It's Immaterial, Products of Invisible Labor

Labor & Domesticity

The sculptural installation, It’s Immaterial, Products of Invisible Labor, was produced utilizing erratic renditions of traditional fiber, painting, and drawing techniques. In my artistic practice, I attempt to subvert these traditional techniques to reveal the disorderly and contradictory elements of contemporary life. Conglomerate lines and intersecting domestic materials speak to our dystopian reality of the over-accumulation of stuff and the growing desensitization to human struggles. I also reflect on our past and future during the act of collecting materials, creating thread, and assembling line. This process involves accepting donated items such as used clothing, curtains, linens, and other domestic wares from family, friends, and strangers, who often share stories about these items with me. This leads me to reflect on the history of these given items and how they were made.

After collecting materials, I break each item down, cutting them into continuous, large thread. I then construct the installation with fiber techniques such as crochet, weaving, wrapping, and knotting, combining other media in the process. The materials and body movements I utilize in the act of creation become the driving forces in my art. It is a technique that draws inspiration from human intentionality, our concepts of space and time, and the trajectory of exploration and knowledge. These same material configurations, and my artistic process in creating them, also mimic the movement of repetition and confinement experienced in modern industrialism, of mass production and the unremarkable quotidian workaday.

The labor that women provided to create handmade textile wares for the home, and how that labor was extorted and continues to be since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution leads me to consider the labor produced by women in my own family. My own grandmothers shared endlessly their gifts of sewing, crocheting, and knitting with their families in addition to their roles as domestic caregivers. My mother, being of the baby-boomer generation, worked full-time teaching, and was the primary caregiver for my brother and me, while doing most of the cooking, sewing, and cleaning when she was home. My expected role as a woman in and outside of the home is daunting, but also resembles a performative act.

As I considered the various forms of labor, whether domestic, reproductive, invisible, or wage, I felt it was important to highlight how much of this labor goes unrecognized, unpaid, and most often performed by women. Most women labor in their homes through domestic caregiving, housework, and providing emotional stability (affective labor) to their friends and family. These forms of labor are unpaid and simultaneously expected of women, across a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. For It’s Immaterial, Products of Invisible Labor, I considered the varied forms of labor that women take on throughout the world, ranging from the garment industry to the retail shop, to the home.

Unfortunately, the stark contrast between first and third world living means that the products of the garment laborers’ grueling work are often disposed of after a short lifespan. In my artistic process (or labor), I intercept these clothing items and domestic wares to shred and create something new. The result is a mash-up of hand fiber techniques and machine sewn contemporary clothing. The products of invisible labor are too often undervalued or of little consequence to the consumer—immaterial— yet are beneficial to me by becoming part of my creative work. Immaterial labor refers to the intellectual and creative processes of labor that can be exploited through capitalism.

To listen to an audio track for this installation, click here. Rose Hackman of The Guardian expands on women's struggle for equity in the issue of emotional labor here. Doreen Massey's 2013 labor analysis and breakdown of its language, and how it effects our understanding of the economy, can be read here.