Society Cut-Out is an interactive performance, requiring the public to participate in the removal of the performer’s clothes. The model starts in a long plain dress, divided into 26 squares by a permanent marker. The performer then approaches the public, neutrally giving them the opportunity to cut-out a square from the dress, and thereby making the model vulnerable to the public’s actions. Society Cut-Out was first performed in November 2018 in a bar in London.
During a two hour period in a busy London bar the model only had 12 of the 26 squares removed. No-one seemed offended or refused to participate, but many were at first hesitant and didn’t seem to believe that it was ‘really ok’ for them to cut away the clothing. If the cuts
The performance started in a more secluded upstairs area before moving down to the main bar. After staff realised and asked us to cover up we moved back upstairs to finish the performance.
The cuts made were respectful, trying to preserve the performer’s dignity. As it became obvious that the performer was comfortable with the situation the cuts were made faster, with less reassurance to the public required. Although the performer’s bottom and breasts became exposed, this was mainly due to difficulties with the dress staying in place rather than explicitly exposing cuts made by the public. One cut which should have completely opened the dress on one side was actually split over two squares and so left the dress attached - it is thought this was a deliberate action on the part of the cutter so as not to expose the performer.
Eventually the performer removed the dress completely, as it kept falling down anyway. She then remained in the upstairs area of the bar talking to people for several minutes until management asked her to re-dress. This in itself was very interesting; a worker saw the performer naked and when questioned said that she herself didn’t mind, but that she’d need to let the manager know. Similarly the manager held a civil discussion with us, politely asking the model to re-dress and stating she didn’t mind but she couldn’t allow nudity in the public space. However, no-one in the public space seemed to mind either. So who are we enforcing these rules for and why?
When talking to the public most were positive about the performance. Some of them at first had thought it was pure exhibitionism, or just a very daring dress. However, as they’d talked to the performer they’d come to understand the reasons better. Several people commented that it was inspiring and thought-provoking, with a couple asking whether we thought the reaction would differ if performing in a different place or with a male performer.
The performer wasn’t proactively approached by people wanting to participate, and neither did we notice lots of people taking photos.
The performer stated afterwards that she felt much more comfortable once fully nude than she had when in the half-cut dress, as the latter felt sexualised to her. Before the performance she’d wanted to retain her hat, so it was interesting to see that once fully nude she removed this as well.
Society Cut-Out 2
Brownfield is a series of completely nude journeys by foot and public transport in major cities and towns. Brownfield has been performed twice, both in Barcelona during 2018. The performer acts as if there is nothing unusual about the event and only interacts with the public if approached. The first performance took around 30 minutes, including a short tube ride, with the second lasting 20 minutes. In both cases the performer was followed at a discreet distance by an observer who carried an emergency set of clothes and tried to gauge the public’s reaction.
In our first performance we started walking from a beach, through a residential area to the tube. After riding the tube for a few steps we got out and and walked for a few minutes in a very busy city centre area. The performer had to briefly cover up in a sarong when exiting the tube station due to a security guard on the gate.
The performance attracted a lot of attention, with people obviously stopping and staring. There was no overt negative reaction, although some people looked uncomfortable and would occasionally try to move out of the way. One man approached as we entered the tube station and spent the duration of the ride talking to us about what we were doing and why. The confined space of the train also prompted more interaction with the public, with several taking photos, something that had been noticeably absent during the start of the performance.
The exit from the tube was the most nerve wracking part for the performer, as we exited directly on to a very busy street filled with both pedestrians and cars. We were fortunate that two motorbike police officers on the other side of the square didn’t spot us!
The second performance was carried out in the Gothic Quarter. A clothed assistant walked ahead with the performer following a few paces behind. The route wasn’t set in advance with the freedom to choose the path left with the assistant. The streets walked were small and busy, creating an intimate feel with the public. This time there was more negative reaction with two people shouting aggressive remarks.
Without the artistic element of some of the other performances (e.g. The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Power of Words) the nudity of this performance is more striking and raw. The performer was consciously more nervous, and the reaction of the public, whilst not often negative, still showed less support for the activity.
The Power of Words
Inspired by Milo Moire’s, The Script System, the performer is nude but body painted in words representing clothes. For example ‘bra’ across the breasts and ‘trousers’ on the legs. This was first performed in Spain and so a mix of Spanish and English words were used. Similar to Brownfield the performer then undertook a 20 minute walk around the centre of the city. A friend goes first to watch for police presence and set the route, with an observer carrying a set of spare clothes following behind to watch reactions.
The area chosen was heavily pedestrianised, with relatively little vehicle traffic. For both the male and female performers there seemed to be little adverse reaction; a lot of people would double take and make ‘what is going on?’ gestures or faces to their friends and family. However, this was nearly always with a smile on their face.
The reaction was noticeably more positive than Brownfield, which is a similar concept but without the option to hide behind the artistry or social message of the body painted words. That said it was not just the public that reacted different, but also how comfortable the performers felt. Was it therefore the public’s reaction influencing the performers’ self-confidence, or the performers’ only negative projections marring the public’s opinion? In any case it appeared that nudity in the name of art, as this performance was intended to be perceived, was more tolerated than casual nudity.
With the female performer the public seemed less willing to look or participate whereas there was more overt interaction with the male performer. The male performer also elicited a wider range of reactions than the female performer; three people asked for photos and a couple more cheered or gave other vocal support. However, there were also two very negative reactions (involving a torrent of angry shouting in Spanish). The female performer did not have this same range of reaction – everything was more neutral and the public generally participated and looked less. We wondered if this was because it was generally seen as less acceptable to look at the naked women? In some of our other performances the naked woman has been perceived as more vulnerable and if that imaged held here then it could explain the more neutral reaction.
This was the only performance where some of the public asked to take photos, although more did without asking. We are not sure why this would elicit a request for photos more than similar performances such as Brownfield and The Emperor’s Clothes. Given that two of the photos happened one after the other it is possible that more people thought of taking a photo but did not feel confident enough to ask (and the first person that asked broke the ice).
The performer is body painted, as in the The Power of Words, with words representing clothes across their body. Otherwise they are completely nude. They are then loosely tied to a bench, their arms to the each of the far ends and their feet bound together under them. They are deprived of their hearing and vision. A single pair of scissors lie at their feet, point outwards. Observers watch from a discreet distance but are too close to intervene immediately and, due to the nature of the tying, the performer is unable to free themselves. The performance was set to last for 30 minutes, or until the performer was freed.
This started out as an investigation into the public response. The performer would only be free if the public proactively participated, without prompts or inducement. This was performed on a busy beach promenade, with both vehicles and pedestrians passing. A lot of attention was gained, with many people stopping to take photos and watch. Several people were noticed passing a few times, obviously wanting to see or understand more, but without being asked to do so. Overall the most common reaction was to walk past with a few quick glances, sometimes veering closer to the performer whilst on the move, but without actually stopping.
However, very few people approach the performers, preferring to take photos or look from afar. Indeed, some people were observed crossing to the far side of the promenade, so as to be safe from this nude body. This juxtaposition; the nude, immobilised and deprived of senses performer placing themselves vulnerable at the hands of the public, and the public seeking the greatest distance between themselves and the threat of nudity; has not yet been elicited so clearly in our other performances.
After about 20 minutes the male model was freed by a family (man, woman and teenage son) who had already passed once. The woman approached the performer what they were doing, why, and what they should do (the hearing deprivation mechanism wasn’t working particularly well for this performance!). The performer responded and the woman cut him free whilst the rest of the family watched from several metres away. When talking to this woman she had interpreted the performance as a piece about Chinese slave labour in the clothing industry – our piece was retrospectively named after her insights and participation.
With the female model potentially fewer people seemed to stop and take photos but overall the reactions weren’t particularly different. After about 20 minutes a police car arrived and the observers came forward to free the performer and provide her with clothes. In the end the police didn’t mind and they hadn’t been called, they were just on a routine patrol. They said they had to stop because it wasn’t clear if the woman was in distress. They gave us the impression that we could have carried on if we’d like but given that we’d already freed the model we choose not too – next time we will have to slow down our reaction to a police presence but, given that it was our first police involvement, I think we were all worried about the repercussions. Whilst we were carrying out the final clear up another two policies officers in a buggy drove past, took a look at as us, and then drove off – seems like the first officers radioed in the sighting of a naked girl to their friends!
The performer strips nude in a public area but in a location where they will not be immediately noticed. An assistant then collects their clothes, and any other items such as wallets or phones from them. The assistant then leaves and heads to a pre-agreed location. The perform waits a few minutes and then starts walking to the meet point.
Sadly the nature of this performance means there are no photos available!
Curiosity was the driver of this performance. Adult websites featuring models naked in public normally have the performers followed by camera crews (as that’s what fits the bill). Our performances have been subtler, but still have always carried reassurance in the form of an assistant with spare clothes nearby.
With Nothingness the performers left themselves completely exposed and vulnerable. One male and one female model performed this simultaneously in the middle of the day, starting on a Spanish beach a couple of hundred metres apart. The assistant removed all possession, except a metro (underground train) ticket from them, and then walked via a direct route to a metro station.
The male and female model waited a few minutes and then set off in opposite directions, one heading north along the beach and the other south. The intention was for both models to walk for around 300m along the beach, before turning onto residential and commercial streets for a 1km walk to a metro station. The models would then attempt to ride the metro for one stop to meet the assistant and their possessions outside another metro station that was in the middle of the two they intended to catch the train at. A quiet location had been chosen in the hope that there wouldn’t be guards on the entrances/exits to the metro – if there were then the performers were on their own and would either need to walk the whole distance or talk the guards into letting them in/out. It was expected that the entire journey would take around 30 minutes.
The best laid plans are always open to ruin. The female performer took the wrong turn off the beach area and ended up walking for some distance down a very busy pedestrianised high street type area. After a few blocks she turned off this onto quieter residential streets and decided to walk straight to the meet point (which was closer) rather than attempt to catch the metro. Despite this she still arrived a few minutes after the male model, and had spent just over 30 minutes completely nude and alone walking the streets. Several people expressed concern, asking the performer is she was ok – this is the first time we have received this reaction (which possibly means our discreet observers aren’t as discreet as we’d like them to be!).
The male performer completed the whole journey, receiving a couple of very positive reactions and one very negative reaction (a passerby in a car shouting at him to return to the beach). There were also a few people/groups who seemingly crossed the street to get out of the path of the male performer. That said the route taken by the male performer was quieter, and whilst he would pass people or vehicles every minute or so it would have been very different to the female performer who, whilst on the pedestrianised high street area, would have been amongst a constant flow of people. The metro ride went smoothly, with the other passengers paying little attention. However, the train pulled into the station as the performer was walking down the platform – the train driver looked very shocked! The doors took a long time to close but fortunately no security was called.
Both performers found the experience very different from the other performances they’d been involved in. Standing up on the beach at the start was hard, as until that point no-one had noticed they were nude. Both models had a difficult and scary moment; the female model when she realised she’d taken a wrong turn and was slightly lost and now on a very busy street (but well done to her for sticking with it for a few blocks!) and the male model when he was seen by the train driver. However, both also found it very exhilarating – there was no artistic aspect and no friends to cloak the nudity so it was an experience that challenged and tested our performers’ confidence and resolve.
Models are stripped, either fully nude or to minimalistic underwear (pasties and thongs), and then body painted in fake clothes. They then spend an extended period of time outside on public streets; attempting multiple every day tasks such as catching public transport and entering shops and cafes.
This was carried out in two parts. In the first part the performers retained their underwear and visited a public market (for which permission had been obtained), before walking 350m through a busy city centre location with high pedestrian and vehicle traffic to the metro, and then riding several stops to a quieter beach and residential area where they walked for around 1.5km. The route was then reversed, but with the underwear removed. The models completed these journeys separately with an observer following at a discreet distance watching reactions and carrying a spare set of clothes.
The performers also went out in the evening as a pair wearing just the body paint and visited three bars (for one we had permission, for one we asked upon entering and for one we just went in).
In general in was interesting how few people realised the performers were body painted. This was true even once the underwear was removed, although it did become more noticeable for the male model. This therefore gave an interesting insight into the ‘humanity bubble’; the normalcy of being completely wrapped up in ourselves and removing our attention from those around us.
Translators helped question the public about how they felt about the situation; and we conducted quick surveys to ask people if they felt ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘indifferent’ about the models. In all cases we received a ‘good’ response although when questioned further several people did comment that the ‘next stage’ (removing underwear when body painted with underwear, just being in underwear when body painted and nude, being fully nude when in underwear) would be strange and/or uncomfortable.
However, as we progressed down this path, both in this performance and other associated performances such as Brownfield, the public reaction did not change to the extent that people had implied it would when questioned. When asked about it in advance there was a perception that anything ‘more’ than the current situation would be weird, but that weirdness did not seem to arise even when we pushed it further. Why is it then that we have these preconceived notions that aren’t borne out in reality? Should ‘more’ be weird or is there media imaging and embedded cultural values that make us afraid of the unknown, afraid of change?
We did sometimes find a slightly adverse reaction upon trying to enter shops or cafes, although we were able to purchase items in both and did sit outside one café (nude in body paint) for over an hour, although in neither case was the experience particularly welcoming. The reaction seemed to stem from the desire for a person to “protect their castle”. The street was a public and unowned space so we were accepted there, but on entering a building we were sometimes seen as invaders that needed to be dealt with. Having now carried out our first performance of Society Cut-Out, it is interesting to look back on the body painting experience and question whether owners were less inviting of us out of a genuine distaste on their part, or as part of the circular loop we saw in Society Cut-Outof feeling the need to take action to protect others who weren’t offended, upset or uncomfortable.
When out for the night we had some really great conversations, and some very welcoming hosts, in all the bars we visited. Thank you to everyone who let us in, and to all the customers who spoke, danced and drank with us.
The Emperor’s New Clothes is probably the most enjoyable performance we have done to date. There was more interaction with the public and less risk of adverse police involvement (on the basis that the models would notice them before the police realised the models were nude). This is something we definitely want to try again and for a much more extended time period (i.e. all day).