from protest to survival: Lucy Orta (1966) is a British artist based in Paris. In 1992, she started exploring situations of human distress and unsuitable social environments with a series of drawings entitled Refuge Wear. Later she created a series of temporary shelters that she subsequently transformed into items of clothing and transport bags and gave them the generic term ‘body architecture’. The first in the series was named Habitent: a portable habitat catering to minimum personal comfort but high mobility for the inhabitant. Refuge Wear became synonymous for clothing and shelter in extreme conditions. They provided vital mobility and waterproof shelter for the Kurd refugee population, temporary protection and shelter from natural disasters such as the Kobe earthquake, mobile sleeping bags for the homeless, and immediate practical assistance such as water reserves, integrated medical supplies and burial bags in an attempt to ameliorate the horrific hygiene problems of the Rwanda crisis (1994/95). Further Refuge Wear prototypes were fabricated as personal environments in response to social conditions and could be adapted according to need, necessity or urgency.
mobile architectures: “To be homeless in a media culture such as ours is therefore to be rendered invisible, to melt literally into the margins and framework of the city”, explains Orta. The Refuge Wear urban appearances, that she staged from 1993, challenged that act of social disappearance by rendering the invisible visible once again. Squats, railway stations, housing estates became the arena for simultaneous ‘Interventions’ that were recorded for French and British television.
collective wear: by 1994, she had moved from individual isolation to the concerns of the collective and started to construct Collective Wear. While the appearance of Collective Wear was protective, hinting at physical and psychological refuge within a larger protective enclosure, somewhat high-tech and at times nearly science-fiction, the domes and tent-like structures sought to promote the opposite of individual isolation.
the quotation: “There are currently five hundred million homeless people in the world. On the one hand, there are five hundred million homeless to whom the most important question is where to live, and on the other hand there is a society, which is breaking down and where families are falling apart. (…) We can see here the signs of a precariousness which is no longer that of the unemployed or the abandoned, but that of individuals socially alone. Lucy Orta denounces a situation of social disintegration... It is a description of bodies linked to niches, solitary...” [Paul Virilio, Process of Transformation, Jean Michel Place Editions, Paris 1996].