How do you make a three-storey-tall sculpture out of clothes, for Nuit Blanche?
There were more than 120 art projects on display at this year’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, the ninth edition of the all-night art festival. One of those was Maria Ezcurra’s Made in China, an installation at 330 Spadina Avenue in Chinatown. The Mexico-raised, Montreal-based artist uses textiles, mostly clothing, to explore social and personal stereotypes as well as cultural codes. “Most of the things we buy now are made in China. They’re made everywhere but the place where we are living,” she said. Through this project, her hope was to create awareness of how, as she put it, “the decisions we make in our personal life end up affecting others on many levels.” Made in China is one of Nuit Blanche 2014’s extended projects, meaning it will be on display until October 13. Here’s how it came together, step by step.
Ezcurra spent three days at Goodwill’s warehouse in Scarborough. “It’s huge, it’s like every artist’s dream,” she said. Four giant bins of clothes made in China awaited her team, which grew from two to seven people as installation day loomed closer. The primary criteria for choosing items: “Would it hang nicely?” No pants made the cut, because Ezcurra was told that many Chinese people consider it bad luck to walk under pants.
The underlying structure is composed of steel pipes and measures 30 feet high. Pipes on which clothes would hang were laid horizontally, 30 centimetres apart. The entire facade is anchored by four 3,000-pound concrete blocks on each side. The scaffolding was designed by a Nuit Blanche production team. “They told me this is what we are doing, and then I had to figure out how I was hanging the garments from there,” Ezcurra said.
“I had to figure it out in two, three days,” Ezcurra said. “I came up with this idea of hanging them like curtains, using zip bands.”
The bulk of the installation’s assembly happened relatively quickly on Oct. 3. The installation team removed items of clothing from bags that Ezcurra had pre-packed at Goodwill. The installers threaded the garments, in order, onto the pipes. Ezcurra had used nail scissors bought from a pharmacy near her hotel to pinch holes in the clothes for the zip bands.
Assembly started from the bottom because the clothes cover the pipe below them. Ezcurra didn’t have an exact count, but she knows somewhere between 900 and 1,000 items were hung as part of the project.
The front of each garment faces the street, and they all hang upside down so that passersby can see the labels. Hanging them this way also creates a more organic arrangement. “If you hang them the other way it creates lines,” Ezcurra explained. “Clearly there are much more women’s then men’s garments, but I didn’t have anything to do with that,” she said, chalking it up to a comment on the industry: “Women are taught to consume more.”
Ezcurra had enough clothes to cover the interior, but decided against it because she wanted people to see the structure. “It’s a facade. Outside it’s nice and pretty, but inside it’s the structure—this functional part of it. I didn’t want to hide that. Also garments are a little bit like that. It’s like a facade for yourself.”
While Ezcurra and her team assembled the project, a woman from the business next door wanted to get involved. One of the crew, a Chinese speaker, acted as a translator. “The woman next door, who doesn’t speak English, wanted to give her coat, she wanted to give it to me in a symbolic way and that I would hang it,” Ezcurra said. “We did it at the very end. It’s a 10-year-old coat. I told her, ‘You sure? It’s staying here for two weeks and probably you won’t be able to use it again.’ She said she was sure.”
On the day of the event, the project was sprayed with a fire retardant as a safety precaution. Two street-sign poles directly in front of the alley on Spadina have two lights attached to them, and at dusk, the front of the project is lit up. When the project comes down, the clothes will be returned to Goodwill for recycling.