In 2017, I produced the work for an exhibition called “The Corporation,” which took place in the fall. Based on half a dozen years toiling at and tolerating a dull-end day-job, I poured oil-drums worth of dissatisfaction into the group of over 150 pieces. Purged and spent, I nonetheless needed to maintain a practice in the studio over the winter. Playing with the t-shirt format I’d used in my apparel brand experiment Custom Flotilla, I began making wooden tees with thin plywood and putting text on them. Then feeling that the text was too pat and predictable, too wink wink, I started treating the tees as a pure mode of expression, as the platform for identity that they are.

In retrospect (since there was little conscious thought prior to the making of them), I was flipping a form into a content, misusing and misconstruing them, as if a thing invented to communicate were something in itself that could have meaning as a material. Trading form for content was also a way of flipping the script of my art practice. Rather than working out a concept that would then be executed, the material came first and meaning, if ever, came last. In this spirit, I also used these rigid tees to do things fabric t-shirts cannot: rather than speak, they act. Each of them seemed to be putting something on.

When we “put on” something, we can be doing any one of many actions related on a nuanced scale. We can don a garment, whether a sweater, jeans or pajamas; we can be making an attitude part of our personality; using a uniform or costume to change our social status or attempt to join a group; we can disguise ourselves with uncharacteristic or duplicitous layers, gestures, claims or behaviors; or we can mount a full-scale theatrical or other kind of performance.

How the “put-ons” in this exhibition are read depends on the piece and upon how you see them. Each one is named after a song and, like a song, creates a self-contained world where performer and audience can try on an idea, an emotion, an attitude, or a persona, reveling in taking these to an extreme, or just fantasizing temporarily.

These pieces also represent the opportunity for a casual garment to put on airs, and even get away with something its more formal relations, the button-downs, cannot. They flirt with the idea that they, far from being the most superficial and dispensable item in your wardrobe, have their own character that provides an essence and stands on its own. (One even has a stand, so it literally does stand on its own.) Like other effective performers, they beg the question: how do you look at us now? Now that we have become our personae, now that the surface has become substance? When a shirt cross-dresses as pants, how can you be sure it’s not a put-on?