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hiding in plain sight

Three figures, seated outside, huddled together in separate black lycra body socks, enveloping their entire bodies. Soon after I posted an image of my project Unknown Armature: Body Socks—that’s another one, above—Duane McLemore pointed me to these “entoptic phenomena,” William Hundley’s photoset on Flickr: A floating rust-colored sheet of fabric seems to float, unaided, about 4 feet off the ground. The fabric is billowed and folded as though occupied inside, yet there's no evidence of a mass or volume that would occupy it. A silk-satin, hot pink mass of fabric seems similarly occupied by a body, but floats in front of a shop window, unmoored. A plain cotton sheet floats above the ground, seems to be inhabited by two human bodies. A pink and blue printed sheet of fabric hangs suspended in the air, mountainous in its shape. In the background, a security sign on the wall reads: SMILE, your activities are being recorded...

I have exactly zero sense of how these are done, and I love that whatever anthropomorphism is present fades in and out of the set—appearing and disappearing. These images get at something far more effectively enigmatic than mine do. Like I wrote about here, I’ve been interested in how dispersed the meaning of a body sock can become.

Two body socks are occupied by wearers in a placeless white background. Image shows prospective users their range and reach of stretch in the fabric "envelope."

A body sock is already an informal prosthetic, designed for people with sensory processing disorder, a condition that isn’t recognized in the DSM but widely accepted and treated in schools and clinical settings, and often appearing in tandem with autism spectrum conditions. The sock provides a scrim, a filter for otherwise unregulated and overwhelming sensory stimuli. It allows you to be in public, and explore and play, without having to engage all the crash-bang of unmediated public space.

So I’ve been testing just how diffuse its meaning can become—that is, using a tool that is resolutely practical in its therapeutic design, but re-contextualizing it, sending it out in search of a new narrative, with a new set of users.

In Central Square, Cambridge, two women look on as a third tries on a green lycra body sock. I'm there, speaking with them about the project. A woman in Central Square dons the green fabric envelope, while her friends look on. A wearer inside the sock on a vast green space stretches and bends her knees against the lycra, dancing with its form.

In this set of exchanges, I was part performing the role of educator: inviting people to try on this textile costuming, while also talking about sensory processing disorder if asked. But I was also interested in ways to hide in plain sight—indoors and out.

A body sock made from stretchy knitted lace, like so many front window curtains. The wearer steps inside the lace envelop and can disappear, perched in the window frame. A body sock made of hombre-faded sky blue lycra. The wearer can perform it outdoors, blending into the skyscape behind her.

And these experiments took place in the context of Occupy events all over the country, so I was also thinking about these protestors in San Francisco. Ways to become amorphous, present but unreachable. The black blob effect:

Several people share a single black body sock, seated on the street in San Francisco with an Occupy event. They resisted police arrest for 10 hours.

So I had some black socks custom made, including a double version, for two wearers:

Two wearers share a black double sock in a busy city square, while cars rush by in the background.

Three wearers of individual black socks find hiding places in a building's "cubby holes" in its outer wall facade.

But Duane also sent me to Kim Walker’s A Social Exchange, using large swaths of fabric in Exchange Square, a financial district in London that is all but unused on the weekends.

In these three images, Kim Walker's performers use a long chartreuse swath of fabric to drape and cover themselves and the underused surfaces of Exchange Square, London.

This beautiful video shows multiple scenarios and performances with bodies and textiles throughout the space.

a social exchange_ trailer from kim walker on Vimeo.

images: therapeutic body sock here, Occupy SF here, and Kim Walker here.

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2 thoughts on “hiding in plain sight

  1. The “Entoptic Phenomena” beguiled me for a while from their sheer beauty, as well. Then I realized how they were done:

    1. The model gets inside the “sack.”
    2. The model jumps.
    (2a. the photographer snaps a photo with a fairly fast shutter speed at the top of their ascent)

    I also realized that jumping in these confined fabric enclosures probably doesn’t make the model that maneuverable. So the moment after each photo is probably a fairly uncomfortable landing.

  2. I guess you’re right—it looks like you’d just have to take care to envelope the feet fully, and to jump in such a way that there’s a curling-under of the limbs. It’s the pod-like result that’s so enigmatic. Thanks again, Duane.

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