Carrie McIlwain “If I wear all the clothes I own, I might suffocate” recap

Carrie’s mom tended bar last Thursday at If I wear all the clothes I own, I might suffocate. For this casting off ceremony / potlatch Carrie McIlwain brought all the clothes she owns to JB Jurve with two suitcases and piled double mountains of clothing in the second floor space. “I was angry with those clothes for becoming such a burden. I was angry with myself for being tricked into finding my identity in objects – mere  coverings for my body! – that had turned into such monsters of responsibility. It was time to shed some skin.”

Tequila from several donated bottles was poured for the gathering crowd with eager frequency into tiny, plastic shot glasses by our volunteer barkeep, as the heat grew sticky and electric. Windows open to Broadway let in air and the sounds of cars, speeding and honking. Outside were neon and flashing lights, while inside, under cool white fluorescent tubes, Carrie – at first easily and with grace, then later struggling, stumbling and sweating – donned each tank top, sweater, pair of shorts, leggings, each era of her past was represented, from her glass working days in North Carolina to her college days at Fullerton and all through her anarchic youth. Her face grew red with the burden of all this history represented, as it was, by clothing meant to be attractive, protective, flattering and/or rebellious.

When she reached Bibendum stage and could no longer navigate the space around her, she stopped. As I recall her next move was to carry – again stumbling and struggling – a shirt to her young friend Bodie, and she handed this memento to him with a smile and with tears in her eyes. I think we all were doing both, for it was a charming and lovely moment. Carrie McIlwain was telling friends good-bye via an act that made manifest her vulnerability and dependence, and then she chose from her most favorite pieces of clothing and gave them to people who would – who now must – love and care about them. Hmm, I think this giving does not represent a burden similar to the psychic weight Carrie felt from the clothing because now instead of seeking cover or identity in these clothes, the new owners would seek memories of Carrie and of the time they spent together, and just possibly, the new clothes holders would be caretakers only and pass them along to another lucky person some day.

The party went on into the wee hours, too much was drunk, and my note taking ended in a blur of tequila and blue ink smearing the pages of my sketch book. As is best at parties, there is no telling what happened.

Over the past few years Carrie McIlwain has couch surfed across much of Europe, sharing rooms with as many as 260 different people and collectives, she hitch-hiked across the US, Assistant Directed at Los Angeles’s Raid Projects, served as a spinning head in last years MOCA Gala, been quoted in the NY Times from her article in Notes on Looking, last week Carrie walked across our own fair city, coming to terms with the banal agglomeration of suburbs that it still is, and donned and cast off all of her protective coverings in preparation for a new life – or perhaps better, a continuation of an already fascinating life – in Berlin. As one friend of yours has tattooed on her arm, “Rock Steady” Carrie McIlwain, and do great things. You always have one home here.

Photographs by Jamie Sillas, Clarke Henry and Molly Shea

JB Jurve

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