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RC2|Relational Clothing + collecting fragments

work in progress, Johannesburg, January 2006.

This work consists of a series of journeys and a garment. Appearing to be an ordinary overall, it unfolds and translates into various forms, provoking unusual relationships. It is at once a vessel for shelter, a protective unit, and gatherer of ephemera. A series of 'walks' through the downtown area of Johannesburg will act as a catalyst, and the user agent provocateur of new and exploratory relationships. The outfit is likely to highlight existing issues like patterns of social discord. The wearer will gather information in various forms, both physical and digital, 'embodying' an experience of the inner city. The focal point of the work is to extricate new readings of social interactions that may have become accepted and habitual. The work is an exploration of urban survival, self-preservation, and a dreaming of possibilities. The garment also has interesting references to its origins. During medieval times a one-piece garment was used by jesters and alchemists as a symbolic outfit which in their view, were aids to avoid disturbances in the flow of energy in the body.

This is a project that imagines technology as a parallel universe using desire rather than scientific quantification as a measure of fulfillment. Using these vectors of reference we are pondering questions like, is it possible to construct a prototype garment that would in itself become a living organism, an amalgamation of experience and live interconnected parts? Without being too preoccupied with the aesthetic associations of fashion the work articulates the relationship between the individual and a social body, and the eminent overlapping of the two. It seeks to articulate in particular a very simple ethical question, what is the nature of the distance between my body and the world?

The garment itself will look ordinary, with various 'functions' pervasively located within an exterior shell. The apparatuses on the garment are really a means to augment it with various loci of information - a way of capturing and interpreting data. The costume itself will function as an object with various different utilities, paraphernalia that is geared toward social provocation. The work also remains functional without any of the electronic components, even if the technology were to be shut down completely it would remain user friendly. Various components of the outfit will become more apparent or 'emerge' according to different situations. It will transform, unfold, adapt and reconfigure according to the situational constraints of various contexts, and become 'infected' by its surroundings. The work is essentially about potential, that existing between the individual and a larger social body, and the way one negotiates personal space within the broader collective of a society, community or group. Interaction with the immediate context will be the point of reference for the interventions, which will be in the vicinity of the Drill Hall. In that way it will function as a type of urban survival kit and social integration tool - an activator of real and imagined spaces.

There are examples where clothing has been used as a provocative agent like Lygia Clark's overtly political outfits criticising Brazilian authorities and censorship in the late sixties, to Laurie Anderson's performative apparel. In many cases, due to the bulky apparatuses of the times, the instruments were clearly visible within and without the garments. Today, with the advent of nano technology, much of this instrumentation has become stealthy, integrated in some form or another into the structure of the object. This work is about exploring possibilities in which those technologies can be used to interrogate notions of difference, and similarity, by looking at how people are constantly mapping out their existence in urban environments. The idea is to construct a garment that uses various devices embedded into its structure, to record, manipulate, and transmit information about that person and their surroundings. This information will not be entirely statistical but rather more ephemeral. It might for instance gather relational information about the proximity of other persons and buildings - perhaps an Auric Transmitter? Perhaps it will measure presence?

By looking into subtle variations in locality and behaviour it might be possible to map an individuals journey. How does it look/feel to experience someone else's journey as they walk through congested areas, isolated landscapes, in the proximity of others/buildings etc? What would a visual manifestation of this journey look like? How are the boundaries between people perpetuated, and how do they change in an urban environment where unconsidered situations are forced upon one another? How can the garment be used to create a space of seclusion allowing the subject immediate respite from their surroundings? Can it become a cipher associated with security, like a temporary safety net?

My intention is to make a work that embraces the multiplicity of an urban Johannesburg experience. In collating information that is ephemeral and open to multiple interpretations, I hope to engender a more imaginative, playful interpretation of that experience. The notion of venturing into possible contested spaces and coalescing the experience into other activities has an established history; activities like Capoeira for instance, manifest out of the frission stimulated by potential conflict - turning one activity, associated with aggression, into a more poetic form of expression.

RC2 is a work made possible through collaboration. This process has been facilitated by Strangelove, a fashion design duo that have worked on several projects. Tegan Bristow, an artist working in Digital media, has spent much of her time devising ways in which the digital components might function. And Dorothee Kreutzfeldt co-organised this event.