Bad Tension

October 16, 2013


“Center the back of the shirt on an ironing board with the yoke taut. Lifting the iron as little as possible, draw the iron with its point facing the collar down the yoke to the rear tail, draw the iron, with its point facing the collar down the yoke to the rear tail hem and press the box pleat, using unhurried, well-directed, rhythmic motions.” (p. 81, from Elizabeth Diller, ‘Bad Press’ in The Architect Reconstructing Her Practice, extract a from 1960’s  housewife manual)

Bad Press is an exercise in dissident housework made with 25 generic men’s white shirts, an iron, and spray starch. The project scrutinizes ironing as one among other household tasks that are still governed by motion-economy principles designed by the efficiency engineers at the turn of the century.

The standardized ironing pattern was devised so that a minimum of energy would be expended in pressing a shirt into a fit, rectangular shape that would fit economically into orthogonal systems of storage: the shipping carton, the display case, the dresser drawer, the closet shelf, and the suitcase. The residual trace of the orthogonal logic of efficiency is worn on the body. The parallel creases and crisp, square corners of a clean, pressed shirt are a sought after emblem of refinement.

Diller asks if the task of ironing could free itself from the aesthetics of efficiency altogether? Perhaps the effects of ironing could more aptly represent the postindustrial body by trading the image of the functional for that of the dysfunctional.

Johanne Killi

The illustration refers to Marina Abramovic’ biography remix.

Respons to: Elizabeth Diller, ‘Bad Press’ in Francesca Hughes, ed. The Architect Reconstructing her Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996, pp. 74-95.


2 Responses to “Bad Tension”

  1. nicoleguo Says:

    The illustration here is from Marina Abramović!I love it! I think the performance art of Marina Abramović is to show the changing relations among people. It is also a test of her lover. You will never know if your lover will loose his/her hands or when the string gets broken. You will be nervous all the process. It’s an adventure without standardized patterns.

  2. Jordan Lane Says:

    I like wrinkles, creases and folds. I often wonder of the value of ironing…it seems an unnecessary task for it does not make the shirt feel better on my back (except for that fleeting moment when it is still warm from the iron). You iron not for yourself, but for others.

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