Sewing with Plywood: Istvan Csakany’s Ghostkeeping


This realistic model of a sewing factory workroom could almost be frozen in time, if you disregard the material. The shot above shows Istvan Csakany‘s Ghost Keeping (2012) installed in the Ludwig Museum, who recently acquired the piece after it was commissioned and shown at dOCUMENTA in Kassel this summer.


The work consists of a slightly larger than life-size wooden model of a sewing workshop, aligned in two rows. Csakany, together with two carpenters, spent almost a year making this. Ever piece from dangling electrical cord to sewing machine bobbin was made by hand with meticulous care and with an eye to historical accuracy.  The typically raw, simple, and cheap materials, here unfinished plywood, contrasts with the care taken in fashioning it. The “do-it-yourself” workshop aesthetic present here can be connected to the identity of the Central and Eastern European region.

Similarly, there is a contrast in the figures who face the sewing room. The suits are made of delicate, expensive material, but the style is that of a worker’s uniform. Notably the suits are empty. Csakany arranged the positions after monumental Social Realist figures of the Soviet period, thus the active poses draw a parallel with the workers of the past, now gone.

Between the empty suits and the empty sewing room, the most notable feature of the atmosphere is absence. Csakany examines the value of work and the position of laborers in society, and through his own care in creating such a non-functional wooden replica of dated machinery he also conflates  physical and artistic work. The historical past, like this dated representation of labor, now serve an aesthetic purpose as they are recreated and re-remembered, perhaps an example of how culturally we perform an act of ghost keeping.



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