THE IT: The Mixedfit T-shirt project

A T-shirt design by Hannah Claus at the Mixedfit show. Story and photography by Brendan Adam Zwelling.

The humble T-shirt stretches its simple fabric across the length and breadth of our lives. Both a timeless casual default in most wardrobes and a staple of American Apparel-era hipness, these social billboards project statements, clichés, politics, and commerce in equal measure–or, when unadorned, they become the foundation of understated chic. We ask a lot of them, too: They carry the burden of our cheap jokes and shameless sloganeering, and support the weight of our icons who fill them out to bursting point (never more devastatingly than on Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire).

With that in mind, the debut of the Koffler Gallery’s Mixedfit project at the well-appointed Queen West branch of Balisi (711 Queen St. W.) on Tuesday night was a characteristic launch—DJ, drinks table, and teeming crowd enter stage-right—for an atypical product. Four eclectic T-shirt designs by four diverse artists were on show and did not disappoint for both style and substance.

Millie Chen, from Fort Erie, created a chinoiserie-inspired design that is a creative retort against patronizing western playfulness; Dan Perjovschi, from Bucharest, presents a stark commentary on migration and belonging, like a lost National Film Board animation. Hannah Claus of Montreal focuses on controlled corrosion with her captivating pattern design—a holiday wreath for a culture in flux. Local artist Emelie Chhangur’s shirt displays the teasingly assertive message that “mixed is beautiful”, backed up with a retro ’70s feel which seems an admonishment of a society’s hesitant acceptance of it.

It’s clothing as a personal canvas, an opportunity to literally wear the feelings of a heart on one’s sleeve. “It has to say it all in one look,” says Mona Filip, curator of both the Koffler Gallery and Mixedfit project. “So maybe you don’t get the same type of narrative as you would in a song or a book, but it definitely makes a statement about who the person wearing the shirt is—how they construct their personality; what kind of individual they want to be.”

What about the difference in impression of seeing a T-shirt brush past on the street versus studying a work of art in a gallery? Filip’s not worried: “Context has an impact on what you’re showing. But there’s also a tradition of presenting art in other contexts than galleries, and we’re a living example of that with our off-site project here. There’s a long history of artists infiltrating the everyday and engaging people in other environments than officially sanctioned art institutions, and I think that’s a great thing.”

The Mixedfit exhibition runs September 21 to November 28 at all four Balisi locations across Toronto and is presented in partnership with Printopolis.

Below, more pics from the show, starting with the design by Millie Chen.

Dan Perjovschi’s design.

Detail from Dan’s design.

Emelie Chhangur’s design beside Dan’s.

The always visually arresting DJ booth.

Read more of The It here!

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