Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)


The subject of my presentation, Electronic Textiles: Hacking the Museum, is a project I orchestrated between the Marsil Museum of Textiles in St. Lambert, Quebec and the Glass Box Gallery at Salford University near Manchester, England. The purpose was to manipulate images of textile objects as a way to reconsider the practice of collecting, question the system of classification (and thereby the authority of the museum), and open up new possibilities for the collected object. The Marsil is the only museum in Quebec whose mandate is exclusively dedicated to textiles. Its catalogue system catagorizes the collection according to function and gender, distinguishes between adult and children's wear, and has a small section of non-Western dress.

In 1996, I made several trips to the storage collection, under the guidance of Marsil' s Curator of Costume, Cynthia Cooper. Historic textiles -- ranging from ready made structures such as a fox collar to those with compound weaves -- were photographed with a digital camera directly into a laptop computer. The photographs underwent a "normalization" process through manipulation in Photoshop, rendering each image similar in size and surface treatment. The catalogue system was disregarded, and in many cases, references to materials, gender; age and function were blurred. In this process of declassification, a mourning veil, a gentleman's top hat, and a well-worn nurse's cap received equal treatment.