Data laundry

When one prepares clothes for the washing machine, one applies an order prescribed by technology. One needs to classify the clothes: by color, resistance to temperature, quality (fragile or not), etc. One needs to sort out very differently the same clothes whether they are going into the washing machine or when they are on their way to the wardrobe or chest of drawers. The way of sorting imposed by the machine contrasts with the organization one finds in the closet or the wardrobe where it matters if you hang or fold them. In wardrobes and cupboards multiple partial orders coexist. We separate according to seasons, by types of clothing (usually trousers and shirts are hanging while socks and underwear are folded in the drawers), by size and owners (the members of a couple or a family have a proper space for their clothes even when they share the same storage space). All these conditions are abolished when it comes to the laundry: we mix adult and children clothes, everyone’s socks are put together. Chromatic compatibilities become more important than gender divisions, dresses and trousers, bras and boxer shorts go together if they fit the “program” and withstand being washed at the same temperature.

The controls of the machine describe a clothing taxonomy that differs from the one of the wardrobe. And once the clothes are hanging for drying, we see a sample of the clothes collection that differs from the impression we have when opening the wardrobe. These are cross-sections: all the white delicate garments aligned, all the colors at 30 degrees, etc. Every time one hangs the laundry, it is a partial image of the recent past that is brought back to the memory. The laundry like the other tasks of housekeeping takes place in the wider economy. It is integrated in the rhythm of daily life. We do the laundry xx times a week and the machine should be filled to avoid wasting money and doing harm to the environment. The double constraint of the program (a given selection of clothes must support the same temperature and speed) and the time necessary to “fill” a machine (to have enough of compatible clothes) produces temporal and visual cross sections that makes us look at our clothes collection in new ways.

Therefore if we pay attention more radically to the materiality of the clothing rather than to its aesthetics or comfort we can rediscover it. Now that we are at the edge of the archive (like at the edge of a dense forest), we are intensely interested in the most prosaic qualities of the material given to us. With the same attention we consider the clothes before putting them in the machine, we try to learn to look at the images not according to their external description, their stories, but according to their internal composition (are they delicate? Are they chromatically compatible?) and we try to learn how to discover similarities between new sets treated by the same “program”.


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