# TOPIE IMPITOYABLE /// Strategies of Appearance of the Public Body: Fashion/Clothing Design and Politics


Anti-drone scarf by Adam Harvey (2013)

We can no longer allow others to turn our mucous membranes, our skin, all our sensitive areas into occupied territory—territory controlled and regimented by others, to which we are forbidden access. (Félix Guattari, “To Have Done With the Massacre of the Body,” in Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews 1972-1977, edited by Sylvère Lotringer, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007)

The way we dress cannot be innocent as soon as we enter the public sphere. Once we do, our body necessarily registers in the domain of appearances, as well as its political, social and cultural implications. Those of us who would like to escape from what their clothing may imply, and who are therefore trying to reach an illusory neutrality in the way they dress know this fact even better than others: nothing of what you may wear (or may not wear for this matter) will bring you to this domain of neutrality that you would like to reach for not being judged by your appearance. We may however embrace strategies of appearance, some of which involving a deliberate camouflage that would have to do in a sort of hyper-normalized apparel. By hyper-normalized I mean that normalization is a process that includes many unconscious apparatuses, whereas a strategy of camouflage would consist in a deliberate mimicry of the outcome of such apparatuses (wearing a Yankees cap in New York is the first example that comes to my mind).

Camouflage is used to hide some aspects of our identity. However, one may choose to reveal these aspects and thus, to embrace the semiotics of a social class, a political or cultural group or a gender. As I have been writing in the past in my article “Preemptive Legitimate Defense: When a Movement of Your Body Can Kill You,” the hoodie incarnates an object of expectation from one race to another — although it would probably me more fair to see from one social class to another — that reached its tragic climax in the case of the Trayvon Martin’s murder. Such expectations linked to a piece of cloth are remarkably articulated by Mimi Thi Nguyen in Threadbared (co-edited by Minh-Ha T. Pham), whose editorial line is dedicated to such problems.

The act of hiding your head under a hoodie is therefore interpreted antagonistically in a given cultural context like the United States or Europe for example. However, a similar act is enforced by law for half of the population of several countries who mixed religious/traditional prescriptions with political/legislative orders. This is the case in Iran that adopted the political scheme of an Islamic republic in 1980 after the 1979 revolution against the despotism of the Shah. The regime is characterized among other things by the supplementation of the regular police by a moral police, called Gasht-e ershad. There is therefore an additional layer applied to the ‘classic’ set of legislation that organizes the polis; one that also declare behavior as legal or illegal based on their appropriateness to the moral conduct rules. The way of dressing is an important aspect of these rules, and women have to keep their head covered by a hijab (veil). In a photographic series entitled Your Veil is a Battleground, Kiana Hayeri presents diptychs of photographs of Iranian women: when the left parts shows each woman, bared shoulder and without make up, the right part illustrates their “public body.” The latter involves the veil but the accessory supposed — in the context of a legal enforcement — to force a form of modesty, and thus of submission of the woman toward her male co-citizen, is somehow subverted by its integration in the strategy of the public body that expresses a legal yet empowered face to the rest of society.

One last example of embrace of the political aspect of fashion/clothing design can be found in the creation of Adam Harvey, who elaborates designs that escape the mechanisms of automatized control of a technocratic society like the United States. When CV Dazzle develops strategies of facial patterns that confuse  software of facial recognition, the series Stealth Wear goes as far as creating apparels that substantially diminish a body’s thermal signature that drones, for example, use to detect targets. In this case, the project has more to do with the art world than an actual generalized strategy of dissimulation; however, the imaginary that it conveys is useful to think of tactics of counter-surveillance. Let us not forget nevertheless that, in the Western World, the transcendental power that the Orwellian Big Brother (that has never been so popular) embodies is never as oppressive as the immanent power of the norm, but here again, a project like CV Dazzle can be useful as facial recognition software are based on a normalized idea of what a face looks like, therefore a subversion or dissimulation of this software’s mechanisms also involves a subversion of the norm itself.

In “To Have Done with the Massacre of the Body” (1973), Félix Guattari describes the body subjected to capitalism as an “occupied territory,” an identity object whose production of desire has been captured by a system. The various strategies of composition of a public body, elaborated in a deliberate and reflective manner, can help us to re-possess this body in favor its decolonization.

Kyana Hayeri, Your Veil Is a Battleground (2011-2012)

Adam Harvey, CV Dazzle