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In Jamaica Plain, artists rip into wasteful fast fashion

A new public art project underscores the high cost of cheap clothing

"The piece started out being about how pervasive marketing is,” said artist Samantha Fields. (Courtesy Samantha Fields)
"The piece started out being about how pervasive marketing is,” said artist Samantha Fields. (Courtesy Samantha Fields)

“Desires Not Even Our Own,” textile artist Samantha Fields’s project from presenter Now + There’s Public Art Accelerator, trenchantly examines the waste, oppression, and ecological damage wrought by capitalism’s sugar high. It also has the cozy feel of a quilting bee.

Fields has set up shop in an empty Jamaica Plain storefront provided by real estate developer BCV. She’s there most days with local art students, surrounded by more than a ton of used clothes donated from Goodwill.

Heaps of discarded clothing fill a storefront in Jamaica Plain. (courtesy Samantha Fields)
Heaps of discarded clothing fill a storefront in Jamaica Plain. (courtesy Samantha Fields)

“The piece started out being about how pervasive marketing is,” Fields said in an interview. “We don’t know the half of how much we have been manipulated.”

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Specifically, it’s about the clothing industry, which turns out new styles for new seasons at an increasingly dizzying rate, using cheap labor and a wealth of natural resources to make increasingly disposable garments.

In October, Fields and her helpers sat in the storefront window for a week folding the clothes. Now they’re taking them apart, piece by piece.

“A jacket has 75 parts,” the artist said.

Every tiny bit will be tagged with its brand name, where it was made, and what it’s made of. The last two weeks of the show, those bits are free for the taking.

That laborious, intricate process is intended to make viewers think. “The fastness and convenience of all we have — someone is paying for it in time, energy, or working conditions,” Fields said.

“The taking apart process is slow and absurd,” she added. “We want it to be the opposite of the factory.”

It is, and not just in terms of speed. The homey installation welcomes visitors with a sofa, plants, and friendly people working at a meditative pace. Fields plans workshops, such as how to use some of those pieces of cloth or make a rug from T-shirts. There will be a clothing swap on Black Friday and a sale on Dec. 1, the day the show closes.

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But “Desires Not Even Our Own” is as sobering as it is soothing, decrying the fashion industry for stoking an insatiable hunger, and urging inveterate shoppers to take a breath before their next idle stroll through the clothing aisles.

DESIRES NOT EVEN OUR OWN

At 406 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, through Dec. 1. desiresnotevenourown@gmail.com, www.desiresnotevenourown.com


Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.