Journée d'étude

Text as Image in the Digital Age: The Polyvore Phenomenon

Lundi 22 Août 2011

On March 29th 2010, The New Yorker featured an article describing a relatively recent phenomenon in the world of Internet fashion advertisement. is a platform where, through the use of a clipper tool, users are encouraged to mix and match images of clothing items and accessories gleaned anywhere on the Internet and to arrange them in the rectangular white collage-format windows provided for this purpose. Yet, when skimming even briefly through “Polyvore sets”, one cannot help but notice the recurring, almost overbearing, presence of text within these collages. Even though Polyvore offers a standard writing tool as part of its interface, most occurrences of the written word are, like most of the other materials privileged by users, “found objects” — scraps of text, lifted here and there, most commonly from magazine pages, but often also from books, pieces of word art, or even digitized letters and manuscripts. This paper proposes to investigate Polyvore users’ convention of focusing primarily on the visual properties of text: on a first level, Polyvore resonates with an indebtedness to older, oftentimes gendered, practices of engagement with text and image (paper-dolls, scrapbooks, and other keepsakes, where ephemeral items are collected, assembled, shared and kept safe). Yet, both the nature of its central practice (the assemblage of “found materials” into collages), as well as its standardized use of a rectangular format where the disposition of items occurs according to horizontal-vertical divisions, return Polyvore to some of the most deep-seated conventions of modernism (the collage, the visual use of text, the grid). Finally, while ostensibly invested in the engagement of users in the “spectacle of commodities” (Guy Debord), Polyvore effectively, and paradoxically, alienates those very same users from the realm of material consumption. Ultimately, this paper seeks to demonstrate how users’ focus on the aesthetic properties of text plays into the establishment of this paradox and, in a second movement, to illuminate some of the implications of Polyvore’s treatment of text for the timely question of the “loss of materiality” in the digital age.


Pour citer ce document:
Bem, Caroline. 2014. « Text as Image in the Digital Age: The Polyvore Phenomenon ». Dans le cadre de Esthétiques numériques. Journée d’étude organisée par Figura, Centre de recherche sur le texte et l'imaginaire. Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, 22 août 2011. Document vidéo. En ligne sur le site de l’Observatoire de l’imaginaire contemporain. <>. Consulté le 30 novembre 2021.
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