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ART Derrick Woods-Morrow collecting underwear for exploration of labor, play
by Jake Wittich
2019-06-26

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Queer artist Derrick Woods-Morrow wants your underwear. Clean, dirty, new or heavily worn—it doesn't matter to him; he's more interested in the work you put in while wearing them.

For the last two months, Woods-Morrow ( a Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honoree last year ) has been collecting people's undergarments for an upcoming art project. Sourcing from friends, teammates, gym patrons and other people in his circle, the multidisciplinary artist has collected about 30 pairs so far. He plans on using them to create paper, carpet, sculpture and more, in collaboration with artist Charles Long.

"I'm investigating the space between play and labor, and even more specifically how it functions for bodies of color in relation to other bodies," Woods-Morrow said. "Everyone's labor and play is consumed or captured in the garments they wear, and oftentimes we politicize the garment, but it's just underwear. We all have them."

Woods-Morrow said he started by collecting 100-percent cotton black briefs, because a cotton blend is needed to make paper, and he wanted to make black paper. However, he is open to collecting anything, no matter the color, material, fit or type of garment, including socks, T-shirts, bras, boxers, swimsuits or more.

With each pair of underwear, Woods-Morrow is asking for a small note card letter explaining the labor or play that was done in them, no matter the type of labor and play or whether it's profane or mundane. Woods-Morrow said he's keeping the prompt open-ended.

"I want to see the dialogues that are happening because I'm specifically interested in what people consider to be labor versus play, and how they feel about giving me their underwear," Woods-Morrow said.

Underwear donations Woods-Morrow has received so far have ranged from raunchy to mundane, he said. He's received underwear from people he's met at sex parties or dungeons, who wrote "some of the sweetest, non-sexual notes about their first lovers in these garments." Other donors have worn the same pair of underwear every day for a week before giving them, unwashed, to Woods-Morrow.

"I'm giving the option for you to wash them or give them to me the way they were used—I don't have a preference," Woods-Morrow said. "I hope to receive underwear from all types of gender identities, sexualities and races. I'm interested in how anonymous people choose to remain and what they're willing to give."

Woods-Morrow said he's interested in seeing what people consider to labor and play, and where those acts overlap. Labor and play exist in tandem with each other, Woods-Morrow said. So what does that look like for people of varying backgrounds?

"I think about what would be the hardest thing to exist as in America. For instance, a Black, disabled, lesbian, polyamorous woman would never stop laboring in America," Woods-Morrow said. "Just to exist would always be labor in this country as it is right now, so where is the play for that person? Don't they deserve to have fun and exist beyond the fact that they must always labor?"

Woods-Morrow said he hopes to foster discussion around these questions and more as he collects more undergarments for the project. So far, he and Long have created a few sheets of paper, but Woods-Morrow said he hopes to see the project continue as a series.

Anyone interested in sending garments to Woods-Morrow for his project can do so by mailing them—along with a handwritten note card explaining the type of labor/play done in them—to P.O. Box 408679, Chicago, IL, 60640. Submissions can remain anonymous, he said.

"It's just underwear," Woods-Morrow said. "That underwear gets meaningfully charged with subjectivity when you think about what was done in them, but that doesn't matter to me. That matters to you."


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