Culture Fabric: The Human Lace Project

Culture Fabric: The Human Lace Project

Azra Aksamija


Allison Anne James

4.314/5 Advanced Workshop in Artistic Practice and Transdisciplinary Research

Culture Fabric: The Human Lace Project

Spring 2015                              

Units: 3 – 3 – 6

Class time:          Tuesdays 7-10pm and Wednesdays 2:00 - 5:00 pm

Location:              T: E15-207                                 TR E14-251G

Professor:            Dr. Azra Akšamija            

TA:                       Allison James                  

Office Hours:       Azra Akšamija (E15-231)           by appointment

Course description      

This course examines artistic practice as a form of critical inquiry and knowledge production. We will evaluate transdisciplinary models of experimentation, research, and collaboration though individual and group projects that link the arts, culture, and technology. The workshop will explore the relationship between textiles and storytelling, introducing an extended understanding of cultural identity and its manifestation in fabric on personal, community, and global scales. We will be conducting research on the history and politics of textiles, and surveying the social, cultural, and environmental dimensions of textile craft and fabrication in specific contexts.

This research will provide the basis for hands-on creative projects. You will be working on one individual and one group project. The goal for the group project is to create a performative installation in a public space based on the idea of a scaled-up lacemaking machine sized for full-body operation. Individual projects will provide an opportunity for you to translate your research into wearable artworks that weave a personal story into a collective narrative.  The Human Lace Project will result in a map reflecting the identities, stories and cultural encounters of its makers and performers.

The course will introduce working with a variety of materials and techniques, with an emphasis on textile. Sewing skills are beneficial but not pre-required for the class; sewing tutorials, machines and basic sewing equipment/textiles will be provided. Lectures, readings, screenings and field trips supplement studio practice. Course meets twice a week. Tuesday class is a workshop / discussion of reading / lecture / screenings. Wednesday meeting is a technical tutorial / supervised studio production. Additional individual work required outside the class (min. 6hrs / week expected).

Students from all disciplines are encouraged and welcome to enroll. Limited enrollment.

For news, materials, and updated syllabus please regularly refer to the course website:


There will be one individual project (due midterm) and one group project (due end of the class), which will be graded. You are required to prepare a written 1-page statement for the individual project. Readings are regularly assigned to provide a historical and theoretical framework for thematic cluster and will be discussed in class.

Regular and on-time attendance is required for all class sessions and reviews. It is your responsibility to catch up on missed content through instructors or fellow students.

All class work and assignments must be completed on time. No Food or Drink in lab facilities.


Grading will be based on:

Class participation – 20-%

Readings, assignments and presentations 20%

Concept and execution of the individual project – 20%

Concept and execution of the group project – 20%

Personal investment and demonstrated growth throughout the semester – 20%

Completion of the final project is required for a passing grade, as is regular attendance. Unexcused absences and repeated tardiness will automatically lower a grade by 1/2 a letter grade.


You are responsible for obtaining most of your own materials.


Selected readings (TBD) that will be discussed in class will be posted on class blog. For additional readings that could inform your research projects see the bibliography below.


Masks and Identity in Dress and Fashion               

  • Malcolm Barnard, "Fashion, Clothing, Communication and Culture," in Fashion As Communication (UK: Taylor & Francis Ltd, 2002), 27-48.
  • Bernard Rudofsky, "The Fashionable Body," in The Unfashionable Human Body (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1971), 93-124.
  • Stuart Hall, "Introduction: Who Needs Identity?", in Questions of Cultural Identity, Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay, eds.,  (London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif. : Sage, 1996), 1-17.
  • Bernard Rudofsky, "The Birth of Clothes" and "A Portfolio of Monsters" in The Unfashionable Human Body (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1971), 15-23, 77-92.
  • Raymond Williams, "Culture," in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, c1983), 87-93.
  • Zygmunt Bauman, "From Pilgrim to Tourist — or a Short History of Identity," in Questions of Cultural Identity, Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay, eds.,  (London; Thousand Oaks, Calif. : Sage, 1996), 18-36.
  • Malcolm Barnard, "Etymologies and Definitions of Fashion and Clothing" and "The Functions of Fashion and Clothing," in Fashion As Communication (UK: Taylor & Francis Ltd, 2002), 8-19, 49-71.
  • Valerie Cumming, "Theories and the New Dress History" in Understanding Fashion History (New York: Costume and Fashion Press, 2004), 33-45.

Art and/in/as Fashion: Concepts and Politics

  • Valerie Cumming, "Dress in art and Dress as Art," in Understanding Fashion History (New York: Costume and Fashion Press, 2004), 82-98.
  • Radu Stern, "Futurism and Dress" and The Russian Avant-Grade and Dress," in Against Fashion: Clothing as Art, 1850-1930 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, c2004), 29-44, 45-62.
  • Alice Mackrell, "Introduction" and "From Surrealism to Fashion in the Art Museum," in Art and Fashion (London : Batsford, 2005), 5-20, 135-160.
  • George Simmel, "Fashion", The American Journal of Sociology 62, no. 6. (May, 1957): 541-558.
  • Yuniya Kawamura, "Etymology of Fashion" and "Sociological Discourse and Empirical Studies of Fashion," in Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies (Oxford; New York: Berg, 2005), 3-13,19-37.
  • Bernard Rudofsky, "Clothes and the Artist," in The Unfashionable Human Body (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1971), 246-281.

Constructing the Other / Cultural Encounters

  • Leila Ahmed, "The Discourse of the Veil," in Veil: Veiling, Representation and Contemporary Art (London: Institute of International Visual Arts, 2003), 40-55.
  • Minh-Ha Pham, 2011, “The Right to Fashion in an Age of Terrorism,” Signs 36 (2): 385-410.
  • Melissa Leventon, "Stretching the Boundaries: Conceptual and Performance Pieces," in Artwear: Fashion and Anti-Fashion (Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 2005): 130-152.
  • David A. Bailey and Gilane Tawadros, "Introduction," in Veil: Veiling, Representation and Contemporary Art (London: Institute of International Visual Arts, 2003), 18-39.
  • Bernard Rudofsky, "Anatomy of Modesty," in The Unfashionable Human Body (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1971), 25-75.
  • Heather Colyer Ross, "Traditional Arabian Costume," in The Art of Arabian Costume: A Saudi Arabian Profile  (Fribourg, Switzerland : Arabesque, 1981), 36-58.

Colonialism, Imperialism

  • Jean Comaroff, “The Empire’s Old Clothes: Fashioning the Colonial Subject,” in Cross-Cultural Consumption: Global Markets, Local Realities, David Howes, ed. (New York: Routledge, 1996), 19-38.
  • Emma Tarlo, “Searching for a Solution in the late Nineteenth Century,” Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 23-62.
  • Victoria L. Rovine, "Colonialism's Clothing: Africa, France, and the Deployment of Fashion," Design Issues 25, no. 3: (Summer 2009): 44–61.
  • Emma Tarlo, “The Problem of What to Wear,” “Gandhi and the Recreation of Indian Dress,” and “Is Khadi the Solution?” and “Dressing for Distinction: A Historical Review,” Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 1-23, 62-128, 318-336.

Fashioning Nations

  • Dilek Himam and Burkay Pasin, "Designing a National Uniform(ity): The Culture of Sümerbank within the Context of the Turkish Nation-State Project," Journal of Design History 24, no. 2, Uniforms in Design History Edited by Artemis Yagou (2011): 157-170.
  • Eric Hobsbawm, " Introduction: Inventing Traditions," in The Invention of Tradition, eds. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 1-14.
  • Nancy J. Parezo, “The Indian Fashion Show,” in Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds, Ruth Phillips and Christopher Steiner, eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 243-263.
  • Heather Marie Akou, " Nationalism without a Nation: Understanding the Dress of Somali Women in Minnesota," in Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress, Jean Allman, ed. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004), 50-63.
  • Nancy Micklewright, "Late-Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Wedding Costumes as Indicators of Social Change," Muqarnas 6 (1989): 161-174.
  • Maria Makela, "The Rise and Fall of the Flapper Dress: Nationalism and Anti-Semitism in Early-Twentieth-Century Discourses on German Fashion," The Journal of Popular Culture 34, no. 3 (Winter 2000): 183–208.
  • Laila Shirley Jennifer Lim,  “Contested Beauty: Asian American Beauty Culture during the Cold War,” A Feeling of Belonging: Asian American Women’s Public Culture, 1930-1960 (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 121-153.
  • Haidarali, 2005, “Polishing Brown Diamonds: African American Women, Popular Magazines, and the Advent of Modeling in Early Postwar America,” Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 17, No. 1, 10-37.


Globalization, Authenticity and Artifice

  • Selections from Roland Barthes, The Fashion System, translated by Matthew Ward and Richard Howard (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1990).
  • Michael Scheffer, "Fashion Design and Technologies in a Global Context," in The Fabric of Cultures: Fashion, Identity, and Globalization, Eugenia Paulicelli and Hazel Clark, eds., (New York: Routledge2009), 128-144.
  • Marianne Conroy, 1998, “Discount Dreams: Factory Outlet Malls, Consumption, and the Performance of Middle-Class Identity,” Social Text 54, 63-83.
  • Counterfeit Crochet,
  • Jezebel,
  • Fashion Projects 1:
  • Tim Edwards, "Desiring Subjects: The Designer Label and the Cult of Celebrity," in Fashion in Focus: Concepts, Practices and Politics  (London and New York: Routledge, 2010), 137-158.
  • Katherine Zane,  “Reflections on a Yellow Eye: Asian I (\Eye/) Cons and Cosmetic Surgery,” in Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, ed. Ella Shohat (Boston: MIT Press, 2001), 161-192.
  • Documentary film "The New Rulers of the World" (John Pilger, 2001, 54 min.) Available at MIT Libraries (Dewey Library - Stacks | JC330.P54 2002) or online at:

Cyborgs and Wearable Technology Art

  • Susan Elizabeth Ryan, “What is Wearable Technology Art?” Intelligent Agent 8, no.1. (2006): 1-6.
  • Shery Turkle, “Tethering” in Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology, and Contemporary Art, Caroline A. Jones , ed. (Cambridge, MA: List Visual Art Center and MIT Press, 2006), 220-226.
  • Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” in Socialist Review, 80 (1985): 65-107.
  • Susan Elizabeth Ryan, "Re-Visioning the Interface: Technological Fashion as Critical Media," Leonardo 42, no.4 (August 2009): 307-313.
  • ·     Mark B N. Hansen, “Introduction” and “The Affective Topology of New Media Art” in New Philosophy for New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2004), 1-11, 197-232.
  • Sabine Seymour, Fashionable Technology: The Intersection of Design, Fashion, Science, and Technology (Wien ; New York, NY : Springer, 2008).The book can be viewed online via MIT Libraries
  • Stelarc - The Techno Body (Interview (1993) with the Australian performance artist:, 33min
  • Tavi Gevinson: A teen just trying to figure it out (Ted Talk:, 7:30min
  • Lucy McRae: How can technology transform the human body? (TED Talks:, 4:00min
  • Jae Rhim Lee: My mushroom burial suit (TED Talk:, 7:30min
  • Suzanne Lee: Grow your own clothes (TED Talk:, 6:41min
  • Documentary about the artist Orlan - Carnal Art (2001)

Relational Aesthetics / Tactical Media

  • Tim Edwards, "Express Yourself: The Politics of Dressing Up," in Fashion in Focus: Concepts, Practices and Politics  (London and New York: Routledge, 2010), 103-119.
  • Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics (Dijon : Les Presses du réel, 2002.), 11-24.
  • Brian Holmes, “The Revenge of the Concept: Artistic Exchanges, Networked Resistance” in Art and Social Exchange: A Critical Reader (London: Tate Publishing, 2007), 350-368.
  • Richard Sennett, "The Cooperative Frame of Mind," in Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation (New Haven, CT : Yale University Press, 2012), 3-34.