Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Advantages and Ethics of Museum Technology

Museums have always struggled to compete with the draw of emerging technology. Prior to the internet explosion, objects found in museum collections were once only accessible in two forms: viewed in person, or in print publications. Yet people no longer have to rely on these mediums when websites like Artstor and Wikipedia hold in-depth information at their fingertips. Technology, as always, rapidly changes the ways in which people learn. Is its implementation in exhibitions vital to the survival of museums as we know it?

Many institutions are slow to take on new technology for several reasons. Funding is the main issue, but older administrations wish to preserve the traditional sense of museum collections - their physical selves put behind glass or secured displays, to educate and entertain the public. The installation of technology into this arena is a scary feat for those who take care of the same exhibition displays their grandparents enjoyed (a la the American Museum of Natural History). This ethical dilemma, although valid, is hurting arts-related industries around the world.

Luckily, visionaries like Valerie Steele at the Museum at FIT have begun to change the way exhibitions serve the public. The latest installment at the New York facility, Japan Fashion Now, holds contemporary pieces from Japanese designers ranging from haute couture to streetwear - a brilliant move diversifying the Western sense of Japanese dress. The exhibition design is overwhelming as well. Actual photos taken by Steele's husband on their trip to Japan run floor to ceiling, and are meant to convey a feeling that one is standing in Tokyo's busy metropolis.

The most eye-catching feature however, is undoubtedly several high-definition television screens separating each section of the exhibition. These act as didactic labels, inter-spliced with cultural subjects such as language, music videos, interviews and more photos of Japanese fashion. This clear, fast-paced display holds the viewer's interest and allows a plethora of information to be introduced without cluttering the exhibition area.

MFIT has also undertaken several web advancements to generate interest and study. Their newest endeavor, an interactive website in collaboration with Synthescape Art Imaging, creates a competitive edge in the museum PR world. Web surfers can view three objects from the exhibition more intimately than if they were to visit the actual locale. The amazing photographic technology allows visitors to zoom-in incredibly close to view object details (an important aspect of Japanese fashion), both front and back (provided by the rotation button). Not only is the site fun and interesting, but fashion students around the world get a chance to study every stitch, knit and detail of these objects whenever, wherever.

Several museums have introduced items like interactive television displays, phone-based audio tours, high-definition films, video/computerized labels and PC education stations, but none that I have been to thus far have melded the relationship together as well as MFIT has. Perhaps it is because technology and Japanese Fashion share the common concept of "cutting edge," but I believe MFIT is on to something here. The needs of museum-goers are quickly changing with every instantaneous internet application that is developed. If they can't compete with home-based art and science education, they might as well join 'em.

What are some other examples of the interesting and effective uses of technology in museums? Is this sort of technology suitable for all kinds of exhibitions, or just contemporary-based ones? Should institutions work harder to cater to this age of technology, or are the objects still enough of a draw on their own? I'm highly interested in hearing your thoughts and relevant examples.

Photos courtesy of DNAinfo: Manhattan Local News.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Job Opp: Textile Analyst for the US Government

Although fashion studies may seem like a limited career field, if you are willing to look outside of the box you will find many unique and applicable opportunities. I'm posting this one because I know many people would qualify for it and the benefits are really good.

Job Title: Textile Analyst

Department: Department Of Homeland Security

Agency: Customs and Border Protection

Location: Newark, NJ

Job Announcement Number: IHC-376345 BWS DE

Salary Range: $43,738.00 - $84,146.00 /year.

Job Description: You will analyze and test samples of imported textiles, natural and synthetic fibrous products (e.g., flax, polyester) non-fibrous products (e.g., fur, hair, feathers, footwear), and related items submitted in conjunction with regulatory and enforcement activities of the agency. Specifically, you determine the proper approach to the analysis; perform assigned tests on identified samples using wet laboratory procedures or advanced analytical instrumentation; and write reports of findings, interpretations, and conclusions. You will also provide expert advice to other analysts and officials on sampling and instruct other laboratory personnel in analysis techniques. You will attend technical meetings, read relevant reports and publications and may provide technical assistance to U.S. Attorneys preparing court cases. Finally, you may participate in mobile laboratory field operations.

Basic Requirements:

A) Successful completion of a full 4-year course of study in an accredited college or university leading to a bachelor's or higher degree that included a major field of study in textile technology.


B) Combination of education and experience -- courses equivalent to a major in textile technology that included at least 20 semester hours in textile technology and closely related subjects, plus appropriate experience or additional education.

The quality of the combination of education and experience must be sufficient to demonstrate that the applicant possesses the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform work in the occupation, and is comparable to that normally acquired through the successful completion of a full 4-year course of study with a major in the appropriate field. In addition to courses in the major and related fields, a typical college degree would have included courses that involved analysis, writing, critical thinking, research, etc. These courses would have provided an applicant with skills and abilities sufficient to perform progressively more responsible work in the occupation. Therefore, creditable experience should have demonstrated similarly appropriate skills or abilities needed to perform the work of the occupation.


Click here for more information.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Facial Hair and Hairstyle Evolutions of The Beatles

A friend of mine sent me this cute little time line about the Beatles and their changes in hairstyles over the span of their career. It's accurate for the most part, and incredibly fun to analyze. Enjoy!

The History of the Beatles by Hair
From the blog, Alligator Sunglasses.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Textile Science and Friendship Bracelets

Arrived home from a trip to Canada on Friday, and although I don't have time for an in-depth post this week, I thought I'd give you all some nice summer "fluff" which, interestingly enough, is quite relevant to my studies in the most fun of ways.

Friendship bracelets are a traditional summer camp past time. On long bus trips, I usually break out the string box, have the kids pick their colors and either teach them the patterns, or macrame them myself. If it had been any other summer, I wouldn't have regarded the bracelets with any sense of wonder other than "wow, those colors look cool together." A summer after my first year of grad school however, has caused me to examine even something as simple as a Chinese Staircase - how would the great textile scholars classify this adolescent form of art?

Looking back on my notes and materials, I discovered that these patterns are not woven or knit structures. According to Irene Emery's The Primary Structures of Fabrics: An Illustrated Classification, macrame consists of "...inter-working the free-hanging elements of a single set into a fabric" it is considered to be inter-knotting, not inter-looping (as in knitting or crochet, which uses a continuous element) or regular weaving. Macrame is also different because it is formed " knotting elements round adjacent elements, first to one side and then to the other."

For those unfamiliar with Emery's work, elements are objects used in the process of weaving, knitting or knotting. Typically these are threads, but can be anything - hair, metals, plants, etc. These often form the base of textiles; things like beads, sequins, and embroidery are considered "applied elements" because they are added post-process and are not integral to the weave, knit or knot structure.

The pattern I use the most often is the Cobra, which happens to be your typical macrame knot all the way through. From this closeup, it is clear how this pattern is inter-knotted, not just looped (as many often think).

Friendship bracelet enthusiasts have developed their own patterns very similar to those Emery and her contemporaries use to visually describe structures. Again, knotted and woven patterns should not be confused; rather, these are examples of how people interpret these techniques.
Todd's Knitting Blog

Fiber to Fabric (Potter and Corbman).

This is why I love grad school; I readily apply knowledge from the classroom to simple, everyday activities such as making bracelets for campers. I never call them out if I over hear them say "and then you weave it like this" - they are too young to really comprehend the difference. But it does make me feel intelligent to know and recognize the difference (insert smiley emoticon).

Further Reading

Alderman, Sharon. Mastering Weave Structures: Transforming Ideas into Great Cloth.

Earnshaw, Pat. Identification of Lace.

Watson, William. Advanced Textile Design. (just for fun!).

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fashion as Art: Footwear Designs of Marloes ten Bhömer

It's been a busy summer so far! I've been non-stop working since the school year ended, with the CSA conference and some of my own independent research churning along (yes, I'm still on the Czech denim kick). It's been a while since I've had the luxury to write a post however, so here is a little something to mull over until I can get back on a normal schedule.

One of the reasons I became interested in fashion studies is so that I could explore the divide (or is there one?) between fashion and art. Growing up, I recognized that fashion was a form of art - after all, the methodologies of designers are similar to those of artists. They have inspirations, they sketch or conceptualize their craft and most of all, they create. Yet despite the increase of fashion, dress and textile exhibitions in museums both art historical and non, many people deny fashion as an art form in favor of its capitalistic, seemingly vapid industry image.

Guilty as charged, there was a time when I criticized the work of runway couturiers. I couldn't fathom why someone would create an ensemble that couldn't - and wouldn't - be worn by the average person, or even the celebrity at that. But when I looked at each piece like it was a painting or sculpture, it made more sense. Fashion doesn't necessarily have to be worn - it has to be seen, it has to be innovative, and it has to make the viewer think, just like any other work of art.

I'm sure I could dedicate another post to theorizing about "what is couture?" - but I won't do that now. However, I would love to bring to light the designs of Marloes ten Bhömer, who's pieces blew me away. I'll be the first to admit that I am not "up" on the fashion couture fashion scene, but Bhömer is clearly a woman who can be understood by fashionistas and art enthusiasts alike.

Her collection consists mainly of unique shoe designs that challenge the viewer to process the design and wonder, "can people really wear those?" Not to the same extent as Alexander McQueen's outlandishly gawdy chopine-like footwear - Bhömer uses geometry, physics and utilitarian materials like paper, fiberglass and steel to create shoes that are actually functional and visually captivating. She is constantly experimenting with technology, producing unconventional accessories without overwhelming buyers, curators and the common person.

Bhömer, in my opinion, has successfully straddled the line between what makes fashion, fashion, and what makes fashion, art. Below are some of my favorites; I'd love to find more designers like her, so if you know of any good ones, please comment below.
Rotationalmouldedshoe. Materials: Polyurethane rubber and stainless steel.
Noheelsleathershoe. Materials: Leather.
Carbonfibreshoe #1. Materials: Carbon fibreShoes constructed from carbon fibre.
The heels are placed on the side of the shoe, forcing the weight of the body to distribute of from side to side when walking.

All photos courtesy of

Thursday, June 17, 2010

CSA Symposium 2010 Criticisms - Do You Agree?

I've been non-stop traveling since getting back from the the Costume Society of America's National Symposium, so pardon my erratic posting schedule. Future posts will include inspirations from these trips, but I wanted to address some things I hope will help those interested in attending next year's symposium. I've been in talks with many of the CSA big-wigs so improvements are definitely in the works. And despite these little criticisms, I am actually very much looking forward to next year's conference.

Things I learned:

-I found it very hard to locate and socialize with fellow students. There is so much we can learn from each other - ways to improve existing programs, exchanging current research interests, even discovering the specialties of their university collections. I also know that student attendance was lower than normal, not only for the symposium but for CSA membership as a whole. This was a concern addressed to me by several CSA members, so it is good to know that they recognize the problem and are working on a solution.
  • How to fix this: there needs to be a student committee of some sort. One of the CSA's main goals is to garner new student membership. This can only be done if there is a proactive group dedicated to recruitment and student-related events. Most other organizations have student liasons, and CSA should be no exception. It would be great for next year's conference to have some more student meet-and-greets and excursions. It would also be a great place to mediate student's concerns and needs.
-The cost of this conference was inappropriate for these economic times, and definitely not student friendly. This was a major deterrent for many people, who wanted to come to the conference but could not justify the price tag.
  • How to fix this: the cost of the conference basically pays for the use of the venue, along with breakfasts, two lunches, your chance to hear wonderful research and some additional activities. It did NOT include transportation to/from the venue, additional meals, and accommodations, or cultural activities. So it is easy to see why people would decline attending, especially if they are struggling to make ends meet as it is. This can be remedied with a few changes in comfort - find a cheaper venue, with cheaper catering, in a location that is accessible and close to a cultural center. The perfect combination of all these things? A college campus. Housing could be offered in the dorms (most make their students vacate by the time the conference is scheduled) or at a nearby hotel with a shuttle service (for those who seek comfort over quality). Not to mention, it would be a great way to see the campuses and collections of sponsoring cities, because many of the presenters are professors and local museum curators.
-In my opinion, it is only worth investing in this conference if you are presenting a paper. Although the research exhibition component is important, participants get hardly any face time because they are placed at the end of the conference, when most people are either leaving or attending concurrent sessions. Also, the annual meeting ran late, giving us only about an hour to discuss our work with those few who were interested in checking out the research exhibitions. I'm glad I got the opportunity to "present" but the amount of time and effort spent on putting it all together didn't feel worth it without criticism from attendees.
  • How to fix this: have the posters up for the entire conference, with special discussion times throughout the schedule. Most events ended at 6pm, there is definitely a lot of time for short chats. The few people who came to the research exhibitions seemed to enjoy the content, and I'm sure that the ones who left would have liked an opportunity to see and discuss them as well.
-I could do without Kansas City. The city's layout was very disjointed and there is virtually no public transportation, making outside excursions costly and time-consuming to plan.
  • How to fix this: although regional fairness must be considered, it would have been helpful to have had a tour of the city as an activity, or even a packet of notable sites, places to eat, go dancing, etc. The next two conferences will be in Boston and Atlanta, so attaining these goals will be a little easier. This is not merely a youthful response, either; I ran into many older attendees who wanted to go out, but had no idea as to where to go.
For those of you who attended the conference, do you agree/disagree with any of my statements? What do you think were the highs/lows of this year's conference? The members I have been talking to are very concerned with how to improve future symposiums, and all questions and comments are welcome!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Brief Course of Events - CSA National Symposium 2010

I wanted to give a brief write-up of the Costume Society of American's Annual Symposium, for those of you who were unable to attend. Overall, I'm very pleased to have been in Kansas City for the conference; I met a lot of great people, and had a lot of stimulating conversations with professors, curators and dress enthusiasts. You can read more about who presented and the topics discussed here.

Wednesday, May 26th:
My first taste of the symposium began with the opening reception. I recognized very few people, but was able to meet and greet the likes of Anne Bissonette and the legendary June Burns Bove, as well as chat with some first timers about their goals, schooling, job offers, etc. I met up with Monica Sklar (editor of the blog WornThrough) after the award ceremony, and talked fashion studies with some really cool ladies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who run the Fashion Resource Center. I was inspired by their school's promotion of contemporary fashion and encouragement of their students to touch, drape, and interact with their extensive collection. Something to think about, for future endeavors...

Thursday, May 27th: After breakfast, the juried paper sessions began. I especially liked seeing Monica Sklar's (University of Minnesota) presentation of her research on punk dress in the workplace. She provided a great model for future dress studies, and her presentation layout was also eye-catching and effective. I also really enjoyed an analysis by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) on a French Revolutionary-era gilet (vest/waistcoat). She presented a lot of interesting research on the fascinating tongue-and-cheek designs of bourgeois fashion.

I also attended a professional development seminar based on utilizing primary sources other than extant garments for research purposes. I was interested in this seminar particularly because I do not have access to many existing garments pertaining to my interests. It turned out to be a really enlightening seminar, where attendees shared their knowledge as well as their desire to have researchers come to their institutions. I was glad to hear this, because I've been a bit jaded by the near impossible access to collections in New York City. The fact that there are museums and historic societies that are dying to have people come research their garments makes me feel better about my chosen professional (aka I thought we had to keep our treasures under lock-and-key).

Friday, May 28th: Although I missed out on the Teaching Dress History discussion panel, I was able to catch a few more paper sessions such as Nadine L. Stewart's (FIT) Master's thesis on Millinery life and Clarissa Esguerra's extremely thorough analysis of a dress in LACMA's collection that had been made in the 1830s and then refashioned in the 1840s. I was very impressed by how she was able to recognize the patterns and cuts of the dress and draw her conclusions based on its construction.

After lunch I sat in on a concurrent paper session, where I was able to hear Katalin Medvedev's (University of Georgia) field research on grassroots fashion development in Cambodia. It was wonderful to meet her because she has done similar work regarding Communist dress in Hungary. Also during this session were enlightening presentations on progressive fashion photography of the 1930s and 1940s, wardrobe stylists who use original craft techniques for period films, and a biographical "introduction" of Muriel King, a 20th century designer that had been the focus of a senior exhibition at FIT in 2009.

Saturday, May 29th: The day started out with the Stella Blum Student Grant awardee's paper presentation. Katie Knowles, a PhD student at Rice University, did extensive research pertaining to slave clothing in the United States. I was very impressed by her knowledge and the amount of research she was able to uncover because there are so few slave garments available. It was also nice to hear that many of her items came from the Charleston Museum (thanks for helping her out, Jan Hiester!). This grant was definitely well deserved, as "plain" clothing is vastly under researched and hard to find in museum collections.

Then came the research exhibitions. I must admit, this was probably the most disappointing part of the entire symposium, even though I was presenting. First of all, the annual meeting ran 15 minutes over schedule, and we only originally had about an hour an a half to display our work. Secondly, they placed the session on the last day, when many people leave the conference. The session also ran concurrently during a seminar hosted by June Burns Bove on dressing mannequins, and come on, you can't compete with Ms. Bove! She's just so fabulous. I was able to interact with a few members who graciously stopped by, but in the end I felt like I had put in a lot of effort for very little face time.

Attending this year's symposium made me excited for future CSA events. I look forward to next year's conference in Boston, where I plan on presenting a paper on Douglas Millings, as well as possibly hosting a professional development seminar. My next post will discuss specific critiques of the symposium, as well as new suggestions (from both peers and myself) that may benefit the promotion of the CSA's goals and future endeavors.