Jeremy Atherton Lin
Burden/Ardour is a study of workwear clothing and queer masculinity.
Humble, storied, earnest and virile, workwear has been appropriated to the extent that it now helps define a contemporary bourgeois sensibility. The utilitarian-based garment is an intriguing object in that it serves not merely as a relic, but an aesthetic persistently reiterated as if to press a point. Workwear is an obvious example of commodity fetish in an exchange economy.
This proposed book suggests it is also importantly a sexual fetish, and that a series of erotic turns — sometimes unexpected, often delightful — have been instrumental to its endurance. Taking a cue from Susan Sontag’s infamous line, “in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art”, Burden/Ardour is a contemplation of masculine workwear that attempts an erotics of design. The book ventures a new kind of fashion writing — freewheeling and essayistic, combining history, etymology and literary criticism with personal storytelling.
The book is structured around different garments — such as the donkey jacket, French working jacket, collarless shirt, sleeveless vest. These are modelled by figures as diverse as, respectively, Harry Styles from One Direction, Gilles Deleuze (accused of flaunting his work jacket “like Marilyn Monroe’s pink bodice”), Walt Whitman (called “a poseur of truly colossal proportions”) and the hand-painted likeness of a young carpenter on an abandoned Shoreditch pub sign. A primary focus is placed on the garments’ representations in queer literature and cinema, and the moments (sometimes surprising, often fleeting, even speculative) when homosexual scopophilia intersects with a politics of labour. Burden/Ardour ventures beyond the axiom of workwear as utilitarian design repurposed. It instead treats workwear as poetic forms that function in the urban landscape much the way that industrial architectural ‘ruins’ might.
Burden/Ardour is perhaps without an obvious precedent. On one level, it is an investigation into aspects of homosexual male ‘identity’, and in a sense could be considered a pre- and post- history to the 1970s gay ‘clone’ look — the eroticisation of men’s working muscle that was eventually broadcast widely by the Village People. But it also attempts to redefine or undefine what queer masculinity could be — workwear as a possible means of deterritorializing persistent social roles of class and gender. Another aspect is a playful rumination on work itself. Is it pertinent to consider the storyteller a wordsmith, or that this book is not being just written but wrought?
The prose attempts to match the impermanent nature of clothing itself with an unbuttoned style. As stated in the book’s prologue, clothes, after all, “are taken off, left behind, outgrown, mislaundered, given away. There are no absolutes”.
School of Humanities
MA Critical Writing in Art & Design, 2015
Writes about clothes and boys, but it's not what it seems; about seams; on the back of a receipt; in the morning like James Schuyler; about the Smiths; about smithing, working and labour, about burden and donkeys. Studying at the RCA has led to a particular set of enquiries: can fashion writing be inhabited, and what can fashion criticism take from (and give) the heady experiments of the literary?
- Index Magazine, Surface Magazine, Beaux Arts Magazine, Blithe House Quarterly. I also acted as an editor on the CWAD 2015 group book, Albertopolis Companion.