I just ran across this tiny little image in a book about one of my pervasive favorites, Ann Hamilton. It’s a hat and veil that were made to be part of a performance piece, aloud, in which costumed volunteers hand-cranked wind machines. (This was performed at the Museum of National Antiquities, Stockholm, Sweden 2004) Characteristically, Hamilton lit a fire in a spot of my brain I’d been wanting to warm. I don’t love everything she’s ever done, but the poetry she achieves with elemental symbols is so often a hit with me. Like her toothpick suit, which she built as a graduate student at Yale, these wool costumes have a nonspecific, but potent mythological effect. The ubiquitous red cross of medical dress is traded for a perfect thick circle that echoes the silent mouth. Maybe partly because of the coy look of this particular volunteer, it works as a symbol that seems to fall between medical protection and religious ceremony– an air of calm adherence to a prescribed role.
If you’ve read my blog for any period of time, you probably know that I also have an artistic crush on Nick Cave, the visual artist. He exemplifies an approach that I am drawn to again and again through the years– a fascination with costuming and fanciful extensions of the body. I’ve been thinking of it a lot lately, and wondering what is under all this fabric. Maybe it’s an inkling that our bodies are limited pictures of what I/we feel like internally? Are our physical borders more permeable than they appear? It also stretches whatever symbolic intent the parts of the body might have… to lift the dome of the head into a tall pile is to overwhelm the intellect, to lengthen the tongue is to emphasize a wicked way with words.