Ravensbourne Postgraduate | Zoe Burt – Mind your fucking language
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Zoe Burt – Mind your fucking language

Zoe Alexandria Paton Burt looks at the power of words and identity in her MA Fashion project, Mind Your F*cking Language. To explore perceptions of gender and sexuality, Paton Burt shared her questions with others, asking them to remember in particular their own experiences of hearing sexist language. Alchemizing words originally loaded with intent to diminish, harm or silence by finding ways to emblazon them upon garments, she approached her brief using new technologies alongside traditional textiles. Encouraging viewers to write in pen on a polyurethane skirt is one of the more direct ways in which she plays with the performativity, language and the notion that context collapse is a price paid in an age of information and immediacy.

Although Paton Burt’s practice is trained on what words do, it demonstrates a material sensitivity to mirror her theoretical concerns. Garments in her collection are sometimes made using 3D printing, for example, to create hardened shell cases resembling rib cages, corsets or shields. In others, fragile structures appear as if they might dissolve or unravel. Embroidery has traditionally been viewed as a feminised technique, a craft along with Victorian flower painting historically used to keep women occupied within the domestic space. Garments embroidered with foul language appear delicate as ornately embellishment but the viewer is compelled to read the words in order to understand the ugliness of what the fabric is burdened with. By commiting spoken the sexist language to embroidered stitches, those shared words are disembodied and separated from those who said them in the first place. They are given a life of their own somehow, having been made tangible in their subversive reiteration.

Mind Your F*cking Language considers worthy allies in art and fashion for identifying and challenging what sexism looks like today. While the #MeToo campaign rang loudly in the spaces of social media, an open letter of solidarity signed by several hundred influential women in the art world took the artist Jenny Holzer’s words “Abuse of Power Comes As No Surprise”, (from the series Truisms 1978-87) as its battlecry hashtag. Words do have transformative power. Speaking up when much is at stake is courage made visible.