Tie Off

Hand-sewn, knotted, and installed with media projection
1,500 vintage and contemporary neckties
64” x 40” x 168”



“Descending from a beam hangs an assemblage of ties of all sorts. Within the braided mass dangle pieces of wood and foam, which help to plump and shape the sculpture, which resembles a necktie in itself. Behind the sculpture is a projection of videos of men and women explaining how to tie a tie, set to the soundtrack of motivational speakers discussing ritual and long-term goals. The ultimate effect is the viewer is engulfed by the symbol of the American Dream.” –Shannon Stearns

Sigmund Freud was said to have considered ties as an exclusively male symbol. In the twentieth century, the silk accessory became unique to men, originally derived from military regalia and increased in popularity with the rise of urban capitalism. After the Industrial Revolution, ideas of public and private space began to conflate, creating a need for more distinct masculine attire. The tie, like other pieces of adornment, shifted from a simple piece of decoration to a distinct signifier of masculinity. What was once a fluffy cravat worn by soldiers became a long silk straight line pointing directly toward the male phallus representing a hold on power, control and dominance.

When I was making this piece, I imagined how it would feel to experience the restraint of the necktie. What would it feel like to be both choked and held by a piece of fabric? I considered the events that necessitated wearing a tie in formal rituals like weddings, funerals and professional presentations. I imagined such asphyxiation to be both terrifying and exciting.

The sculpture measures eight feet wide and fourteen feet high and is suspended from the ceiling. It contains thousands of men’s ties, worn before finding their way into vintage collections, thrift stores and bulk storage. I created the sculpture to be a load-bearing piece, for viewers to not only see the piece but engage physically with it by touching and climbing the piece. I was thinking about Ilya Kabakov and his concept of the total installation. Kabakov insisted that installation art demands viewers activate the art by participation and that the assembled elements are read symbolically, in what he called a metonymic parts of a narrative.

It was important for me that visitors would be confronted not only visually but also viscerally with a this mountain of ties. While a single tie is benign, a suspended structure of thousands of ties towering over the human body could be menacing, scary, overwhelming. Since making the piece, I’ve found myself asking, “Who wears ties anymore?” as professional uniforms of the twentieth century recede into functional obsolescence and are replaced by the specters of symbols, gone but not so soon forgotten.