Below Street Level
Below Street Level was a site-specific installation and performance which took place at the EMP Collective, 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, ladies dressed in early 19th century shirt-waist blouses and many-layered white cotton skirts hand-sewed themselves into their environment...Stitching into several points around the edge of each skirt, and connecting 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.
This work utilized the outdoor, arched and recessed areas at the bottom of the Faust building to explore themes of labor, mass production, and accumulation. As a longtime Baltimore resident and maker of garments, costumes, and other custom fabric goods as both a means of employment and as a primary aspect of her art, Melissa has become increasingly interested in the history of the once booming garment trade in our city. 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. This work interlaces 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.