Blue Collar Series 1 & 3

The “Blue Collar” (Bleus de Travail) canvas-surfaces, as well as the flags of the “Sky Exchange” series produced in 2021 and 2022 and the larger installation “Essential Workers” (2021), foreground used workwear to create abstract graphic compositions on different scales.

The material that is sewn together in the artworks comes from an earlier public art installation by the artist, Ocnus’ Rope, commissioned by the City of Saint-Chamond in 2020. For that temporary project, Ozga collected over 300 articles of used clothing to weave a site-specific soft sculpture that was hung in a former steelworks in the French Gier valley. That piece evoked the memory of blue collar workers at the site (la mémoire ouvrière).

Since then, the artist has repurposed the clothing used for the public piece and transformed overalls, jackets, jumpsuits, pants into unique and unforgettable surfaces. Each original found garment is different, some are ripped and patched, worn at the knees, or adorned with logos of the different companies in the region. They are sewn together into intuitive, abstract compositions that are then stapled to wooden stretchers, in the manner of canvases, waiting to be primed and painted.

The textiles ask us to think about and question the visibility of manual labor in the contemporary world. Used utilitarian clothing intended to protect the body is literally unmade, carefully taken apart at the seam and resewn to other garments, producing a sea of workers’ bodies that is joined together and flows off the edge of the picture plane. Several of the works contain protruding sleeves from former work jackets and pant legs, inverted pockets, and gaping holes worn around workers’ necks. these drape in front of the flat surfaces as orifices that can be penetrated by viewers.

In the abstract compositions, there is no single, clear orientation in relation to gravity; some portions of the garments are sewn upside-down or sideways, hanging at angles they would rarely be subject to while worn in real life. The loud blue colors and blocky angles command attention, loudly claiming their wall space while also asking us to imagine who last wore them, and under what circumstances. By conserving existing edges and hems in the clothing as well as minute details (zippers, buttons, suspenders, logos, tags), Ozga avoids creating an abstract patchwork from found clothing but instead makes new pieces that explicitly rely on thier components’ lives. The meaning of each work is in the use value of the garments and in how we relate to the labor they represent, from our current vantage point.

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