Redress was a two-year artistic research and dialogue project exploring how we inhabit and subsequently discard identities throughout our life. Redress was also investigating the ways in which we perform these identities externally through the things we choose to buy. Redress ran from January 2016 till January 2018.
I began the Redress project in January 2016 with the first of three separate year-long performances in which I looked back and explored an identity of my past that I had long since discarded.
For the whole of 2106 I went back to the look of my late teens.
In 1994 I was 16 and had just came out as a lesbian and started enjoying to the full all the delights the Glasgow gay scene had to offer then. Looking back I see that my fashion, hair, language choice of drink, music, pubs and clubs also changed considerably at this time.
I started to become more masculine in my clothes choices; favouring baggy Levi designed jeans with men’s dress shirts topped off with my box-fresh brown Timberland boots. My hair was just above my shoulders and I always wore it in a ponytail as I had an under-cut shaved in the back that I loved to show off.
When thinking about how I would reconstruct this look in 2016 at the age of 39 I decided very early on that it wouldn’t work to completely re-create it but would be more interesting to re-imagine what I would look like now if I had kept to that look for all these years.
At the end of January I received a People’s Theatre Award from Camden Peoples Theatre in London and my new look began.
I was lucky to be able to work with the very talented hairdresser Craig Mctear who transformed my long pink curly hair into a sharp, short silver spike.
I then went to Westfield in Stratford and went shopping in the men’s departments.
I realised that the size issue was the same, as it was with women’s clothing and to get XL sizes you still had to go to the larger department stores. I also was never sure if I could use the changing room in the men’s section, as it doesn’t explicitly say it’s for men only. In the end I would haul everything up to the dressing room on the women’s floor and always feel super guilty that the person working in the that dressing room would have to traipse back down to the men’s section with all the stuff I didn’t want.
The Free Market
Now I had my new look I set about getting rid of all my previous clothes by selling them all at pop-up market stalls in different locations.
A customer could ‘buy’ whatever item of my clothing they wished but they were not allowed to use money, they only way to pay was through the exchange of a conversation about their relationship with their clothes and I asked them to share a story or a memory related to an item of clothing they once owned.
I performed these stalls at Camden People’s Theatre in London, Haphazard Festival in Manchester and with the Drawing Shed in Walthamstow, London. I had lots of great conversations with a lot of different people and the process really helped me understand more about the way we act and think about what we wear and why we wear it. It was interesting to hear in what ways people thought of themselves in relation to their choice of clothing and what was precious to them in their life.
I was single when I started Redress so have no idea on the reaction from a partner if you suddenly completely change how you look and the way you dress. Would it have had an impact on our relationship? Would they have still fancied me in the same way?
I did have to change my dating app profile pictures though as it felt a bit weird to go on a date with someone and look so different to what was advertised on my profile.
In February 2016 I performed Picture Me as part of Cruising for Art in Helsinki, Finland. This was a performance for one audience member at a time in which they were invited to dress me up in my new clothes and take a new picture I could use on my Tinder and Ok Cupid profiles.
Before we took the pics, we talked about my recent transformation and I gave them some information and guidelines to help make it the perfect image:
- Landscape images with a good sense of the person’s body type receive the most interest
- Photos featuring the left side of the face get more responses compared with pictures featuring the right side of the face
- The most popular online dating photographs look straight into the camera and smile with their teeth
- Men were found to be most attracted to women displaying happiness (smiling broadly)
- Women are most attracted to men displaying pride (head tilted up and expanded chest)
I think that they actually did a pretty good job:
Having spoke to a lot of people about their own looks I was also curious to find out how much what we wore affected how others perceived us.
So for one-night only at the queer club night Knickerbocker Catherine Hoffmann and I brought back that sexy nineties Manchester gay clubbing phenomenon and pre-curser to Grindr and Tinder – the Shag Tag.
Shag Tags are numbered stickers which single people wear in a club and if you fancied someone you would take note of their number and then send them a message via the Shag Tag Board.
Shag Tags were very popular when I was first started going to Gay clubs in the late nineties and I spent many a night in the club constantly going back to the Shag Tag Board just in case anyone had sent a wee message to me which would hopefully include their Shag Tag number so I could go find them and maybe hook up!
In this special 2016 version of the Shag Tag experience Catherine and I also played cupid by asking the audience to fill out a form before getting their Shag Tag in order to tell us what they were looking for in a prospective partner or hook-up in term of looks and dress.
Shag Tag Questionnaire (pdf)
There was much discussion with attendees about these questions, what was right what was wrong to ask!
Back in the day…
Back in the day was a series of walking tours, which took place in Glasgow at the BUZZCUT Festival and in London as part of the Radical Ideas Festival at Rich Mix.
This was an autobiographical guided tour around my home-town of Glasgow looking at the pubs and nightclubs I used to frequent in my late teens.
Through the tour I explored my past identities with my audience and encouraged conversation and discussion about how we ‘choose’ to inhabit our identities and how we change these over the years.
Part of the work was getting in touch with my past as I met up for the first time in many years old friends and members of these past pub/club communities to reflect and think about their lives and what these spaces meant to them.
This was a performance for one audience member at a time in which I gave away an object that I had been holding on to for sentimental reasons and talked to the audience member about their relationship with objects and their past.
I was particularly interested in how we fetishize objects, giving them meaning far beyond their actual worth. I made myself to be a shrine but rather than receiving gifts I was giving gifts away.
The idea was to have many different religious symbols on my body but it very much looks like a Buddha because of teh gold, which is not the intention so this performance was only ever done once.
Transformation performed on 26 February at the CUT Festival kick-started my second year of the Redress project, going back to the look of my early twenties.
At 22 I had very unexpectedly found myself in a relationship with a man – my dress shirts and baggy jeans had disappeared and I was now sporting a vast collection of tank tops, denim skirts and pretty sandals. This was a fun but rather confusing time in my life as I grappled with questioning and redefining who and what I was.
As I am just about to turn 40 I wonder if I am just doing the same thing all over again!
More to follow…