Jérôme Bel (b. 1964)
Shirtology (1997)
Duration: 22 minutes

title : Shirtology (1997)
concept : Jerome Bel
creation : Lisbon (Portugal), on February 22nd 1997, at the Centro Cultural de Belem
with : Frederic Seguette
production : Centro Cultural de Belem (Lisbon), Victoria (Ghent), R.B. Jerome Bel (Paris)
duration : 25 minutes in three parts
subsidies : R.B. Jerome Bel is supported by the Direction regionale des affaires culturelles d’Ile-de-France (French Ministry of Culture and Communication) and by Cultures France (French Ministry for Foreign Affairs) for its international tours
production manager : Sandro Grando

A given language is a social institution, which does not depend on individuals ; it is a normative reserve out of which individuals draw their speech, in other words, it is “ a virtual system which only actualises itself within and through speech ”. Speech is an individual act, “ the actualised expression of the function of language ”, THE LANGUAGE being a generic term which encompasses given languages and speech. It appears most useful to distinguish between two analogical realities within the notion of clothing : the first one is an essentially social and institutional reality, not depending on individuals and operating like a systematic, normative reserve, out of which the individuals draw their own outfits ; we suggest calling this reality THE COSTUME, which in Saussure corresponds to a given language ; and a second individual reality, which is a real act of “ clothing ” by which individuals, in endorsing it, actualise the general institution of the costume ; we suggest calling this second reality CLOTHES, which in Saussure corresponds to speech. Costume and clothes form a generic whole, which we suggest calling from now on CLOTHING.

Roland Barthes in Annales, "Histoire et sociologie du vêtement", July-September 1957

Trained as a choreographer, Jérôme Bel forgets most of dance, as if, in the forgetting, something else might be possible. Working in a language of movement and image that could be described as a kind of delicate, humane minimalism, his interests are located just at the slippery, evocative meeting point between the physical and the philosophical - the body itself and the processes by which live presence is constructed, the processes of language and the relationship of language to objects (animate and inanimate), the process by which narrative (or meaning) is constructed, through the deployment of objects (animate and inanimate) in time and space. (…) The T-shirts second hand - replete with the workaday slogans, logos, icons and pictures of international capitalist culture, much of it outdated ; slogans for products or ideas you don’t remember so well, numbers and dates (festivals, occasions), statistics, jokes, faces, admonishments, warnings, demands.

As playful as it is minimalist, Shirtology is « simply » a matter of deploying the people and the T-shirts in combination and arrangement – structures through time, pictures in space. The work of the piece is that of dressing and appearing – changing clothes, presenting oneself, in T-shirts – the body clothed, always in language, mainly in silence – the fragmented conversation of written slogans on neighbouring T-shirts.

Tim Etchells in Certain fragments Routledge Ed.