60x14x18? canvas, leather, steel shot

A number of years ago, while researching straitjackets, I visited Springfield Hospital Center, an aging fortress-like state hospital in Sykesville, west of Baltimore.

One garment in particular captured my attention, the “strong suit”, a pair of overalls that laced down the back, so that it could not easily be removed by the wearer. I inquired as to its purpose and was told that it was used to keep patients that had a compulsion to take off their clothes, suitably clothed. To me this highlighted the complicated relationships between punishment and care.

A particular hue of orange canvas revived this dormant inspiration. To this I added fifty one-pound bags of steel shot, mixing references of the ball-and-chain with the ankle weights that women might wear for aerobic exercises. The result pits fashion against punishment in a society in which shaming and punishment are once more fashionable, as evidenced by the rising popularity of roadside chain-gangs, “boot-camp” style juvenile prisons and recent dramatic rises in rates of incarceration.

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