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Vault

  • Installation image

    Courtesy Ruth Watson Collection
  • Installation image

    Courtesy Ruth Watson Collection
  • Installation image

    Courtesy Ruth Watson Collection
  • Installation image

    Courtesy Ruth Watson Collection

Suspending Belief

22 July 2006 - 30 September 2006

Clearly, no-one thinks “today I’ll start a padded hanger collection”. Yet somehow, I’ve done just that; in second-hand stores, I spend easily more time and definitely less money on hangers rather than other items of potential interest. A foreigner was part of this process. A German curator I had hosted could not get over the few knitted and knotted family examples I initially had in my wardrobe (why he was fossicking in my wardrobe is another story). Whether he’d been blind to these endeavours in his own country, I can’t say for sure, although he’d decided they were ‘an Anglo thing’. Once my attention had been brought to bear on the subject, it struck me that the hangers, although going out of fashion, had lost none of their functional value. In fact their now ubiquitous replacements in wire, wood and plastic were mostly the opposite, blithely wrecking my clothes. Our economy wants us to be high-turnover consumers. The wire hanger contributes to this trend; keeping your clothes in shape is getting harder.

This combination of ‘high use-value’ and ‘dying art’ piqued my interest and that’s how I became a collector of objects that have given as much amusement as admiration to friends who have indulged my habit. Not that I am interested in hangers of any sort – and there’s plenty of styles out there – but padded, thickened ones, ones that try to lessen the stress upon fabric. Categories began to form: “Knitted Plastic”, “To be or not to be a Shower-curtain”, “Fat Weddings”, “For Lace Lovers Only”. Some I came to think of as either “Freestyle” or “Extreme”, the latter having a subsection that might be called “Asylum”.

Like the tea-cosy and other homely arts, the padded hanger is a relic of women’s work from a period of home-made and hand-made domesticity that we’re rapidly losing, especially in Pakeha culture. The effort invested in each hanger is all the more intriguing for being mostly a hidden art, not intended for display. I’m noticing it’s getting harder to find good examples and I know I have rivals, especially for the older ones. Some of this is surely that others recognise their value as well as their occasional retro charms. There’s a gap in the market, which some contemporary maker might fill in a new way. This is one collection I wouldn’t wish to tour the world; it needs to come home as soon as possible, where it's needed.