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  • Writer's pictureMakalla Shernick

Dysfunctional Wearable Objects

This assignment was to create a wearable, dysfunctional object. When we call an object “functional” we are often implying that said object fulfills a specific purpose. Dysfunction, in this context, would then refer to an object that does not work. Specific to this assignment, a wearable object would be dysfunctional if it subverts expectations by serving little to no purpose.

The first thing that came to mind when looking for some inspiration regarding this project was the fashion industry. Haute Couture—French for “high fashion”—is the fusion of fashion and costume. Often these outfits are entirely dysfunctional as wearable garments and wouldn’t be able to be worn “off the runway.” Here a few examples from Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week Spring 2022.

This research led me to contemporary artist, and former fashion photographer, Filip Custic. His art combines photography, performance art, sculpture, and video. At the center of most of his artwork is subverting ideas about the function and dysfunction of objects. Here are a few examples of his artwork.

Although this artist has designed artwork for a few prominent musicians that high schoolers may have already seen, I do not think that I would use this artist as a reference to any K-12 students. This is because a lot of his artwork has “adult themes” that I would not want to encourage students to research and find. I would, however, use Nick Cave’s Soundsuits as a reference for a dysfunctional wearable objects project. Nick Cave’s work combines art, fashion, and performance into detailed wearable objects. When researching Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, I found an interesting lesson plan published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The lesson includes using found objects and newspaper to construct a paper hat. I liked this idea because it can be adapted to any age. Likely, I would use this small project as a ‘warm-up’ activity to a larger project in wearable dysfunctional objects.

After contemplating what makes something functional versus dysfunctional, I decided to make a list of some wearable objects I could think of in my sketchbook. After cycling through a few different ideas, I went looking around my house for inspiration. In my garage, I found a tin stand for a water dispenser. I immediately thought of the idea to wear this in some fashion, and eventually landed on wearing it on my head. When worn on my head, it almost completely covers my face. It blocked my vision entirely and obstructed my hearing as well. As shown in my sketches, I wanted to attach paper clips around the helmet that dangled past the bottom of the headpiece. They appealed to me aesthetically because they matched the metal exterior of the headpiece. Additionally, much like water stand, the paper clip objects are entirely functional in and of themselves. However, when taken out of context and attached together they lose all function and purpose and therefore become dysfunctional. This same concept went through my mind when I found and reimagined the tin stand as a headpiece.

My initial intentions were to attach the paper clips to the helmet by using some spare small burlap rope I had. However, a shiny metal wire was provided in the classroom to be used. I liked that now the entire headpiece would be of very similar looking materials.

I spent the entirety of the first day just making my paperclip ‘chains.’ This took a lot longer than I initially expected.

During our next class period, I was able to finish the project. Again, wrapping the wire and paperclips around the headpiece was a lot more difficult to do than I imagined it would be. However, after some personal compromise with my minds’ vision, I managed to finish the headpiece and be happy with its outcome.

Here is a photo of me wearing the final headpiece.

Here is a short video of me walking while wearing the headpiece.

This was an interesting art project that I enjoyed doing. If I were to do this project again, I would put more effort into elaborating on the performative aspects in my design. I realize now that a large part of the discourse on objects that are dysfunctional, is seeing them be worn or used. In my future classrooms, I can see this project extending into the creation of an entire costume of dysfunctional objects. I would also, instead of doing a formal critique at the end, would include the participation of a “fashion show” within the classroom to showcase all of the students work.

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