Salvage Accumulation is an ongoing sculptural project in which I consider the capitalist alienation of animal and biological processes inherent in the production of luxury fashion materials. Silk thread excreted from the asses of worms; pearls produced in the fleshy folds of an oyster; fur wrenched from bodies, cleansed of the fatty tissues and subdermal layers of flesh: as Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing says: ‘In capitalist logics of commodification, things are torn from their life worlds to become objects of exchange.’ The works in this series exist in an indeterminate ground between sculpture and clothing. I want to consider the agency of materials, how garments might shift between subordination to a human body, and might start to refuse this hierarchy, and take on agential sovereignty.
In capitalist farms, living things made within ecological processes are coopted for the concentration of wealth. This is what I call “salvage,” that is, taking advantage of value produced without capitalist control.
In capitalist logics of commodification, things are torn from their life worlds to become objects of exchange. This is the process I am calling “alienation,” and I use the term as a potential attribute of nonhumans as well as humans.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (2015. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton UP)
Where do capitalist resources come from? Capitalists are unable to make most of their resources. Consider oil and coal, those formerly living products whose formation has required so much more time than capitalists can imagine. Capitalists use them, but they cannot manufacture them. This is not just true for ancient things. Capitalism makes use of animal digestion and plant photosynthesis without having any clue how to shape these processes, despite the sophisticated engineering of plants and animals. In agribusiness, milk and grain created in these non-capitalist processes are translated into capitalist value. These are the processes I call “salvage accumulation.” Accumulation is the amassment of wealth under capitalism; salvage here refers to the conversion of stuff with other histories of social relations (human and not human) into capitalist wealth.
Similar processes happen with human labor as well. Even factory labor, that icon of capitalist production, cannot be made by capitalists, since capitalists can shape—but not manufacture—human beings. Feminist scholarship has long drawn our attention to the reproductive labor that underwrites capitalist production from the so-called “private” (and largely feminized) sphere of family and home. And even in shaping labor, capitalists rarely bother to instill all the talents and habits necessary for work on the assembly line that is undoubtedly “skilled,” even if it is rarely recognized as such. For example, where factories employ women workers to sew, knit, or process food, owners rarely train their employees; they assume that women already know how to do this work from growing up as women. It is salvage accumulation to harvest the value of this training in making capitalist commodities.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt 'Salvage Accumulation, or the Structural Effects of Capitalist Generativity' 2015. Online, Society For Cultural Anthropology, from the series Generating Capitalism. <>
[…] nothing can compensate for the lack of ‘real’ products, ‘real’ pearls, ‘real’ silk, ‘real’ lace, ‘real’ mink etc.; in other words the materials employed must be difficult to obtain or laborious to produce.
Bell, Quentin On Human Finery (1976. Frome & London: Butler & Tanner Ltd)
Calefato, Patrizia Luxury: Fashion Lifestyle and Excess (2014. London & New York: Bloomsbury Academic)
What role does the new luxury have as the discourse of supranational domination, whose economic and cultural conditions were based on abysmal disparities in the enjoyment of goods?
Luxury is based on painful expropriations and makes even more explicit the global dislocations of production processes today, which result in new forms of impoverishment and enslavement. These production processes, on the one hand, and the serial standardisation of objects and bodies-as-cash, where technological biopower is exercised, on the other, mean that an “irrelevant” concept like luxury is now associated more with the idea of rupture in the midst of life than the idea of ostentatious expenditure denoting social status.
The word luxury contains a divergence of meaning, if by meaning we refer to those layers of significance and value that custom, everyday experience, and perception deposit in a verbal sign. On the one hand, luxury evokes something eternal, something that challenges the idea of death itself, since it is what remains or persists. On the other, it is associated with images of senseless waste, a priceless price, and a desire that exceeds any real need. More radically still, for humans, life is based on the dialectic between need and desire, and desire is luxurious in that it exceeds simple necessity.
Food is a convenient metaphor for existence
Cheese of the soul
Haeckel, Evolution of Man
FASHION I have already told you about some of my doings that are of great assistance to you. But they are trifles in comparison with what I am going to tell you now. A little at a time, but mostly during these past years, to help you out, I have caused the neglect and the elimination of the extortion and those exercises which favour physical well-being, and I have introduced innumerable others that weaken the body in a thousand ways and shorten life and have caused them to be value highly.
Leopardi, Giacomo Dialogue Between Fashion and Death (2010. London: Penguin Great Ideas)
Luxury highlights the starkest contrast, not between nature and culture, nature and technology, or human society and life, but between extreme baseness and the extreme limit, coexisting in the same place.
[…] not only is the animal caught on the wrong side of a species boundary, but theorising has caught itself up in a contradiction of downward deferral that cannot quite succeed. Hence, perhaps the most significant, and most commented-upon, “leak” within anomaly hierarchies: Human self-representation’s original “error,” if such a determination could be ventured, was in attempting to essentially provoke an unhappy wresting of anomaly in order to apply I “above” the level of the animal itself (a simple class to which humans certainly belong), to the realm of the (rationalised) subject. In domains of taxonomic dependence, the is-and-is-not complex rises again here, affectively intense in its contradiction.
For the “human,” feeling must therefore be forever in battle with rationality, and as humanity’s categorical guarantor, rationality had every time to win out as the exclusive and primary property of humans. The responsibilities of feeling then fell to lower places on the hierarchy—women, animals, radicalised men, disabled people, and incorporeal such as devils or demons.
many contemporary discourses continue to disavow, if not simply ignore, the possibility of significant horizontal relations between humans, other animals, and other objects. Within such discourses, the category “animal” often comes with a segregating frame that categorically opposes “human” to “animal”: any symmetries between humans and other animals tend to emerge as marked, as in the phrase the human animal.
Chen, Mel Y. Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (2012. London & Durham: Duke UP)
1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades, Rhetorica Christiana
Francis Bacon: I come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave.