The questions and discussion session after the Design & Social Science seminar was as productive as expected. One of the questions I was asked was whether I thought I was re-enacting history and what this approach did for the project and sociological methods.
It’s interesting because at no point do I think I have used this term – re-enacting – as I view it as being the remit of an historic/ artistic approach. Although this project takes a creative material form, and we are interested in the cultural context and shaping of socio-technologies, we are not trying to reproduce historically accurate garments.
As outlined in the initial funding bid and Rachel also writes about it here, it is arguably not really possible to do such a thing and we are not the ones to do it. Nor am I interested in historical re-enactments.
This is a sociological project.
The patents offer a detailed guide to make each garment. As I’ve written about here: Patents are ’a licence conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention’. Although the designers controlled copyright for 20years, after this period their inventions became available to public use. The nature of a patent is such that the language and drawings must enable anyone knowledgeable in the art of sewing to reproduce these garments. Inventors had a responsibility to future users. We are such users. Making these garments creates a link between the inventors and users, the past and present. In following their instructions we create connections via materials and process to the people who imagined these ideas in the first place.
Talking with Genevieve Bell about this later, she offered a funny and succinct take on the re-enactment vs making argument.
You have a recipe for a scone. You make the scone. You don’t re-enact the scone.
That’s pretty much it.
Patents in this project, much like dress patterns (and scones), aren’t about re-enacting. They are about customising and adapting things to fit, bringing to bear different sizing, choices in fabric, imagined use, a range of skill levels, technologies, mistakes and work arounds!
So,we aren’t re-enacting 1890s women’s cycle wear.
We are making it.