Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse
of an Exhibition
by Devora Liss
Published on February 12, 2017
Museum: Cooper Hewitt
Visit Date: December, 2016
From the exhibition’s website:
“Offering creative, alternative approaches to confronting textile waste … presents the work of three designers who put sustainability at the heart of the design process.”
The exhibition features three designers: Luisa Cevese (Riedzioni, Milan); Christina Kim (dosa, inc., LA); and Reiko Sudo (NUNO, Tokyo). Its displays include informational panels, raw materials, and finished goods.
The central theme that ties these disparate designers together is sustainability. Christina Kim reuses the leftover scraps from cutting out sari pieces to create mottled fabric, from which she made additional clothing and upon which embroidered and did appliqué.
Reiko Sudo utilizes parts of silk cocoons that get tossed out in the industrial process (but are used in handmade silk) – Kibiso and Ogarami choshi. These can be woven or layered to create fabric or paper-like material.
Both designers epitomize the re-purposing of waste into something both useful and beautiful. The exhibition never prioritizes the two, but I don’t believe it matters. But the last designer threw me off – and left me a bit confused.
Luisa Cevese works with three materials (separately): she salvages selvages (the fabric’s edge that prevents unraveling), gilded paper waste, and silk thread waste. Each of these is then embedded into polyurethane to create table cloths, bags, and other wall decors.
Art is art precisely because it is not valued by the market. The value of a skirt made of scraps can be determined by its aesthetics or symbolic value. But “sustainable” is a slightly firmer term. A quick online search revealed that “because [polyurethanes] are durable, lightweight and versatile, polyurethanes can help reduce waste and consume less energy” (https://polyurethane.americanchemistry.com/polyurethanes/Sustainability/). Other sources indicated that polyurethane can have adverse affects on the environment (if left to degrade), that chemical recycling is technically difficult, and that it has been banned in a number of European landfills (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878029612005610).
When facing a choice: wasting selvedges vs. creating more polyurethane – I vote for the former. Thus, I must take issue with the exhibition’s claim of sustainability.
Additionally, while the displays were interesting to look at, I believe there is an inherent limitation to displaying textiles that are placed out of tactile bounds. Especially clothing, these textiles must be pleasant and soothing – or at least not harsh and itchy.
I frequently complain about museums’ “no touch” policy (even though it excludes designers, right?) – but this case was extreme. After being harshly scolded by two guards, I decided to leave the exhibition. My eyes couldn’t take what my hands couldn’t touch.