PORTAL | A Workshop by Elisa van Joolen

Tracking the clothing of visitors at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen

On 10 and 11 November 2017 MA Fashion Strategy students of generation 27 worked together with Amsterdam-based designer and researcher Elisa van Joolen to collect data of the clothing of visitors of the Change the System! exhibition at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. The aim of the research was to find out if different garments that belong to different people can have things in common. We gathered information about production, purchase, ownership, materiality and value (not only monetary but emotional as well). With a questionnaire we prepared beforehand we engaged people to participate. Visitors were asked to outline an item they wore that day and to write down answers about the garment or accessory next to it. Through drawing clothing outlines with black and blue tape and giving hand-written answers on the huge tyvek rectangular that was spread across the exhibition space, 159 participants told us beautiful stories about their clothing and accessories. At the end of every day, we drew lines with coloured markers between the items. By making an index we learned what new categories where created. For example: we collected all cotton clothing items together, and thus learned that quite a few of those were bought for less than 10 euros. We made several maps of these garment correlations, and slowly a complex and layered system of the reality of clothing was revealed.

The two days we spent researching in Boijmans gave us insight into how different people who not necessarily are involved in the fashion industry think about their garments. Quite a few were surprised by the questions we asked them, often being things they never thought about before such as “How do you take care of it?” or “Who made it?”. The last one was a tricky question: it seems we barely know where our clothes are made, and with whose hands. With an exception here and there when people had family members with a love for sewing and knitting; if the answer wasn’t “unknown worker in Asia” it was usually “grandma”. This all bit by bit revealed the complexity of the fashion system, and how we as fashion consumers participate in it.

MA Fashion Strategy alumna Asu Aksu, who was production assistant for this project, organized all the data in Excel to categorize the information gathered: questions, answers and details that would remind us about the context of the stories. Our next step was to choose which question triggered us the most in revealing the connections between visitors and their clothing. Under Elisa’s guidance we discussed and chose perspectives on the gathered subjects to write short essays about. These reflections – texts and visualisations – were gathered in the PORTAL zine, a riso-printed magazine designed by Beau Bertens. The zine was launched on January 13th 2018 during a round table talk at the finissage of the Change the System! exhibition, and is the first of many more PORTAL zines to come. If you are interested in buying the zine (price 10 euros), please send an email to masterfashionstrategy@artez.nl.

— Julia Kaleta