September @ the ILGWU: New Demands?

New Demands?
by Lisa Vinebaum

An exhibition of performance placards exploring the erosion of workers’ rights under late capitalism.

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This exhibition features a series of hand made placards inscribed with slogans from historical labor struggles, many of them waged in the apparel industry, demanding an end to sweatshop conditions, good pay and benefits, workplace regulations, and collective bargaining rights. The posters were created based on archival research and are inspired by campaigns organized by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU).

New Demands? connects the current crisis in timed labor to historical struggles for workers’ rights: many of the rights that were fought for an won by workers during the first half of the 20th century — the right to collective bargaining and to freedom of association, workplace safety standards, a regulated work day and work week, overtime and vacation pay, and health benefits — have been dramatically eroded in recent years. As a result, demands for improved working conditions made during the first part of the 20th century remain relevant today.

Over one hundred years after the tragic Triangle Factory Fire in New York in 1911, garment workers around the world continue to endure unsafe and life threatening working conditions; to work long hours in non-unionized and unregulated factories and sweatshops; and to be paid below average national minimum wages. The U.S. Department of Labor found that 67% of Los Angeles garment factories and 63 per cent of New York garment factories violate minimum wage and overtime laws. Ninety eight per cent of LA garment factories have health and safety problems serious enough to lead to severe injuries or death.

This exhibition is part of the project New Demands?, an ongoing series of site-specific walking performances that commemorate histories of labor activism and highlight alarming cutbacks to workers’ rights. Many of the slogans on display at ILGWU have been previously used in these performances. New Demands? has been performed in Chicago, New York City, Grand Rapids, , Palo Alto, and Montreal, Québec.

Bio: Lisa Vinebaum is a Chicago based interdisciplinary artist and scholar working across public performance, sited interventions, social practice, textiles, and critical writing. Her work explores the social histories of labor organizing and their connections to contemporary forms of collectivity and community building, working conditions for artists, and the performance of labor in the larger context of economic globalization. Her creative work has been included in exhibitions and festivals internationally, including Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival (Chicago), Performance Studies International (Stanford University, CA), Open Engagement: Art & Social Practice (Portland State University, Portland OR), the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids), the Centre Pompidou (Paris), the UCLA Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), Lincoln Center (New York City), and in conjunction with Grace Exhibition and Performance Space in Brooklyn, and Articule Gallery in Montreal. Her scholarly work has been published in the Journal of Modern Craft online, Art Textiles of the World: Canada (Telos Art Publishing), and Emergency Index (Ugly Duckling Press), with forthcoming commissioned chapters in The Handbook of Textiles (Bloomsbury), The Companion to Textile Culture (Wiley-Blackwell), and Caught in the Act: An Anthology of Performance by Canadian Women, Volume II. She is co-editor of “Crafting Community: Textiles, Publics, Performance, Participation”, a special issue of Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture (Bloomsbury 2015), and recently chaired a panel on the same theme at the College Art Association Annual Conference (Chicago 2014). She has lectured and presented papers at conferences internationally, most recently at the Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium (Los Angeles 2014), The Subversive Stitch Revisited: The Politics of Cloth (London), the College Art Association Annual Conference (New York 2013), Performance Studies International 18 (Leeds UK), the Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium (Washington DC 2012), Dis/Locations: Being Out of Place (Centre for Interdisciplinary Study, Concordia University, 2011), the Festival of Other Theatre (University of Toronto), and Radical Intersections: Performance Across Disciplines (Northwestern University, Chicago). Lisa Vinebaum holds a PhD in Art from Goldsmiths, University of London (UK), an MA in Textiles also from Goldsmiths, and a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal. She is an Assistant Professor in the department of Fiber and Material Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and an Associate Editor of Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture.

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