Daddy/Daughter Shoes: More Forced Choreography

Yesterday’s post introduced Lucy Orta’s ‘Nexus Architecture’, a shared garment which forces wearers to behave as a single unit. A more whimsical artefact with similar consequences for the wearers is Aamu Song and Johan Olin’s Tanssitossut (‘Dance Shoes for Father and Daughter’, 2006). These red felt shoes resemble traditional Finnish boots, with a second, smaller pair attached above. The shoes are intended to be worn by ‘a father and young daughter… together’, with the father filling the main part of the shoes, and the daughter standing on top[1]. These shoes force the wearers into a traditional couples’ dance position, with both wearers facing one another and one wearer, the father, taking the lead.

dance-shoes-for-father-daughter1

With his feet in the main part of the shoes, the father has contact with the floor and is therefore able to control the direction and pace of travel/dance. This position reinforces the control that the father already has over his daughter, placing him in a dominant position. Moreover, the instability caused by the daughter’s pose requires the father to support her further by holding her hands, thereby further reinforcing the traditional supportive role of the father. In this pose, the wearers are forced into a choreographed routine. The father’s movements must be mirrored by those of the daughter, who is forced to follow his lead as her feet are firmly attached to his.

We can return, once again to the pantomime horse. Here, the wearer at the head has control of direction. The wearer at the hind legs is essentially ‘along for the ride’, forced into a subservient position. These garments not only assert relationships between wearers, but make that relationship inescapable by physically binding bodies together. By linking or binding bodies, shared costumes restrict movement, and ensure choreographed motion, forcing the wearers to move as one.

Like many other garments, Song and Olin’s shoes assert identity by highlighting relationships to others. The role of the man, as a father, is asserted by the physical bond to his daughter. Likewise, the identity of the girl as a daughter is communicated in the physical bond to her father. However, it is important to note that these roles are dictated not entirely by the shoes, but by the name given by their creators. These shoes could, in practice, be worn by any couple whose feet differ significantly in size. They could, for example, be worn by mother and son. It is only because the creators’ have labelled them as ‘dance shoes for father and daughter’ that they reinforce the traditional familial and gender roles.

[1] Aamu Song, ‘Tanssitoussut’, Sauma [Design as Cultural Interface], http://www.saumadesign.net/danceshoes.htm

Images:
Tanssitoussut : http://www.incrediblethings.com/kids/dance-shoes-for-the-father-and-daughter/

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Lucy Orta, Nexus Architecture: A pantomime horse for intellectuals

nexus

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.

PHorse

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://http://www.studio-orta.com/media/text_47_file.pdf.
[2] Tactical Design Collective [blog], ‘Nexus Architecture by Studio Orta’, blog entry by Jonathan, 7 February, 2011, http://tacticaldesign.mit.edu/archives/58.
[3] Orta, interviewed in Bolton, The Supermodern Wardrobe; Mark Sanders, ‘Nexus Intervention with architecture students from the Technischen Universitat Berlin,’ Studio Orta, 2009, http://www.studio-orta.com/artwork_fiche.php?fk=&fs=0&fm=5&fd=0&of=7 .
[4] Kieran Long, ‘Nexus Architecture’, ICON, 016 (October 2004), http://www.iconeye.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2688:nexusarchitecture–icon-016–october-2004.

Images:
Nexus Architecture: http://mutamorphosis.wordpress.com/tag/body/
Pantomime Horse: http://web.org.uk/picasso/r8.html
Chinese Lion: http://www.kungfupages.com/resources/liondance4.jpg