just as in the romantic era of poetry it was desirable to think like a woman with actually out actually being a woman in order for art to retain a sense of it's own. And in order for art to retain a sense of its own poignancy, its own authorship, other ways of being had to be explored, meaning other cultures had to be appropriated. Around the turn of the 20th century African art was assimilated into Modernist paintings... Followed by different modes of understanding transience being adopted from the Eastern Philosophies, largely containing the notion of the Postmodernism in scope... This and all else I have inherited.