Coring America
MIT Museum
Opens on October 2, 2022

The installation probes what it means to be American today through the techno-economic, socio-cultural, and environmental dimensions embedded in the T-Shirt, the iconic staple of the American culture. The material narratives of identity, cultural mobility, and sustainability yarn a perspective on the American lifestyle–to become less indifferent to the social costs of maintaining our lifestyles means to become more open to the voices of others, not as a negotiating technique, but as an indispensable part of our planet’s chorus.

The installation consists of three components: 1. Stack of T-shirts reminiscent of a core sample, linked to looms made of shredded T-shirts, 2. Process Drawing, and 3. Quilt made of T-shirt scraps. 

Core Sample with Looms

The stack of T-shirts is an aggregate visualization of both, the diverse cultural landscape and the consumerist economy in which Americans participate and exist. The stainless-steel loom beams conjure images of retail warehouses and mass waste. The warp and the weft, made of shredded T-shirts, point at the fast-fashion overstock awaiting destruction at the end of the season. These loom-like elements coming out of the T-shirt stack weave together two perspectives on the American culture in the form of a Process Drawing and a Quilt.

Process Drawing

The Process Drawing depicts America through the lens of a cotton T-shirt, outlining three overlapping narratives. The first story (green) traces the environmental footprint of T-shirts through the resources and the pollution that are part of its manufacturing process. The second plot (blue) examines the technologies of the T-Shirt production, from the cultivation of the cotton plant and the associated history of slavery to the industrialized fabrication, distribution, and revenues of today’s surplus economy. The third narrative (red) traces the social impact of T-shirts, juxtaposing the global mobility of consumer goods with the limitations on human mobility, pointing at the labor exploitation in textile sweatshops around the world and the societal polarization over wearables of immigrants and refugees. These superimposed narratives disassemble and reassemble the statistics and facts, speculating their impact on people and the environment to better understand and reimagine the world we live in today.


Concept and artistic direction: Azra Aksamija

Installation research and development: MIT Future Heritage Lab (Kailin Jones and Lillian Kology)

Process Drawing: MIT Future Heritage Lab (Natalie Bellefleur, Stratton Coffman, Isadora Simone Stahl Dannin, Emily Jane Wissemann)

Looms: MIT Future Heritage Lab (Natalie Bellefleur, Lillian Kology)