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Issue 240

Tenant of Culture Picks Apart the Lives of Our Garments

At Soft Opening, London, Hendrickje Schimmel challenges linear constructs of creation and usage by manipulating end-of-life materials

BY Kimi Zarate-Smith in Exhibition Reviews | 29 SEP 23

‘Ladder’ is Tenant of Culture’s attack on cycles of mass production and fashion, high and low. Hendrickje Schimmel, the artist behind the evocative moniker, recycles end-of-life materials into zombified and necrotic shoes, bags and other functional objects. At Soft Opening, we find her retracting from her usual, pieced-together maximalist craft, favouring a more minimal and ordered approach. The show interrupts not only the industrial object’s afterlife but also its conception, picking apart the lives of our garments. 

Tenant of Culture
Tenant of Culture, ‘Haul’, 2023, plastic, garments, thread, ribbon and rivets, 36 × 28 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Soft Opening, London

Sabotage in Acrylic (mint) and Sabotage in Acrylic (taupe) (all works 2023) appear stretched between three pillars at the centre of the gallery. The works have been put on trial – repeated punctures, rips, and exit wounds perforate the fabric. The artist’s treatment of her material is a gentle take on designer Rei Kawakubo’s Jumper (1982), a black knitted ensemble scattered with holes, referenced in an accompanying text by Eilidh Duffy. As Duffy explains, Schimmel has modified – or broken down, in this case – her knitting machine to replicate Comme Des Garçons’ late-1980s production method, which, in turn, was inspired by the disruptive acts of the French saboteurs, who protested poor working conditions during the industrial period. Schimmel’s intervention culls specific threads even before they come into being.

The ‘Drawn’ series sees the artist deconstruct salvaged tote bags, obliterating their functionality. After undoing the bags’ original composition, the resulting negative space is laddered with the remains of warps and wefts, then twisted into locks – cascades of open-work embroidery drop into an organized fall. Stare long enough at the corpse-like Drawn or Sabotage in Acrylic and the threads morph into little talons, then genomic structures, strands of DNA, veins, chromosomes. Schimmel goes back and forth, reworking her materials at their beginnings and ends. She alternates between destruction and construction, which has the potential to be the same thing in a sustainable world.

Tenant of Culture
Tenant of Culture, ‘Ladder’, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Soft Opening, London

The ‘Haul’ series repurposes an assortment of fast-fashion deliveries: the unworn garments bulge and emerge from their sheer polyethene sacs like aliens from the e-commerce realm. Schimmel manipulates the found material toward kitsch aesthetics by introducing quilts, ribbons and ruches. Still-sealed bags are incised with new openings, while her attack on the cloth subverts creation and usage as linear constructs. ‘Haul’ contains simultaneously delicate, Shibari-esque workings of beautified constraints and grisly releases of tension. As detailed in the text, the work nods to the Landsknecht, early modern Germanic mercenaries often depicted in outlandish garb, such as bright and expensive silks under their battlewear.

With a satirical eye, ‘Ladder’ encompasses short-lived and flamboyant things: trends, fast fashion, German foot soldiers and mass production. There is nothing punk about making excess waste and buying into it. Schimmel was influenced by the recent ‘Avant Apocalypse’ trend – a new something-core from the online fashion niches – whose wearers identify with a future fallacy, inspired by the 2021 film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune (1965), in which we’ll all be wearing torn-up Rick Owens on a giant Tesla flying away from a destroyed Earth. The show feels sharply ironic, a contextual battle with our late-capitalist tendency to look artificially hardcore. Distressed garments are often pure decadence. Why pursue a type of labour that will get my double-denim dirty when Acne Studios can do it for me? I could walk a hundred miles in these shoes … but I’ll have the soles broken in á la Maison Margiela. The worn-out look really is for those who stay in.

Tenant of Culture
Tenant of Culture, Untitled, 2023, velour tracksuit treated with devoré, thread and buckles, 179 × 160 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Soft Opening, London

Schimmel’s ‘Ladder’ is a twisting one of ups and downs. The works are informed by the future as much as by what’s left behind. As the aesthetic of decay and incompletion quickly become contrived, ‘Ladder’ seems to ask: ‘What happened along the way?’ 

Tenant of Culture’s ‘Ladder’ is at Soft Opening, London, until 21 October

Main image: Tenant of Culture, ‘Haul’ (detail), 2023, plastic, garments, thread, ribbon and rivets, 27 × 32 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Soft Opening, London

Kimi Zarate-Smith is a writer based in London, UK. She was formerly Editor-in-Chief of Era Journal.