Mapping and Memory

I have assembled all these drawings, though I know I have not included all that I should, or at least could. So it might seem that I have given birth prematurely. But let anyone who makes this judgment remember that someone who waits for the end of a thing that has no end would be thought foolish indeed! And it is very true, as I said at the beginning of this work, that clothing as a subject allows no absolute certainty, for styles of dress are constantly changing… We hardly know the names of many places discovered within our and our father’s memory, let alone their costumes and customs.

~ Cesare Vecellio, Habiti antichi et moderni di tutto il mondo (Venice: Sessa, 1598)

A 1598 edition of Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti is held in the Manuscript Archive at the Rosenthal Library of Queens College. The presence of the physical book at Queens College was one of the inspirations for our investigation of the materiality of books, texts and writing. But the presence of Vecellio’s book also seemed a fortuitous coincidence for the development of the Fabric of Cultures project.

The English version of this fascinating book has been translated by Margaret Rosenthal and Anne R. Jones. Anne R. Jones will be speaking at Queens College on May 4th, 2017.

Costume books, were a popular Renaissance publication that I studied in my interdisciplinary approach to fashion and clothing.

In his work, Vecellio, a relative of the Venetian painter Titian, aimed at an encyclopedic approach that offered through dress a visual and discursive cartography of the world as it was then known. In addition, he gave his readers a picture of the class and gender relationships manifested in a diversified geography of taste, politics of style and production of fashion and textiles.

In this way, Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti is a precursor of the Fabric of Cultures project. The book can be read as a material and visual manifestation of the art of memory, as a “Theatre of memory, ” to paraphrase Giulio Camillo’s book, a well known Italian Renaissance text. In the case of Vecellio, objects are spatialized geographically in public and in personal space through the way the visual interacts with language and the narrative descriptions of dress.

The art of memory, especially during the print revolution, took on several reconfigurations and even books that combined words and images, like Cesare Vecellio’s.

A few words on the physical book. Vecellio’s Habiti is a pocket book. Pocket books (so-called because you could literally carry them in your pocket). The material quality of this book can be literally a portable museum, an archive of snapshots, as we would say today.

Images were animated not through GIFs as in today’s photographic and social media, but through the narrative that accompany each image. It is the co-presence of word and image that renders this book so modern and fascinating.

Images in the art of memory became “imagines agentes.” They moved the imagination and triggered memory; they were also used as mnemotechniques, tools for remembering.

Clothing and fabric in the way they are presented in Vecellio’s Habiti can be thought of and function as “objects agentes,” triggering memory and creating multiple stories of labor, cultural translation, identity, race, gender and class. This is why Cesare Vecellio’s book can still speak to us today.

Can it be compared to today’s tablet, another sort of portable archive?

From whatever time it comes, the object is never silent or confined to a case in a gallery or museum; or in the case of a dress, worn by a dummy. Rather, through digital reframing and archiving and its multiple functionalities, the object can talk back to us; we as users can interact and make new associations (open new windows) acquiring and sharing new knowledge.

In this way the digital rethinking and configuration of fashion objects lent itself to a new cognitive process and map and a new organizations of visual and written content.

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