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  1. 08.31.11
    Material
    Climbing Rope

    Because they spend their lives under car hoods, or between walls, or tucked inside backpacks, most industrial or utilitarian materials are purpose-built without any consideration for aesthetics. The people who engineer these materials get paid to make them perform well, not look pretty; when one of them gains crossover appeal, it’s usually either by happy accident or a general shift in perception — the pendulum of culture swinging back, as it has recently, to a fervor for all things mundane and overlooked. Yet if climbing rope suddenly feels just as relevant in galleries and high-end fashion boutiques as it does strapped to a harness, enforcing the border between life and death, the reasons are obvious: it’s cheap, it’s durable, it has built-in visual interest, and the same vibrant color combinations that assure its visibility on a mountainside render it irresistible to designers and artists. When we first noticed how many of them were making climbing rope a core part of their practice — from Proenza Schouler to Stephen Burks to the artist Orly Genger, who often use it to play with notions of high art vs. low — we decided to launch a new column called “Material” that quite simply tracks an unconventional material’s appearances throughout multiple disciplines in the visual arts.