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Silver Burkas

An experience of anonymous meetings

The concept

I created some costumes for a party. I’m interested in the identities we portray with our clothing, our hair, our voices and body language. In particular the way these things can either make us feel more comfortable or inhibit us in social situations.

I once worked as an extra for a period film set in the 1940s. As I sat in the waiting room I looked around for someone interesting I talk to. It was a real challenge. Everyone had had their hair cut and make up done and was wearing their assigned costume. Until I actually went and talked to someone it was impossible to assign any characteristics to them. It was much more anonymising than say a fancy dress party, because the people involved had no choice in their costume. Basically, I didn’t know who was a cunt and who wasn’t. Every trace of personality had been washed away.

I considered that to be at a party without identity might be freeing. So my costumes were basically a big silver sheet designed to hide form (made from reflective silver fabric with an orange tulle section as a visor). Also part of the costume was a voice changing box to mask what the wearer sounded like. This was a cheap kids’ toy off ebay gaffer taped to a coat hanger as a frame.

The experience

My dinner party guests didn’t know what hit them. I invited two friends who didn’t know each other for a casual dining experience at my house. Upon arrival and before meeting each other I had them put on the full costume. I then introduced them. Watch the video above to see what happened.

Results

It wasn’t quite as successful as I’d hoped. The biggest problem with the outfits was physical. The fabric got hot really quickly. It made me quite pleased that I didn’t use my original choice of mylar, the stuff they wrap athletes in when they finish a race. The voice box kind of worked, but you could still hear the original voice underneath. The outfits themselves were also quite bulky and made it difficult to move in. It made the game of monochromatic twister (shades of grey, in keeping with the theme of anonymity) somewhat difficult to play.

Frustratingly, once they took their costumes off they got along quite well. I asked a few leading questions to get them to say how freeing the experience was on camera, but mostly they just complained about the heat.

Conclusion

The result of the experiment: inconclusive. These costumes are no good though. The idea of stripping away facets of identity to become more free from social constraints still has some potential I think. If I repeat this I’ll give it a crack with some costumes that are a bit more fun to wear, or perhaps another method of anonymisation - making different things look the same is as good as concealing the identity of each.