Non-Standard Bodies

Non-Standard Bodies Dress Front

This project was part of a 4 month exhibition at the Ontario Science Center’s !dea Gallery as part of Mirror, Mirror…Reflections on Body Image

We are constantly assailed with body images and standards in which we as individuals and as a society must fit – are you a small, a medium, a large? How short is your dress? What does your neckline say about you? These questions are at the heart of Non-Standard Bodies. The project, initially conceived as a way of exploring the influence of external factors on the comfort and presentation of the individual, has come to tell a story about the impact of standards on our daily lives and the impact of remote decisions on our perception and presentation of self.

Except in the case of bespoke clothing, the garments we wear are traditionally based on standardized sizes, sometimes reflecting national or international decisions, sometimes reflecting the decisions of individual clothing designers and manufacturers. These garments cannot, by necessity, be a perfect fit for each wearer. They are, instead, good enough, aiming to reflect a reasonably popular or common set of measurements.

This idea of garment sizes being imposed from the outside, by invisible hands, is one persistent with the principles of standardization. Standards setting has, historically, been the province of experts, educated individuals situated within official organizations. These twin ideas of outside influences and “one size fits none” standards are the themes running through Non-Standard Bodies. The project, from an abstract viewpoint, is a physical manifestation of the invisible hands of standardization making decisions about the appearance, presentation and bodyimage of its wearer. Practically speaking, Non-Standard Bodies is an adjustable dress. It is, in its ground state, large and voluminous, beige cotton cloth, fashioned after a monk’s habit and worn over a structural plastic frame.

The dress has both a wearer and a user. The two functions, unlike with normal clothing, are distinct. The user becomes the subject, the wearer the object. This metaphorical representation of standards setting (with the user as subject at a distance) takes place through the manipulation of the fit of the dress. The fit of the dress is manipulated through the adjustment of a series of controls, arrayed along its spine (and therefor inaccessible by the wearer). These controls provide input to an Arduino microcontroller, which manipulates a number of motors. Those motors wind up spools of cord, which lift the hem of the dress, shorten its sleeves and adjust the fit of its waist. Thus, through activities unseen by the wearer (because, in fact, the user is behind her), her appearance and presentation of self are changed. This is the metaphorical representation which runs through the heart of the work and presents, in an evocative and whimsical way, the issue of the politics of standardized clothing sizes.

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