Sweatshop Shackles 1 - September 2018
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!