Following the Stephanie Benzaquen’s Ideas from "Picket Line Clothing" Print
Written by Redas Diržys   
Saturday, 14 February 2009 17:56

Teachers's strike in Alytus. 2008


The writing of the commentary was directly influenced by the text written by Stephanie Benzaquen – “The Picket Line Clothing” and particularly the quotation found in it on the drastic changes in the clothing of the female strikers since 1909 through 1930. That is how I got to the idea of the clothing as cultural phenomenon, or let’s say fashion.  Of course the identity stated through the clothing is an important factor while formulating the main issues of the protest, argumentation, demands etc. But I was rather more interested in pre-cultural formations and its role in the resistant fights. Then the fashion role I would prefer to treat as forced element from the hegemony’s side with the task to have one more clearly specialized (i.e. alienated) group in the society.


Lets speak openly – nowadays the fashion takes over the whole social space with all it‘s elements of behavior and simulated identity. In fact I mean that there is control over all appearance in the social space starting from high society and including all the subcultures. Simply – today are totally pre-countable the appearances as countercultural, and haute couture as well. An all are the same boring. The stylistics became a tool for repression, which actually imprints dependence from power structures. Simply all the disobedience turns itself into a cultural product. 

The two different cases of two different behaviors of the women while during the strike (as described in the “Picket Line Clothing”) lead me to rethink and to compeer couple more at first glance incomparable cases. The first is about the strike wave of teachers in Lithuania in 2008. the piquant detail of  national education system is that the directors of the schools mostly are men, but the teachers’ majority – women. Regardless the fact that the top organizers of the strikes were few men, but the total coordination and – that is very important – the behavior – was that of women. But how do the women teachers look like in Lithuania? There I need to acknowledge that the subject of the women teachers’ behavior during the soviet times (and during the post 90-ies capitalist period) was left to a self drift and developed itself into powerful tool. The specifics of the teachers’ work is that they know that during the lessons the pupils will star at them all the time, and the clothing usually is arranged keeping in mind the idea of self defense. Then the clothing in the minds of the youngsters transforms into a kind of archetype of repression (it is still unavoidable in the educational process here) and while recognized immediately gives a shudder. That would be not correct to frame it into the terms of eclectics or tastelessness or other esthetic categories, because in fact it is a gun and still it is till some fashion designers did not their black jobs of decontamination. But let’s come back to the strike subject. When I saw the photos of the striking teachers in the papers there was no wish for mockery – that was indeed quite fearsome. First what the eye catched was straightly to the camera lenses starring militant faces of the either very grey or very brightly dressed women located in the center and front lines of the group of people. The male teachers in suites usually were standing somewhere in the corners… Doubtless the power of “unculturized” sphere was felt by authorities so they immediately started negotiations and satisfied almost al the demands. So very quick the formidable crowd was turned backwards – to strange the youngsters. 

The second phenomenon – the question of the art strike clothing. So far it was not to happen in a demonstrative way it’s worth to discuss on the subject. But, how does an artist uses to behave nowadays? Regardless numerous attempts to beat down the image of an artist-genius even today artists behavior is regulated by the rules of the fashionable image. To compare with the teachers’ it is not repressive at all – vice versa – it’s embodies the “freedom.”  To assure the fakeness of it one can try to imagine “freedom representing” artist throwing pave stones to the police (the riots now in Lithuania are actual and pretty new issue) – that is actually unthinkable, instead is easy to meat the same behaving artist in the official receptions and cocktail eves…and that is not only Lithuanian case – that is everywhere.  While a decade ago in New York I first saw the behavior of the artists – I was ashamed by the simplicity of their behavior (also by the simplicity of the behavior of the millionaires). Later I’ve realized it to be a kind of style – that was actually from my long experiences on the international scene were I definitely realized that to not take care of how you look like is not that simplicity how it should be arranged. I even read in some interview with Mia Farrow were she characterized the specifics of simplicity of the outlook of her ex-husband Woody Allen: after buying the few thousand worth suit he was rumpling it few days just to have it to be “simple”. Or another guy from New York – Jonas Mekas – could you imagine him to be on strike? He looks like being on lifelong strike. Probably he should just simply to strike his appearance as being “simple’ and “free”. Probably the lost of the signifier for “freedom” would be much more dangerous for the power structures in the society then its lifelong representation. So, how does artist could look like during the strike? And here I want you to remind the case of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima who dressed in officer’s uniform, took over the state building, barricaded inside, then gave the speech to the audience from the top of the building and then suicide by seppuku…that happen in 1970. 

P.S. Please do not confuse between two terms: appropriated uniform and uniform as a fashion. Few more versions for think out:1. In the 1945 Lithuanian guerrilla fighters left to the woods dressed in the uniform of Lithuania army – not to be treated simply as bandits. The same problem in Estonia was solved by dressing the guerrillas in SS uniforms – it chanced that they did not have their army uniforms for that moment. The Estonian case is interpreted very ambivalently up till today.2. In the 2000 I’ve met with Romanian artist Alexandru Antik in artists’ symposium in Bitola, Macedonia. He had told a story from some early 80-ies when he used to tailor himself a waistcoat with numerous pockets on it (something resembling Joseph Beuys’ or just some hunter’s) and he called it something like the uniform of the avant-garde artist – himself he was one of the mostly radical artists for that time in Romania. Other artists in Romania also wanted to order the same ones, but artists did not agreed on it.     

Redas Diržys