Lucy Orta, Nexus Architecture: A pantomime horse for intellectuals


Shared garments could never exist in the world of fashion. Their impracticality – making any independent activity impossible – relegates them to pantomime costume, or elevates them to fine art. Lucy Orta’s Nexus Architecture (1998-2010) is designed to contain up to a hundred bodies simultaneously, and is described by Orta as ‘collective wear’[1]. Bodysuits are connected with ‘tubes of fabric… to form one garment’. The linked individuals form a long chain or grid, depending on how they are connected for a particular performance. The result is a single ‘roving beast’ that navigates through public spaces in carefully selected locations, such as art galleries[2].

This beast is a long way from the pantomime horse, but in many ways, the consequences of wearing it are identical. A pantomime horse costume binds two wearers together so that they must act as one being. Their movements must be carefully choreographed, and every action must be agreed upon by both parties. In the case of the pantomime horse, all movement require a choreographed routine; in the case of ‘Nexus Architecture’, a marshal is employed to shout out instructions to the group. In both cases, the wearers are forced into synchronicity.


Orta’s garment responds to the contradiction that George Simmel earlier identified as driving all of fashion: the need to conform, and the conflicting desire to express individuality. We dress to conform: to demonstrate adherence to a social contract and affinity with a social or cultural group. Within the bounds of this conformity, we seek to express ourselves. We vary our wardrobe; we mix-and-match. Even if we are forced into uniform, we make micro-adjustments to assert ourselves as individuals. ‘Nexus Architecture’ aims to completely remove the possibility of individualisation.  Orta aims to impose  ‘membership of a group’, and consequently ‘loss of self’[3]. Wearers individual identities are lost to that of the group. Each wearer is an interchangeable part of a modular whole.

And yet, the whole garment relies on the compliance of every individual within the group. Movement requires everyone to behave according to a set routine, just as in the pantomime horse. If one wearer refuses to comply, the horse or chain simply collapses. The separate parts of Orta’s garment are usually occupied by volunteers. One volunteer, journalist Kieran Long, describes his experience of this process [4]. Long describes a feeling of ‘compromised subjectivity’. By becoming part of a strictly choreographed crowd, he felt that he had lost his personal identity and even his humanity, becoming, in his words, ‘points in a geometric arrangement’. This imposed ‘uniformity’ felt unnatural and unsettling to many of the 40 volunteers in this performance at the V&A to the extent that many rebelled, contravening Orta’s commands. ‘Factions formed’ and, in quiet protest, several volunteers began to ‘deliberately subvert’ the performance. Several chose to sit rather than stand, or to deliberately face the wrong way. Meanwhile, others were keen to remain compliant, and adopted the role of what Long describes as ‘de facto prefects’. In this way, a social hierarchy emerged within the group, whereby several volunteers became dominant and compliant leaders, and others either subservient followers or defiant rebels. However much Orta’s shared garment imposed uniformity, this hierarchy emerged to challenge the status quo.

Long’s experience demonstrate how shared garments (and by extension, pantomime horses, and Chinese lions), offer an opportunity to observe a kind of micro-society. Wearers must adhere to the rules, or else the whole society is liable to collapse. Individuals have an interest in maintaining the society, and so take it upon themselves to organise small groups and suppress rebellion, but ultimately, a single rebel with enough persistence can bring the entire society – the entire performance of a shared garment – to its knees.

chinese lion

[1] Joanne Milani, ‘Lucy Orta: Global Gear’, Studio Orta, 2001, http://
[2] Tactical Design Collective [blog], ‘Nexus Architecture by Studio Orta’, blog entry by Jonathan, 7 February, 2011,
[3] Orta, interviewed in Bolton, The Supermodern Wardrobe; Mark Sanders, ‘Nexus Intervention with architecture students from the Technischen Universitat Berlin,’ Studio Orta, 2009, .
[4] Kieran Long, ‘Nexus Architecture’, ICON, 016 (October 2004),–icon-016–october-2004.

Nexus Architecture:
Pantomime Horse:
Chinese Lion:

One thought on “Lucy Orta, Nexus Architecture: A pantomime horse for intellectuals

  1. Pingback: One Day Artist’s Project: Body/Object/Space – UH Artist in Residence

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