On Wednesday, the Art & Design gallery was filled with oddly shaped, brightly-coloured beasts. These are an interdisciplinary group of visitors and students, transformed into clothed objects with guidance from visiting artist Nigel Grimmer. Participants collaborated with Grimmer for his project, Body/Object/Space, using piles of clothes to become temporary, abstract sculptures.
While these “body sculptures” are temporary, Grimmer stresses that they are only the first part of the making process. Participants pose for photographs, which provide a lasting record of their activities, and that form what Grimmer considers to be the final outcome.
The participants are shown an assortment of clothes, wigs and masks, that they are encouraged to consider in unconventional ways. Grimmer suggests that they consider how each garment might clothe the body without adherence to its usual mode of wearing. Trousers can become belts; skirts can become capes; jackets can become hats; and sleeves can become additional appendages that protrude from the body, complicating its silhouette. Participants are also encouraged to create new items of clothing by buttoning several garments together. These suggestions are evocative of the work of Japanese fashion design Rei Kawakubo, whose Wrapped collection (1983) contained ‘flaps and appendages that could be tied…in a variety of ways” so that wearers could “design clothes that have never existed”.
Grimmer encourages participants to distort their silhouettes by knotting garments, or by cutting shapes from cardboard that could be slid inside fabric. “The further you remove [your shape] from looking like a person, the better”, he tells us. The results that he hopes to encourage range from simplified shapes that smooth the body into featureless silhouettes, to complex arrangements that mask the body’s true shape with additional contours.
The participants are initially conventional in their approach to the pile of garments, trying them on as they would if shopping. After a while, their confidence builds and they start to consider alternative ways to construct the relationship between the body and the garment. At Grimmer’s suggestion, they start to cover their faces and their confidence grows. Like a disguise, their masks provide a hiding space, and with anonymity comes a newfound willingness to experiment. The masked participants start to take greater risks, and they dare to present their bodies in more sculptural poses.
Grimmer encourages students to work together; to bind multiple bodies into one. In doing so, he invites reference to a history of costume that transforms human bodies into other creatures by clothing them in a shared costume. I have written elsewhere about shared garments and the ways in which they force entangled wearers to move as one, single body, with shared choreography. Pantomime horses, Chinese dragons, and more recently, performance art such as Lucy Orta’s Nexus Architecture (1998-2010), all require individual wearers to become part of a single ‘roving beast’ that navigates through public spaces. Individual identity is lost, and as the observer struggles to makes sense of a mass of body parts that exists beneath the clothes, the hybrid shape can only be perceived as something other-than-human.