Artist’s Notebook: Am Schmidt

April 21, 2014 | Marina Galperina

ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, Brooklyn-based artist Am Schmidt talks about Fierce (Untitled), an endurance performance where she wore Abercrombie & Fitch graphic shirts and Fierce cologne every day for one year inspired by Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance, Sincerity by R. Jay Magill and “de-branding the brand.”

While walking down the street in midtown one day in June of 2012, I saw a guy wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch graphic t-shirt. There was absolutely nothing that stood out about this guy, but the thought occurred to me to do a performance of wearing A&F shirts every day for a year and document it. I wanted to pair a solemn gesture with a bubblegum-esque pop-culture reference.

I make work about self-representation that is often durational, so this idea fit perfectly into my trajectory. At first, I just thought it was funny, but the idea stuck with me. I took my time thinking about whether I could pull it off without it being a one-liner. After enough writing and reading and soul-searching, I decided to go for it.

Just before beginning the project, I began reading Fashion, Culture, and Identity by Fred Davis, which shaped how I executed the work over the first few months. After that, I read Sincerity by R. Jay Magill, and some of The Fashion System by Roland Barthes.

I’m drawn to the idea of one-year works because one-year works are a kind of typical performance art thing. Because of performance artists like Linda Montano and Tehching Hsieh, who have done numerous yearlong works, I see doing a one-year piece both as an art historical reference and as an acknowledgement that I’m activating a performance art cliché of sorts, while still executing a genuine act of devotion.

I thought a lot about the possibility of having to attend a formal event—a wedding, a funeral, something—that would have put me in a moral conundrum about staying true to the project versus being disrespectful. Nothing like this came up.

One situation that made me sweat pretty hard was interviewing for an internship at a well known highly intellectual highly serious online magazine. During the interview, I mentioned the project in order to diffuse whatever judgement my interviewer may have been bestowing upon me, but I don’t think anyone else at the magazine knew about the project. For the duration of the internship, I felt rather uncomfortable tiptoeing around their office wondering whether they “got it,” whether they thought I was being unsuccessfully ironic, or whether I was just really really normal, all the while knowing they probably were not thinking about me or my dress at all and that I was probably just being self-centered.

The cologne I wore was specifically the one they spray inside the stores.

By the time I was six months in, I was feeling pretty confident in the work and was aware of what needed tweaking. Enacting the work became increasingly enjoyable over the course of the year as my comfort level increased.

During the last week, and especially on the last day, I was feeling sentimental about it coming to an end. I had no idea what I was going to wear afterwards. After it ended, I actually got kind of depressed and had trouble sleeping for a few weeks. It might sound unwarranted, but I was totally lost for a while.

I knew from the outset that I’d document the project through daily photographs of me in my outfits. This was modeled on how Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance 1978–1979 (Cage Piece) was exhibited at MoMA in 2009, which included daily photos of the artist. It also made sense to me to document it this way simply to show proof, and to show my complete outfits. The work doesn’t only entail having worn the A&F shirts but involves having otherwise dressed off-brand, so as to de-brand the brand and recontextualize it.

I decided that I wouldn’t wash the shirts again once the project was over. I hung them in a closet at my mom’s house. She really wanted to wash them because they smell, but I asked her not to. In addition to the olfactory evidence of wear, the shirts are also visibly worn. I have to say, the garments are good quality, for the most part, but the arm pit areas took a particular beating.

Daniel, Tin, and Tom (of 321 Gallery) and I knew the show had to stay true to the fact that this is documentation of a work, as opposed to each item being a work in itself. I therefore decided to frame the shirts and put the cologne bottle in a vitrine, so that what is on display reads as artifacts, not sculpture. One large print shows all the daily photos, and I think the format of this also reads as documentation as opposed to photography.

The exhibition is on display at 321 Gallery in Clinton Hill Brooklyn and will be up through May 10. The gallery is open on Saturdays from 12pm-5pm.


Previous Artist’s Notebook selects:

Artist’s Notebook: Rhett Jones
Artist’s Notebook: Clement Valla
Artist’s Notebook: Tima Radya
Artist’s Notebook: Parker Shipp
Artist’s Notebook: Genevieve Belleveau
Artist’s Notebook: Georges Jacotey
Artist’s Notebook: Saoirse Wall
Artist’s Notebook: Jesse Darling
Artist’s Notebook: Jennifer Catron and Paul Outlaw