The project started as a meditation on militarization, immigration, and the contentious symbol of the fence along the US-Mexico border. In the early 20th century, El Paso became a gateway that bridged two nations due to strong economic ties and trade with Mexico. Aside from El Paso’s place in the history of American industrialization, It is also recognized as the place where “Pachuco” culture originated. Pachuco, is a Mexican-American subculture that is associated with zoot suits, street gangs and boisterous nightlife in the late 1930’s. The project which was initially titled Disruptive Patterns, came out of an urgency to negate the glaring misrepresentation and language used in the 2016 presidential election, that criminalized Mexican/American communities in Texas. Having been born and raised in El Paso it was important for me to confront and reorient the current broadcast, drawing upon local signs and histories from the past to confront this present.
Disruptive Patterns, used the zoot suit and its history of transgressive self-expression to articulate the duality of camouflage. The zoot suit has an interesting history of political resistance and leads to a series of racial attacks by white American servicemen mostly against black and brown youth in southern California in 1943. The suit was seen as unpatriotic due to ration regulations prohibiting the production of men’s suits with excessive fabric because of WWII.
Fort Bliss, the second largest United States Army post in the country is also located in El Paso and has moved from various sites throughout the city from the mid to late 1800’s. The Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) is an environment camouflage uniform that was used in arid climates from the mid-1990s to the early 2010s. Thinking of the duality of camouflage and the distinct broad silhouette of the suit, I began to reflect upon the DCU worn by the United States Armed Forces. Being attentive to the zoot suits patronage to the dynamics of dandyism, I commenced research on camouflage theory and the ways in which texture and color in camouflage can be used as a means of protection. The experiments and writings of Abbott Thayer and Roland Penrose have been informative in the ways they theorize successful concealment against a background. I was particularly drawn to the rule of camouflage known as disruptive patterning which works by breaking up the outlines of an object with a strongly contrasting pattern.
It was important for me to spend time in El Paso since I have not resided in the community for 8 years. Traveling to El Paso,TX allowed me to purchase local materials from consignment shops, document the landscape of the Chihuahuan desert and interview friends and family about their knowledge of Pachuco culture. The time that I spent in Texas aided me examining how I would ultimately approach the project and develop my relationship to the landscape and camouflage. I also was able to commence a collaboration with a local zoot suit tailor, J. Alvarez who has been making suits for decades. I ordered two custom suits that I used to develop a further understanding of the garment and ultimately the suits became physical material for future works. I found and purchased an archive of press photographs from the 1940's and movie memorabilia from the movie Zoot Suit. After compiling an adequate amount of collage materials I was able to produce numerous works through the course of 2016 and 2017.
In Abbott Thayer’s research, he often wrote about the “critical moment” of camouflage in nature. Each critical moment was a theoretical frame that informed an instance of exposure to the reflective conditions of the world. These moments in time are not all equal and more dangerous for certain animals when encountered by their most vicious predators. Being attentive to the instances urgency, Disruptive Patterns reflects upon occasions of vulnerability and how the inclusive dynamics of fashion in subculture can heighten the exterior gaze.
"I was particularly drawn to the rule of camouflage known as disruptive patterning which works by breaking up the outlines of an object with a strongly contrasting pattern."
Learn more about grant recipient Troy Michie.