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Sasha Yazov Ghosts 2022
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An intimate dream

 

Text by Christina Moon

Filtered through TikTok and Instagram, fashion has never been faster, closer and more accessible. Yet behind our digital dreamworld are those whose very invisibility brings the fantasies of the fashion system into being.

 

Immediacy – the quality that makes something seem like it is happening now, close to you, and is therefore important. It’s the experience of flexibility and fluidity, directness and literalism as instantaneous and immersive; the always-on and continuous. In fashion, it begins with longing, an intimate dream that is aesthetic as much as it is temporal and spatial. Intimate as in the state of having a close, personal relationship with someone, the dream of connection. One wants to wear and be seen by others. Yet we are unaware that the textile skins we wear every day connect us to the hands, bodies, imaginations, time and energy of all those who, collectively yet dispersed, bring fashion into existence.

The world continuously changes, though the last three years have seemed more dramatically in flux. Our lives demand endless productivity. Global capitalism keeps us perpetually feeling as if we are running out of time. The workday is now 24 hours and sleep is resistance. There seems to be less time for dreaming, with our relentless jobs, raising kids, long commutes to and from the city, catching the train home, then running back out the door to get the groceries. There doesn’t seem to be as much time for browsing clothes as we once used to have… for taking the time to linger, for popping into a store and trying things on just for fun. There is no time to check the fit and fittings, for stopping by the shop or bar on the way home just to see who is wearing what and how. I lament this at this stage of my life, but funnily enough, it turns out that the Gen-Z college students I teach aren’t going out that much either. They too, in the twilight of their young adulthood, come home from school and work in the expensive city of New York, worrying about the rent, how to pay back their student loans, whether or not they will have a career, unsure of their financial futures, or any future with climate change and the threats to the environment. With overwhelming anxiety, they worry at night.

And so, as I do and as they do, in the few minutes on our way to jobs, between classes, amid the hustle and grind of the city, while crossing the street, riding the subway; as we wait in line for this or that, run errands, make our way home, cook dinner, wash our faces, sit on our toilet and brush our teeth, as we lie there in bed with our minds exhausted, bodies physically overspent, we stare down into these small, rectangular, handheld glowing screens – these absolutely wonderful, magical, illuminating portals – and find ourselves immediately in other dimensions, suspending time and expanding worlds of many possibilities.

Red cowboy boots, black knee-high boots, denim. Kiko Kostandinov, DKNY, Mexico silver 925 jewelry. Fish leather bag, pastel knit sweater, cashmere, and Shetland wool.

The images we look at, whether at age 18 or 46, are close-up shots of the face, long-armed distant shots of the body. Skin is always present, always natural, youthful, shiny. Selfies bring us inside the bedroom, with the bed right behind. Phone shots of her clothes, her looks, poses and gestures. Small chats from the pillow, having just woken up with smudged black mascara. We are with “the only living girl” for 15, 30, 60 seconds, at times for 3 minutes. Though we are in bed – it is night – we are about to begin our day with her. We go to work with her, which doesn’t ever look like work at all. We are there with her after a long day of shows at Paris Fashion Week. We watch influencers spilling out into the street. Now she is sitting on the street curb outside, a cigarette hangs from her left hand, her phone clutched in her right. She wears black boots, a small black dress, her hair is slicked down with gel. There are half-full glasses of champagne on the pavement. With her sweaty forehead and big smile, we are in complete reverie with her best friends, for what looks and feels like the best night out in the city ever. A few seconds later, she is lying in a bathtub (wet skin and suds), in a penthouse apartment with impressive views, in a completely different city. Then finally home to LA where she finds boxes and boxes stacked high at her door. All the familiar brands and luxury fashion houses have sent her sweaters, pants, bags, jewellery, makeup, skincare and perfume.

Immediacy’s tool is the thumb (phone) or index finger (computer)

On social media, we are spoken to in the unabashed, rapid-fire lingo of an inner circle best friend – someone you can trust, whom you can confide in, who can tell you who you really are and what you deserve. The “bestie” who tells you to “take my advice,” and wants to “take you on my journey.” And though it feels as if she is speaking directly and only for you, she has charmed the TikTok algorithm with over two million followers.
We see very last thing on her body. Worn. Adorned. Featured. Applied. Put on. Taken off. Sprayed and dabbed. Massaged in. Cleansed. Thrown on. Painted on. Wiped off. Every surface and closeup, every movement and gesture, every utterance is an invitation for you to remain in the intimacy of this dream. It stretches time and suspends it spatially to bring you closer to a near present yet distant future.

Today, immediacy in fashion begins with this kind of secular magic that links the visual and technological with intimacy. If the viewing of 18th-century paintings invited a kind of stillness, and 19th-century images introduced the technological innovation of reproducibility, today’s 21st-century visual technologies – from social media to AI – have the uncanny ability to link immediacy with the experience of intimacy in mass form. Three hundred years ago, 18th-century oil paintings of estates, pastoral lands, furniture, food, dogs, horses and cows confirmed the rightful social position of landowners as the powerful and dignified, through all the things they possessed and owned. Texture and brushstrokes made the objects that were to be looked upon visually tangible. Then followed the industrial age, which brought forth new capacities for mass manufacturing, developing alongside 19th-century technological inventions of optical reproducibility. Advertising images in film and photography could capture reality and transform it into an object, to be consumed passively, pleasurably and directly. Today’s visual technologies in fashion perceptively bend time and space, making us feel as if we, individually, can conjure and attain a utopic future in the here and now. Dreams of the good life, surrounded by pleasure without work. Dreams of skin, of being touched, desired, and loved. Dreams of faraway distances without horizons, in pursuit of freedom, an autonomous existence. Dream worlds of intimate relationships and friendships, a classless society, an alternative way of life where one freely expresses thoughts, feelings, and experiences. John Berger states, “The more monotonous the present, the more the imagination must seize upon the future,” where the passive present “must be replaced by the activity of an imaginary future.” Throughout history, the technological capacities to produce have always been mediated by this utopian capacity to dream.

After all, as Walter Benjamin has written, modern life has left us in a state of perpetual distraction – a constant, flitting non-present of peripheral vision (today, we look down at our phones even while crossing the street). Industrialisation has caused a crisis in perception with the speeding up of time and the fragmentation of space. The experience of the city, at the centre of the capitalist market, is full of traffic and crowds, its busy street life and hustle a reflection of business cycles, the stock exchange, the quick pulse of commerce. Benjamin was fascinated by 19th-century “perceptual technologies” – not only could inventions in photography and film optically reproduce reality and new constitutions of perception, they could also tap into what he called “the optical unconscious” – a psychoanalytic unconscious where camera stills, shots and moving images could enlarge, frame, and detail what was unknown to the naked eye, shocking or awakening the everyday numbed body and dulled senses. Optics and vision could bring about tactility or the “rewiring of seeing as tactile,” presenting synthetic realities and reconstructing experiential worlds of coherence in vision, of fantasy, action, and hope. But so long as its development was appropriated for the purposes of capitalism and the state, it would never awaken the collective unconscious, rather producing only reified dream worlds and images of material product, consumption, propaganda, the “phantasmagoria” of false consciousness.

The dream worlds created in TikTok, Instagram, Reels and Stories are just so enchanting – an appeal to our senses. Their aesthetic forms are of the immediate and intimate kind – confessional, a daily diary, a beautifully put-together montage and narrative of an authentically lived life. These bubbled, individually tailored algorithmic worlds are visually driven and comfortingly familiar yet they are trick mirrors – dream worlds meant for the self alone while collectively created for the larger mass market. As Jia Tolentino writes, “the final and possibly most psychologically destructive distortion of the social internet is its distortion of scale. The scrolling in the hope of getting some fleeting sensation, some momentary rush of the dream, of recognition, of flattery.” We scroll to feel something again, though we remain unconscious in the dream.

 

1609 Sasha Yazov

Sasha Yazov, Dichotomy (2022)

Immediacy’s tool is the thumb (phone) or index finger (computer). If the industrial age expanded the sphere of objects by machine, in digitalisation, Byung-Chul Han observes, the finger increasingly consumes mostly “non-things” – information, data, experiences – instead. The impulsive finger chooses immediately rather than pausing to think or act. Its constant touching, tapping, and swiping feels more like a form of play. The finger swipes away information that isn’t of interest, zooming in and enlarging the information it likes. It creates a world of self-referentiality with total choice and immediate availability. Memories are now replaced by experiences. Friendships are there to be counted. Han states that the human beings of our future are handless from this end of the glass screen. They do not make physical things with hands but touch flat glass buttons with fingers to satisfy all of one’s needs. The finger taps magically conjure what feels like an endlessly expanding world of goods – fashion that can come to you in dizzying varieties from far and wide. Though, to get to the point where the box shows up at your doorstep in just two days, the object, already having been made, has been marketed to your unconscious. Clothing still takes two to eight months to be produced, then it must still be shipped to you. The finger on this side of the screen experiences the magic of choice and play, but the many hands and bodies whose work to make the item are fragmented around the world cannot be seen. Their work would demystify this immediacy entirely. 

On the other side of the finger is the sobering, physical reality of everything else. To experience this immediacy requires studying a long history: the development of container ships, sea routes and shipping companies, railroads and truck lines with large route networks and sophisticated cargo-tracking systems – the emergence of logistic management systems that can standardise time and schedule production, storage, transportation and delivery. It is made possible by the 50-year build-out of ports around the world with the best land-transport infrastructure, automated containerisation systems, the disappearance of cargo dockworkers, low freight rates, the laying down of smooth roads, the building of distribution and fulfillment centres, warehouses, the emergence of logistics companies. These were the investments made in China, Malaysia and Thailand throughout the 1990s. Ships can now cross the great oceans several times over with raw materials in ever-changing geographic configurations. Raw cotton is harvested from cotton fields in Texas then shipped to China, over 7,000 miles away, then milled, spun, twisted into yarn, woven and knitted by machines, washed, bleached, dyed and treated. Another 1,800 miles away in a garment factory in Bangladesh, it is cut, assembled, and sewn by 3,000 women working 12 hours a day. They produce “just in time” and on-demand, as needed and in small batches, trained to be flexible and multiply skilled, their efficiency meaning their ability to identify and solve problems in the garment’s moment-by-moment making. Incentivised and paid according to their “group piece rate,” each team works together and under the pressure of time, to continuously make our clothing in minutes. Their “target outputs” are measured by the system of “standard allowable minutes” of each garment, or the actual measurement of time for their “ideal physical movements,” which measures the time their hands and bodies move across different operations of the assembly. The body leans down, the hand moves to grab fabric, the fabric is fed through the sewing machine: the hand changes the needle, replaces the empty bobbin, swaps the thread spool, in how many minutes, in how many seconds? The immediacy of our clothes does not account for the physical fatigue experienced and felt on the assembly line.

The clothes are packed up and taken by ocean freight another 7,700 miles across the Pacific to regional distribution centres, warehouses, and retail stores across the US. For this, the container ships will need to sail smoothly at 17-24 knots across the ocean without catastrophe during a typical 13-day voyage through the trans-Pacific Lane. This passage of 20 sea lanes begins south of the East China Sea, goes northward through the Sea of Japan, passing the Sea of Okhotsk, then on to the North Pacific Ocean, eventually reaching the ports of Western Canada, the west coast of the United States, Latin America, New Zealand and Australia. This route allows use of the world’s biggest container cargo volumes, Ultra-Large Container Vessels (ULCVs) that can each carry over 9,000 forty-foot containers. In fact, as I write this now, I can use the website shiptraffic.net to track the ships SM Kwangyang, Swallow Ace, Port Pegasus, New Intelligence, Ever Excellent, Orion – ships that carry our fast fashion down the coast of California, making a stop at the Port of Los Angeles. To make speed, ships must avoid various chokeholds and ship congestion, like that of the Strait of Malacca – the narrow stretch of water through Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. This is the shortest route between the Pacific and Indian Ocean and a crucial passage in the flow of global trade, as cargo ships compete for time and space with crude oil tankers from the Middle East on their way to China. Immediacy in fashion means the imperative to ward off pirate attacks, to invest in security along bordering states, and to prioritise alliances with the US, China, India and Japan who have the largest military presence in the region. It means the technological improvements of the ships themselves, with retrofitted rudders and propellers for enhanced routing, to optimise the ship’s “voyage performance.”

 

Sasha Yazov Untitled 2021

Sasha Yazov, Untitled (2021)

The finger is impatient. It taps to track the object in real-time, where it is no longer just a dream, but a physical thing on its way to you. This tracking and surveillance of the product and materials is the result of the development in scanning technologies during receiving, storing, picking up and shipping. Emerging in the 1970s, the first real-time warehouse management systems tracked orders more easily, along with inventory levels and the distribution of clothing. The manual input of SKUs, the development of barcodes, from RF-based scanning to the development of RFID tags with those tiny chips of biographical data that receive and respond to radio frequencies – the finished garments along with all their parts and pieces, from bales of cotton to yarn to weaving, now can be traced across oceans. New technology delivery models from FastAF, Farfetch, and Need It For Tonight now track real-time views of stock levels, ensuring the “visibility of your stock at all times.” Introduced just ten years ago, the immediacy of three to four-day delivery is overtaken by the demand for 60-minute arrival with Amazon Prime Now.

We live in a world where complexity, friction, precarity, all possible contingencies found in the human and natural world, can be, in imagination, smoothed away with the concept and discourse of immediacy. Immediacy uses the abstract language of optimisation, efficiencies, leanness, agility, integration, seamlessness, accuracy, responsiveness, fulfillment, transparency. Its aesthetics obsessively create images of reassurance – shots of technically advanced and moving assemblies, shiny steel machinery, a container ship sailing in a vast blue ocean under perfect blue skies, clean factories with happy, smiling workers, a dark globe illuminated by a grid of lit-up points and lines like constellations, a world in images that zooms in, zooms out. 

But there are cracks in this everyday illusion of immediacy that we choose to ignore. It’s been a week since the dress you ordered was supposed to show up at your door and now you are frustrated and impatient. Tracking it down forces you to peer through the technological wormhole, where a tap of your finger takes you to lines of text that are meant to represent the fashion commodity’s global chain: “Label created. Warehouse is processing this order.” “Shipment info received.” “Received by logistics company.” “Processing at sorting center Kunshan.” “Arrived at departure transport hub.” “Export customs clearance started.” It seems to be stuck in customs in some city called Kunshan. So, you look up Kunshan in Google Maps and see images of futuristic-looking high-rises and wonder, how many more days? Then the thing shows up at your door. You open the box and it’s cheap-looking and smells like factory glue. It doesn’t look nearly as good on you as it does on the influencer. The make-up you bought doesn’t look so good either. Maybe it looks better under a ring light, not in the natural light when you walk outside.

And you have moments of realisation, throughout many fleeting moments perhaps just before you fall asleep, or right as you wake up. A stillness that makes you feel uncomfortable, anxious, of the interminable present reality of the life you have right in front of you. The influencers you like and like and like and like are not actually your friends. The reality of what they present to you, the clothes, bags, makeup and skincare, doesn’t take away the terrible paradigm of an idealised self, whose labour of relentless self-improvement, appearance and likeability you resent. You are in bed, in your pyjamas. Your friends are the ordinary friends in front of you, who are just as ordinary as you. You still have to walk the dog before showing up to work, in a job that requires daily acts of submission and a monotony in tasks no matter how creative the job is deemed. Your worries begin to crowd you, how you will pay your rent? You have to call your mother back. It is easier to peer down at your phone and scroll than deal with the real problems in your real life. Instead, you reach for the new dream, you long for it, it occupies your mind and leaves you distracted all over again. Immediacy keeps you in this dream of a near future, and the potential and possibility of always becoming something else, what Walter Benjamin says is your unconscious dream. 

Stillness produces nothing. It takes some time to relax the body, to put the mind at ease. What can stillness in a world called fashion allow us to truly see? ◉

All images courtesy Lazy Mike Gallery