Identity + Refuge - Work bench
Materials: Table, sewing machine, wheels, laminated photographs, various thrift materials
Dimensions: 120 x 65 x 80cm
Catalogued: Lucy Orta, Phaidon Press, 2002, pp 8-15
Exhibition history: 2010 CCANW, UK; 2008 Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art,Japan; 2009 Plymouth Arts Centre, UK; 1998 Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Australia; 1996 Dietch Projects New York, USA ; 1995 Salvation Army Paris, France
Courtesy: Lucy + Jorge Orta
Identity + Refuge is a co-creation workshop conducted together with residents of the Cité de Refuge, Salvation Army homeless shelter in Paris. The shelter’s storeroom housed a surplus of clothing and accessories, which Lucy Orta chose as a raw material to transform into new garments. Her initial idea was to co-create a tailor-made wardrobe for residents who otherwise had no choice but to salvage second-hand clothing for their own use. Over the course of the months, the workshop changed course and they began making clothes for imaginary wearers, with the help of fashion students. The workshop concluded with a public fashion show in the thrift store of the Cité de Refuge, mobilising all the staff and residents.
One of the aims of the Identity + Refuge workshop was to give residents the means to reclaim their self-esteem through the items they wore, giving them the capacity to create a wardrobe that they regarded as comfortable, appropriate and even fashionable. Through the analysis of the morphology of an abandoned garment, through to its transformation into something useful, Orta encouraged the residents to reconsider their appearance and their individual roles in society, which she hoped would boost their self-esteem and help shape personal identity. The collective task also transmitted a message about human creativity: the reclained garments made by the residents resulted from their own creative inspiration that they may not have realized existed previously. Performed with the tools and materials at hand rather than through mechanized production, the task of making the garments also constituted the sort of work-oriented creativity that Lévi-Strauss identified as ‘bricolage'.
"Bricolage identifies the “events” that result when basic materials are transformed into more refined products, which in this case proved to be both the workshop established to convert rags into beautiful clothing and the self-awareness created among the residents. Lévi-Strauss argued that “to understand a real object in its totality we always tend to work from its parts,” identifying art in the spaces between creative production and technical skill. The concept of “art in the spaces” is a perfect metaphor for Orta’s interventions, which in this context revealed parallels between the new lease of life given to the abandoned clothing and the new lease of hope experienced by the residents. These recycled objects are unique in their capacity to reveal much about the social conditions that necessitated their production in the first place." Bradley Quinn