The art of connection

Body suits suspended in the middle of an open room hang in uniform rows, forming a large grid composed of limp clothing. Although the body suits are empty, it is easy to imagine them filled with people.

Connected by umbilical structures, the bodies of these people operate as one, yet each person walks freely within the mobile structure. The people are free to attach or detach at will, and the bodies of as many as 50 people form this surreal scene.

The live infrastructure forms the basis of a mobile village, an architecture that evolves based on dependence and independence of the dwellers. The name of this village is “Nexus Architecture,” and it currently resides at the Contemporary Arts Museum.

The exhibition, entitled “Lucy Orta: Nexus Architecture + Connector IV,” features transformable sculptures of clothing including “Nexus Architecture,” a suit built for 50 people. The Paris-based artist Lucy Orta was first recognized in the early 90s for her “Refuge Wear,” out of which “Nexus Architecture” evolved.

The exhibition is Orta’s first in the United States. After Dec. 8, “Lucy Orta: Nexus Architecture + Connector IV” will travel to various museums around the United States.

The underlying principle of Orta’s work combines individuality with community. Her transformable sculptures, or garments, are original concepts of mobility and networking, attached and detached from one another with zippers.

“Refuge Wear,” which is also on display at CAM, consists of clothing resembling arctic wear and is Orta’s response to the situations of human distress and inappropriate social environments. “Refuge Wear” provides the inhabitants with minimum comfort and mobility, but it serves to keep them safe from the outside environment while keeping them connected together in a community.

Alexa Favata, assistant director for CAM, said Orta’s exhibition at USF has been in the works for some time now. She came to USF in the summer of 2000 and began the proposal with CAM. At the time, Orta was working with Metropolitan Ministries, a local charity striving to help the homeless.

“She gave the children a chance to design their own concept of Nexus Architecture,” Favata said.

Orta has transformed “Refuge Wear” into items of individual clothing, handbags and sleeping bags and gave them the generic title “Body Architecture” because its intent is to be worn by people.

Orta has displayed her art by City Interventions, sessions of demonstration in which Orta dresses participants in her garments. People in brightly colored and connected Refuge Wear suits march together to draw attention. This is Orta’s attempt to voice her concerns about unfavorable social conditions. At times, Orta dresses one person to make a statement.

“If there is someone living under the overpass of Interstate 75 wearing bland clothes, nobody is likely to notice that person,” Favata said. “But if that individual is in a bright, orange suit, he is likely to draw attention.”

Jon Petersen, a graduate student and assistant, said the CAM exhibition is one that will interest students because it relates to current events.

“The exhibition is about survival and community,” he said. “It is interesting to take that into perspective in light of the events of Sept. 11.”

“Collective Wear” is another part of the exhibit on display at CAM. It evolved from “Refuge Wear,” and consists of larger dwelling spaces that are no longer intended to isolate the individual alone. Instead, the intent is to isolate groups that are socially alone.

Through “Collective Wear,” Orta focuses on the homeless and other groups that are socially isolated. “Collective Wear” is a structure resembling a large tent with sleeping bags connected in a radial design. Favata said “Collective Wear” structures are intended to serve a dual purpose.

“On one hand, there is a large spacious area in which people can interact,” she said. “They may eat there together, but then they can retreat into the individual sleeping areas to be alone.”

Orta has been researching the nature of clothing and portable habitats for the past 10 years. Favata said some of Orta’s major concerns are apparent by the fabric Orta uses in her transformable sculptures.

“It’s one thing to throw someone homeless a blanket, but it’s another to give them fabric that feels good to the skin,” said Favata.

Favata said she has enjoyed Orta’s work at CAM and at USF.”We are lucky to be the first to have an artist of such caliber and work of such quality,” she said.

  • Contact Barbara Neradilat