Is My Body Public is a new art work and fashion collection created by Alicia Framis (b. Barcelona 1967)
For this work Framis has designed a new collection of dresses in which she explores the borders of that which is private and that which is public. The aesthetics of the dresses resemble that of lingerie, a material usually associated with the private realm. The dresses are made from thin transparent fabrics, but are at the same time banners for public demonstration and used as such.
The dresses carry a strong message embroidered onto them. “Is My Body Public” ask each of the 15 dresses, in 15 different languages. With the work, Framis wants to represent this issue that women deal with worldwide. The slogan “Is My Body Public” was translated by 15 different women, each from the region where the specific language is spoken.
Is My Body Public is not just a new fashion collection. The collection is used actively in a performance demonstration. During the performance 15 women walk through the streets of Madrid wearing the dresses to finally arrive at the Juana de Aizpuru Gallery. This work introduces a new way of demonstrating against sexual violence and intimidation against women. The general passer-by is confronted with the women’s message and asked to reflect upon this. Upon arrival in the gallery the 15 women hang the banners up, like clothing, on a line to dry. 15 photographs, mounted and framed, of the artist holding up the 15 banners inside the Juana de Aizpuru Gallery are also exhibited. Art, feminism and activism meet in this work.
This collection of dresses is a continuation of Framis’s 2002 fashion collection Anti_Dog, which consisted of 23 pieces of clothing made from bullet-proof material to protect women, particularly women of colour, against violence. In this work too Framis made use of demonstration and fashion as tools to question women’s public safety.
With Is My Body Public Framis questions what is public and what is still private in today’s world. Nowadays it seems as though privacy is something of the past. Our movements, both physical and digital, are followed constantly. We have given up a lot of our privacy with the introduction of the internet and with new technologies. When going through airport security we are closely searched by guards. The government collects all kinds of data about its citizens that is in fact very private information. Framis asks herself where her privacy ends. Where does the fear of the other and the need to control people by gathering as much information as possible begin?
The issues of privacy and body politics Framis discusses in this work take on a different, more specific meaning for women. Women in many countries worldwide are still not allowed to make decisions that concern their body, for example in places where women have to obey certain dressing rules or codes. At the same time women’s bodies, appearances and ways of dressing seem to be a subject that the public, in particular men, think they can publically comment on or critique however they like, for instance by harassing women in the streets. Women’s bodies in these cases seem to be viewed as public property. In many places in the world women are not able to undergo legal, safe abortions and in many places where this is possible women are judged for doing so. Here again others, often men, are deciding over women’s bodies and their sexual and reproductive rights. These are just a few examples of social issues regarding sexism and women’s rights that lead to the question Framis is posing with this work.
The dresses offer a tool for women to explore different, playful ways of demonstrating important issues such as (systematic) sexism. By working together with women from different backgrounds in the performance the work gains a participatory and global character.
Social relationships are a defining factor in the work of Alicia Framis. This is also true for her work The Room of Changes, which is exhibited at the gallery in concurrence with Framis’s Is My Body Public. For this work Framis researched how she could use technology as a tool to bring people together.
Since the 1990s more and more artists have become interested in engaging the public and making them co-maker of their art works. For Alicia Framis active participation of the public and social interaction between people is something she has been researching ever since the beginning of her artistic practice in the 1990s.
Art Historian Claire Bishop in her 2002 book Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship defines the term ‘Participatory Art’ to refer to art forms in which the people involved create or co-create the artwork. Framis likes to work in a way where she is co-dependent on the people that engage with her work. The Room of Changes literally becomes an artwork when two people step inside the room and embrace. This non-verbal interaction between two people, this physical connection they make, makes for a unique symphony of lights to appear. Each embrace or touch will create a different set of lights, with different intensity, and a different time frame. The energies of the people make for the work to light up and become alive. The work has a highly interactive and ephemeral nature. Once the people leave the room, the work is gone and is open for new interpretations, for new energies and connections between different people.
With The Room of Changes Framis wants to encourage human contact in a world where this is being replaced more and more with digital communication. The work can also be considered as a comment on the nature of human interaction in our current society. Besides encouraging people to embrace one another and show affection, Framis likes us to embrace different ways of thinking and living. She invites people to embrace not only those one knows, but also to embrace the ‘other’. With the work Framis reflects not only on technological changes in our current society but also on social and political ones. The work is meant to connect people with different backgrounds and different moral, religious, and political outlooks. This embrace is what creates the work of art. Framis in this work looks for ways to transmit emotion through technology. Stepping inside the room is like overcoming a fear, a fear of the unknown. Stepping inside allows for the audience to change the physical architecture of the room and their own mental architecture of the world.
Nicolas Bourriaud in his 1998 book Esthétique relationelle (Relational Aesthetics) famously discussed the concept of relational aesthetics and relational art as referring to an art form in which the focus is on human interactions, social contexts and the relations of art to society and the world. We can see Framis’s work as fitting this description for her search for human interaction and comment on contemporary society as well as her wish to have audiences interact with her work.
Is My Body Public discusses women’s rights in today’s society and questions to what extent our bodies belong to the public or private realm. The work can be seen as a call for action, demonstration and reflection. With the interactive Room of Changes Framis thinks of innovative ways to use technology to unite people and create understanding amongst people.
From Framis’s work speaks the belief in art’s ability to change people’s minds and ultimately the world. Text: Nina Svenson