Pitch a Dress
Robin Lasser stands at the Mexico-California border
fence, a watchful figure of incredible height in camouflage fatigues. She peers through binoculars and
searches for illegals attempting to sneak over the line.
Photography by Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
But Lasser, in life, is no vigilante. She’s no border
agent either. She’s an assistant professor of art at
San Jose State University who, with Adrienne Pao,
a photographer and one of her former students,
created a series of photographs and live exhibitions
of wearable architecture called Dress Tents.
Ms. Homeland Security: Illegal Entry Dress Tent is
one of these pieces of nomadic attire. It fits snugly
into a bag and can be fully assembled and donned
in a couple of hours. Picnic Dress Tent is another.
It features Pao literally tethered to 50s-era female
domesticity in a humongous red-and-white gingham
number. “I thought it’d be amazing to deal with
this idea of camping and the body and make it
photographic,” Pao says.
The pair dreamt up a suite of site-specific outfits,
chose fabrics that worked with the landscapes,
and got help from seamstresses in the Bay Area to
construct the garments (sometimes using actual
tents as scaffolding). On location, either Lasser or
Pao modeled the duds while the other shot.
But a Dress Tent doesn’t stop with a still. The artists
designed and built elaborate inner sanctums within
the structures to be experienced in a gallery. By
ducking beneath Security’s skirt, crossing a border
of sorts between public and private, visitors watch
video of the scene on the other end of the binoculars.
“My desire is to experience life and then communicate it,” Lasser says. “Some artists just want
to speak to themselves. For me, it’s always been
important to make my art for the public.”
While Dress Tents are meant to push buttons,
they’re also meant to be whimsical. Future tents
will incorporate smart fabrics that change color with
temperature, and one may involve live bees — thus,
Lasser or Pao would become queen.
—Megan Mansell Williams
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