Below Street Level

Below Street Level is a site-specific installation and performance which took place at the EMP Collective in 2012, as part of The Rotating History Project's Down Through The Needle's Eye exhibition. Performed by Theresa Columbus and Melissa Webb over a period of 2 hours. The action presented ladies dressed in early 19th century shirt-waist blouses and many-layered white cotton skirts hand-sewing themselves into their environment. Stitching into several points around the edge of each skirt, they connected each strand of thread into the light-filled, cloud-like billowing fabric treatment above their heads. Over time this action caused the garments to form a lotus-like form around each of the performers.

The installation utilized the outdoor, arched and recessed areas at the bottom of the Faust building, located in the erstwhile garment district in downtown Baltimore, a historical home to the once bustling US garment trade.

The piece explored themes of labor, mass production, and accumulation, and  specifically, the industrial shift from custom tailoring to mass factory and sweat shop production during the 1800's, driven in large measure by changes in the style and function of clothing, the invention of the sewing machine, as well as ever-increasing consumer demand.

Below Street Level interlaced the struggles faced by garment workers of this time period with the excitement of innovation, commerce and success experienced by business owners and pioneers of the needle trades.

Photographed by Scott Pennington.