LEXICON 97: concept confessions



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 Shocking Confessions   (I hope)

of a Portable Textile-Billboard Addict

                             or the forking of the lex97


—almost 20 seconds of shocking response to the shocking nature of the confessions though after seeing The King's Speech in which profanity was absolutely necessary, nonessential use of profanity becomes tedious, obligatory, and too excessive to be shocking; a lexicon without much ambition or linguistic imagination is pitiable, not shocking. The lexicon mined from 97 discarded T-shirts was without profanity (yet otherwise strong) but had enough range of possibility to fulfill some modest linguistic aspiration beyond repetition. With overuse, the adult lexicon is limited all right, but a big failure at forking (not that I haven't accidentally hit my thumb with a hammer —while in the service of art no less!— and needed to express raw unscripted emotion).





                                                    I've been known to be a fan of cheap reading material  as in:

newspapers (becoming increasingly scarce) left behind on tables and transport systems

blogs, blogs, blogs

free e-books

public restroom stall doors

and for pure (as in 99.9% of bacteria killed, the .1% left alive particularly hardy, particularly equipped to survive so is increasingly difficult to kill by antibacterials unable to keep up with the phenomenal rate of successful adaptation —pure bacterial genius); for pure entertainment:

                                             the reading of T-Shirts!

                                     These images are from (left to right):  California T Shirt, Achtung T Shirt, & Newbury Comics

Turning the page so that I could read the fronts and backs of shirts was easy when the wearable short books were worn by the fidgety, for instance, and by those hoping, for various reasons, to be classified hyperactive, victims of light-speed thinking, and forms of genius that won't let themselves be fully concealed or disguised, & so on.

However, the t-shirt pages did not often turn into literary aspiration other than some quotes, here and there, from those likely to appear on lists of great minds and revolutionary thinkers.  And a handful of limited edition full-blown literature printed on t-shirts almost as if on second skin; a tattoo of literature on cotton (69% of the 97 t-shirts in this first iteration of the t-shirt lexicon project were 100% cotton).  

The t-shirt on the left is from David Maroto's limited edition of 10 printed narratives for the 2010 International Poetry Festival of Rotterdam.  There's a companion sonic version, making this a kind of print/audio t-shirt book system.  Listen to A Memory here. Perhaps next time, the t-shirts can be made from audio tape versions of Maroto's narratives and/or sound-producing fibers such as MIT's piezoelectric fibers. The brief article concludes with consideration of sonic fabric working with camera cloth.

But whether or not the print content of t-shirts  I encountered was surprising, overused, tasteless, or elevating, such quotations and narratives did not prevent the t-shirts from outliving personal usefulness.  Such t-shirts made their way to thrift shops to mingle with t-shirts also involved with branding identities and memberships.  

Here was a(nother) chance to make a potentially insignificant difference!

I would rescue the lexicon of 97 t-shirts!


I found myself disturbed by this loss of the content tattooed on the skin of cotton and cotton blends involving locations from all over the world —poor, poor lex-97! 

Was any of this writing preserved in library vaults at least in digital versions?  Were there any dictionaries of this lexicon?  Where were the textbooks about this vocabulary written using this vocabulary? 

Here in this county with such pride in quality public education, such interest in a healthy environment, so much consideration of the rights of bicyclists that entire lanes once the domain of motorized vehicles are being handed over to them, so much pride in electric and hybrid vehicles that the Prius is becoming (okay, slowly becoming despite some serious Toyota trouble) as common on the curb-side of tree lawns as tress on the tree-side of tree lawns, I was in disbelief that this vocabulary was being tossed after such an intimate relationship with it, daringly across the chest like language bandages, cotton pageant sashes —indeed, the t-shirt was often in direct contact with the wearer's skin, knew the cleavage better than anything else, sometimes helped define it, moved with the movement of anatomy, acquired the odors of the wearer and odors of the wearer's encounters, accepted crumbs and stains of experience.


Embedded in the words on t-Shirts (as it is with the vocabulary of any language system where words may be repeatedly recycled and are rarely relegated to single use) was the possibility of other arrangements of words, other sentences, alternative narratives, other meanings simply by rearranging, reconfiguring what was already there.

The words on discarded t-shirts were also discarded; it was the abandonment of t-shirt lexicon.  And it was a behavior rampant in Washtenaw County, the most common clothing item in thrift shops I visited in the county.  And it turned out that men's t-shirts were the bearers of the most t-shirt lexicon.  Word loss was greatest among men's graphic tees.  

My mission become clear to me: buy some of these t-shirts, and free the lexicon!  Limited to $50.00 (also my lottery ticket limit), I was able to purchase 97 t-shirts from four thrift shops in Washtenaw County, and mined them for reusuable vocabulary, cutting out the words, and sorting the words into parts of speech.  

I then purchased from a discount department store: a multipack of black XL blank men's t-shirts for the book covers and 3 packages of 5-count white XL blank men's t-shirts for the pages.  

Next was the writing of, I had intended, elevated poetic observations, using only that vocabulary, only the lexicon of 97 t-shirts. The writing happened, and the freeform book is currently in an art gallery (on a spiral rack like a miniaturized metal model of our arm of our spiral galaxy) which may or may not indicate some form of temporary elevation.

The t-shirts have been forked.


Following extraction of the vocabulary from the $50.00 worth of t-shirts discarded in Washtenaw County, the lex-97 t-shirts were full of holes; there was blatant absence of content: great outcomes!  Wearable absence!  So an unexpected lex-97 result: 

T-shift skeleton fashions as aftermath of lexicon mining

(watch the t-shirt skeleton rags to rags video more t-shirt skeleton info coming soon

—perhaps including buying options)




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