Fashion Plate

July 22 - August 4, 2005
The Drake Hotel -- 1150 Queen Street West
Presented by Fado

Talk: Wednesday, July 27, 6pm Drake Lounge
'Clothing Launch' & Reception: Thursday, August 4, 6pm Drake Lounge

. . .

As now existing, fashion is a form of social regulation analogous to constitutional government as a form of political regulation. --H. Spencer.

The basic premise of this performance is this: the public is invited to design clothes for the artist, which she (or they) then sew up and the artist wears.

The artist sits at a sewing machine, facing an empty chair and another sewing machine, in a room filled with fabrics, notions and pattern books. The audience is invited in and asked to design an item of clothing, or perhaps an entire outfit, for the artist. They select a pattern or picture and a fabric, translating the image of the clothing on the rakish model (or depiction thereof) onto the artist and selecting a style they think will flatter her.

The visitor then must cut out the pieces of cloth from which the clothes will be made, using only what means of translation are at their disposal (pictures of pattern pieces, the artist's body's presence, the audience member's own body.) These are then given to the artist to sew (or are sewn by the visitor) and turned into clothing.

One of my interests with this project is in examining the dance people will do between wanting to create something that will fit (and look good) on my (relatively enormous) body, while avoiding creating something so large as to be farcical. What would be more 'offensive,' unacceptable; which of these results would be more embarrassing or hurtful, both to me and the artist - trying to make a very large article of clothing, and discovering that it is STILL much too small, or overestimating the size, in effect saying that you thought she was even fatter than she is?

Chances are that everyone will want to please. In my view, chances are that the clothes will all be too small. Who's to blame if the clothes do not fit?

What kind of connection can be made between that artist and the people who are asked, in effect, to sympathize with her, to develop a real, (physical) understanding of her body, as well as the situation she finds herself in in relation to fashion and culture? (When I look in the mirror, I see a fat woman, not from the perspective of a fat woman but from the perspective of thinness that is the dominant image presented to me. Even when I shop for clothes or patterns, I must translate much further to decide what will look good, or even fit me.)

Chances are the clothes will be too small. Chances are, the audience will prefer to experience the short-lived embarrassment of the fat woman trying to squeeze into an ill-fitting garment, for the embarrassment is all hers - she's the one that's too fat. Who could blame the clothes, or the designer who clearly tried to accommodate a large woman into the design? Clearly, the artist is SO BIG that she defies even those well-meaning attempts to accommodate her.

In comparison, by creating something too big, the embarrassment is transferred to the designer. Did you really think she was THAT BIG?? What were you THINKING?

Yet, if ALL (or the majority) of the clothes are too small, it is the audience as a whole that will be expected to take a large part of the blame - Are you really THAT out of touch with reality?

But seriously, this project isn't about blame or shame, it's about asking people to work towards a better understanding of each other. I don't pretend that I would know how to translate smaller; I'm not setting myself up to be superior. I'm asking, for at least a short period of time, for people to think REALLY HARD about a large woman's body, about someone else's body, regardless of size, about that body in relation to their own and in relation to fashion, (a visual translation of society's rules or standards about bodies).

There are several questions that I think this performance would bring up, and that would make this performance interesting for laypeople as well as designers, men as well as women, thin(ner) as well as fat.

How do pattern pieces need to be adapted to fit a larger woman?

What kinds of clothes will (or just won't) translate?

What kinds of fabric are appropriate for what kinds of clothes, and sizes?

How do I decide how big this should be?

How will this look in three dimensions?

What size is the artist?

If I can begin to translate the image of the clothes on the model (or drawing) to my own body, how can I further translate that to someone else's? What are the problems with that process?