Category Archives: clothing

A bitch about rich kitsch

Avant-garde and kitsch“, an early essay by the once almighty US art critic Clement Greenberg, defined kitsch as “ersatz culture” manufactured for the urban masses

… who, insensible to the values of genuine culture, are hungry nevertheless for the diversion that only culture of some sort can provide.

But for this definition to make sense there must also be this thing called high culture,

The precondition for kitsch, a condition without which kitsch would be impossible, is the availability close at hand of a fully matured cultural tradition, whose discoveries, acquisitions, and perfected self-consciousness kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends. It borrows from it devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes, converts them into a system, and discards the rest. It draws its life blood, so to speak, from this reservoir of accumulated experience.

In other words, kitsch is high culture (or at least its mannerisms) adaptively reused to profitably entertain rather than enlighten the unwashed masses.

(Nymph by J H Lynch)

To qualify as high culture a work must embody self referential values to be found only in art, values lost on the vulgar masses but universally recognisable by the educated and the perceptive … and it’s here that Greenberg, at this point in his life ostensibly a marxist, gives the game away. Suddenly the holy trinity of wealth, power and art are brought together into an eternal truth, proof that the ruling class really is superior, while kitsch is a sign that the inferior masses deserve crap…..

There has always been on one side the minority of the powerful — and therefore the cultivated — and on the other the great mass of the exploited and poor — and therefore the ignorant. Formal culture has always belonged to the first, while the last have had to content themselves with folk or rudimentary culture, or kitsch.

Well, what a topsy turvy old world we now live in. This eternal truth of ruling class ideology has been shattered once and for all by the esteemed bagmaker Louis Vuitton who have just produced a masterpiece of kitsch surpassing all others, and they’ve done it by the exact process that Greenberg describes. They have taken the make do bricollage and adaptive reuse that has been the hallmark of working class street fashion and outsider fashion for a century or more, codified it, rendered it meaningless and exploited it. As Greenberg put it, they have borrowed street culture’s “devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes, convert[ed] them into a system, and discard[ed] the rest. ”

Yes, it’s the Louis Vuitton Tribute Patchwork bag, the most expensive handbag in the world (US$42,000 in a limited edition of 24)

made in two different versions by sewing together twenty or more of the other most expensive handbags in the world

in a bizarre parody of the now familiar adaptive reuse patchwork style. Who said you can’t carry more than one handbag at a time? Even the hilarious fashion victim site Bagsnob was agog with horror at its sheer vulgarity. And of course it was almost immediately faked!

Greenberg has been debunked for thirty years or more and his ravings generally recognised as little more than ideology dressed up as art criticism (although many in the art world still identify with his sense of self appointed superiority and even occasionally try to revive the mummified corpse of his sociopathic formalist aesthetics). The release of this handbag may be a monumentally trivial event but it is just one more small proof of how often he was wrong. Class condescension is essential to the concept of kitsch and if kitsch is universal then it’s a meaningless term.

This may seem an irrelevant thing to be commenting on until you think of the implications. Ruling class ideology in every era aims to emphasise and legitimise the the power of those at the top while undermining the power and initiative and creativity of those at the bottom – the concept of kitsch is an illustration of how items that could best be described as simply derivative in design and shoddy in manufacture,

(Crying boy by Bragolin)

and that should reflect badly on their manufacturer instead become markers and enforcers of low status in the viewer.

Repeatedly in our world we see that great ideas in fact come from everywhere but more of them come from below because there are more people down there, writing open source software, rehearsing their bands in their garage, making stencils and graffiti, inventing, you name it. That’s why it’s far more likely that most of the solutions to our climate change disaster will come from cultural innovation at the bottom, they will be small scale and distributed, not large scale and centralised, and they will involve endless personal epiphanies and tiny adaptive creativities.

Meanwhile, most of the resistance to reform will come from Greenberg’s supposedly superior “minority of the powerful and cultivated” who will defend climate destruction to the point of criminality because they benefit from it and then they will try to impose large scale top down “solutions” (eg “clean” coal and nuclear) that maintain or even increase the power of the socio-economic memes that got us into this mess.

This bag should stand as permanent reminder of how clueless, vulgar and basically unworthy many of the “powerful and cultivated” really are.

Where’s walley?

The old milk carton wallet has worn out from recent over-use. How about a new one, this time made of adaptively reused plastic bags?

Maybe just a rubber band?

Or perhaps made of duct tape?

You can even make one lined with aluminum foil to go with your tin foil helmet?

Sorry, shouldn’t joke, RFID devices are a problem – but while you’re at it you could also make a Marvin the Martian costume out of duct tape.

That’s what we like about DIY adaptive reuse, you have a choice between different things rather than the average consumer’s stressful tyranny of choice between the same things.

Fun bags

So you’re down at the butchers buying a steak or two, a few sausages, then you whip off your bra and pop them inside. It’s gotta be worth a discount?

That’s how adaptive reuse can be economically viable. Yes (or No!), it’s the bra that can be adaptively reused as a shopping bag, known unsurprisingly as the “No! Shopping Bag Bra” (NO! reji-bukuro bra). This environment friendly lingerie is designed to promote the reduction of plastic bag consumption. (from Triumph International Japan via Pink Tentacle)

When they tried to reduce plastic bag use in Australia the occasional International Klein Blue bag was as sexy as it got. The Japanese may be on to something here. Given that sex is already used to sell everything else, why not sustainability? Or are they using sustainability to sell bras?

Silly season

Time to use up some of the stranger examples of adaptive reuse that we have come across recently.

Adaptive reuse of images like the crucifixion? How gay is that? (We found it here, otherwise don’t ask, us we don’t know either)

And while we are on the subject of adaptively reusing classical imagery, how about a Judith and Holofernes hand bag by Yael Mer

who also designed the inflatable skirt, indispensable at a time of rising sea levels. (We found them on the incomparable We Make Money Not Art, the best blog in the world).

And while we are on the subject of adaptively reusing the skirt, how about the utilikilt,

the kilt adapted for the modern working class man. The end of unsightly plumber’s crack and a “modesty snap closure system” to save viewers from other unsights. At last, the dress for real men.

And while we are on the subject of real men, would real men drive a hummer that has been pimped for a greener image? A hydrogen powered hummer with algae filled panels that exude oxygen? Or would a real man recognise this sort of cretinous gimmickry is the automobile industry’s warped way of laughing at its critics?

Then how would a real man adapt his vehicle? By making a stupid vehicle even more stupid, that’s how! We know because the comments say so. Perhaps this is useful in areas with a lot of ice but then again vehicles like that are contributing to the disappearance of all the ice on the planet.

If you want to know the way the car is really likely to go then here’s a clue.

This Chinese proposal is more girly and cuddly and maybe it’s not so silly at all even if it does look like a grown up Segway, (aka “the solution in search of a problem”).

Australia’s racist climate-criminal Prime Minister, John Howard, keeps snivelling that we can’t sign the Kyoto Protocol unless the Chinese do because it will be bad for our economy. The Camper Lotus is one of numerous signs that the Chinese have worked out how to economically benefit from fighting climate change while leaving Australia and the US behind. Another more telling sign is that China’s richest man made his fortune from solar technology and China’s richest woman made her fortune from recycling. Tell them sustainability is bad for business!

Celebrate Our Monkey Ancestors Day

Another Christmas will soon be upon us and this year there doesn’t seem much point to the usual compulsory fake bonhomie. We’re so sick of violent loonies and their imaginary friends that we look forward to the day that it is adaptively reused as Celebrate Our Monkey Ancestors Day. On the other hand, since capitalism has already reused it as a potlatch where we celebrate Mammon by giving ridiculous amounts of money to retailers just to prove that we can, there seems to be little reason not to pick up some adaptively reused products in the process.

So how about some bags. Just as the military seems to drive technological innovation, and porn drives internet innovation, handbag designers seem to drive adaptive reuse innovation. Take this gumboot bag for instance.

What could be cooler. It’s by Saskia Marcotti of the Belgian designers vlaemsch() but since you can’t copyright an idea, do as swissmiss suggests and DIY.

Perhaps you prefer cowboy boots? Then the cowboy boot bag from RodeoQueen is for you. But where have the soles gone?

Well, Nike has been using them for their sole bags, but like most Nike products they are ugly as sin and there is the matter of exploiting child labour. Just don’t do it!

A far more desirable version of the same idea is designed by Naoto Fukazawa of PlusMinusZero except you can only get them in Japan. It’s a canvas bag with a real shoe sole from a shoe (Uwabaki) commonly used in schools in Japan. Go to their elegant website and drool. (It’s a bit puzzling that most reviews of this bag say “This is one bag you can place on the ground without worrying about getting dirty” because we have never had such a worry. Should we start worrying? Or should we just carry a crucifix brush

from Citizen:Citizen to remove that ungodly dirt?)

Or perhaps the skate deck bag is more your…errr…bag?

Made by FocusedBags, the bag on the left has the added bonus of old grip tape on the handles that can be used as an emergency nail file. The one on the right is described as very rare because they use only genuinely pre-snapped skate decks – that’s integrity!

And if nothing there suits you, please tell us. We’ve had so few comments lately that despite our rocketing stats we’re starting to feel like this.

Through a glass darkly

Here is proof that the silly season, when we celebrate the cult of consumerism, is almost upon us again. We all know how the beer goggles can get us into trouble, and never more so than at this time of year.

Perhaps wearing real beer goggles during this orgy of materialism and false bonhomie may innoculate against the alcoholically derived version. They are made from actual beer bottles

and if you want to accessorise you can get a ring and a tie to show conclusively that you really are a complete twat.

We found them on Boing Boing so by now the entire world has probably tried to check them out and Urban Spectacles’ site has crashed from overload.


They also make frames from wood and reused materials like record vinyl, including glow-in-the-dark old Kraftwerk albums.

Fish scale bags

….not really, they are made of pop tops from aluminium cans, but they are made by a partnership called Escama, which means fish scales in Portugese. The three partners are based in San Francisco and Brasilia, Brazil, and all have day jobs.

They apparently developed and market the bags that are made by Cia do Lacre and 100 Dimensáo, two women’s co-operatives located in economically depressed satellite cities of Brasília.

They describe the arrangement on their website:

The cooperatives offer women in the community a means to earn money through their handicrafts. It also serves as a support system for the group.

Prices for the handbags are set by the cooperatives and production decisions are in their hands. A fundamental component of ESCAMA’s partnership with the cooperatives is to promote the cooperatives and the individual artists behind the products.

Inside of each bag is a card with the name of the artist who crocheted the piece.

The women are all shown on the website with a short biographical statement. It is all delightfully human but there is also something slightly confronting about it – it is much easier to exploit the cheap labour of people you never see.

We first came across the bags at Stop Laughing This Is Serious Gallery.

The Escama bags are a more elegant variant of the bottle top bag marketed by Bottletop, a UK charity that funds HIV/AIDS education projects throughout the world but particularly in Africa. There is a great African tradition of bags made from recycled or adaptively reused materials, almost always bright and stylish but rarely are they as good as this,

the bottle top radio bag. It’s so popular that you have to go on a waiting list to buy one.

Street life

It’s one thing to write about converting 747s into mansions but ultimately that’s only for an extremely wealthy minority.

Homelessness is endemic throughout the world and in the US alone approximately 3.5 million people are estimated to experience homelessness at some point annually, a million of them children. Extremist right wing governments have exacerbated the problem by cutting back health and welfare funding to such an extent that in Los Angeles, for instance, impoverished hospital patients are regularly dumped on Skid Row, as captured on LA Police video below.

Homelessness itself has been criminalised in some cities and numerous attempts are made to make public spaces as uncongenial as possible for everyone except paying consumers.

Check out the anti-sit archives for numerous examples of inventive small-minded malevolence.

But there have been some interesting attempts to adapt and manipulate public spaces and street furniture to alleviate some of the problems of homelessness.

Australian architect Sean Godsell has adaptively reused both the park bench and

the bus shelter for use by the homeless. This flies in the face of the bureaucratic impulse to prevent the homeless from benefitting from any public facilities by putting armrests in the middle of benches, sloping the seats etc (warning: great architect, another crappy flash animated website).

Artist Michael Rakowitz‘s paraSITE proposes a parasitical adaptive reuse of waste heated air from air conditioning exhausts to inflate and warm a shelter.

It comes in several versions.

And although Lucy Orta‘s Refuge Wear is more artwork than practical she is attempting to blend and adapt our concepts of clothing and shelter into a practical unity.

The adaptive reuse of shipping containers is the bigger version of this type of homeless shelter and Sean Godsell’s Future Shack is a now famous example although it’s so good that anyone would want to live in it. But it’s time to face up to it, homeless and refugee shelter is going to be one of the big issues of the coming century.

Spam, spam, spam, spam,

spam, spam, spam, spam…what good is it? Well, believe it or not it can be adaptively reused.

You can make a t-shirt from it,

you can make poetry and pictures with it

or you can make sculpture with it

and plants.

But the site where the images above come from is very annoying because alex dragelescu has made something wonderful but instead of selling the software he just sells images he has made using it. How can we be sure he’s not pulling our leg? Well, that’s the problem with spam isn’t it, what can you believe?

PS I found a great piece of trivia while writing this post. Did you know it’s possible to spell viagra 1,300,925,111,156,286,160,896 ways? Neither did I but I don’t get much spam.