Clothes wet with tears.

        Keep walking.

        The clothes begin to dry.



A series of photographs began as a travel work in August of 2006.   Images were taken in Prague, Paris, Berlin, Seoul, Haulien, and Taipei.  The clothes used in this work were found discarded in the streets and outdoor public spaces of each city.  The primary motivation of this work was to create tableaux that assembled repeating but variant relationships to absence and memory, between two people or between a person and a shifting topography.  On arriving in a new city often my first intention is to get lost.  Get lost from a dominant given route and from pieces of my own memory.  To look for a story of clothes, touch of city and skin, the resonance often to remain in pieces. Discarded.  Left behind. The people who wore them that I do not know and are now absent.  I begin somewhere here as a wandering point of contention with pieces of urban anonymity, loneliness, and recognition.  Images rest between, lost and found, the finding and the losing, the weight of memory, wind to a flag or a kite, and the slipped trace.  With a cartography of questions, I take to the road.  Why do I travel?  Why do I pick up and wear these clothes?  From discarded, what movement holds one’s body, what release can be found in movement?


        Footsteps to disappearance.

        Dressed in the architecture.

        Repeating appearances.



When I first began this work, the clothes I found where used directly as a series of “costumes” in the context of a live performance.  As well, the performance work was site-specific to outdoor spaces of the city creating another link to where the clothes had been found.  Initially this work was done in Taipei, Taiwan (apart of a residency at the Taipei Artist Village). This work was entitled “Yifu x Sun”.  Yifu is clothes in Mandarin Chinese. In my first nights walking the streets of Taipei, I encountered pieces of clothing left by trash cans, the edge of the side walk, and in various public transit spaces, sparse but immediate; my memory connection was with a displaced outdoor body, a fleeting, found only in a trace.   Arriving in a new city, a memory of a departed city is brought along, for myself, one of a past negotiating its loss and future presence.  What I look for are markers of reflection on the carrier space each person travels with, fragments of a city in memory, carried as if a lens.  In the work, this became a returning frame of resonance, question, and departure.  The insignias of a continuous city, a dialogue of distance, and that the process was initiated by terms of travel and between-space is integral to the works unfolding.  The performances in Taiwan specifically engaged spaces of transit or non-space, ranging from the Taipei Railway Station, corridors of the MRT (Metro Rapid Transit), and the Taoyuan International Airport.



        To continue on a train.

        Overlooking the ocean.

        My son is missing.



In August of 2006 I came to the Czech Republic to take part in a residency in Tabor at CESTA (Cultural Exchange Station Tabor Arts).  I worked on one project there with a small ensemble and on this work individually.  During this time I always wanted to go to Prague. The context of the residency was in this beautiful small town tucked away on the hillside and an ideal haven for artistic concentration for many, but my thoughts remained on the edges, of what was to me, an almost mythical city about a two hour train ride away. Ever since I was a teenager I have felt this strong push and pull between rural and urban areas.  As a child I grew up on the mesas of a small town, Taos, New Mexico, in the US.  When I was thirteen years old my family moved to the inner-city area of East Los Angeles.  From this point on, I have always experienced both a strong fascination and alienation to most cities. It is a relationship both intimate and distant.  I look, and take part, but in a way I am always still coming on a train from a mesa above a small town.  


In my looking, I find another sense of the minute located in the city itself, and then perhaps an even smaller perimeter of location, the train, a bus or the metro a shifting visage of municipality, breaking apart in shards of varied departures and arrivals.  Different types of rivers, mountains, and bridges.  I find I cannot locate the rural or the city without the interference of the other, the between creates a cartography of looking.


In Prague, one of the first pieces of clothes I found, near a small bush by the River Vltava, was a turquoise pair of pants with a checkered pattern. I had placed them in a transparent plastic bag and had walked about a mile down the river when a very frail elderly woman approached me.  She began speaking softly and urgently, initially in Czech, to which I did not understand; soon after switching to a quiet yet decisive broken English, I gathered that the pants I had found belonged to her son.  Her son was missing and she had not seen him for many days.  Again and again she kept asking, “Do you know the future?”  Startled and at loss, I told her I did not.  She said her son had a shirt with a matching pattern to the pants and she insisted that she take the pants as a means to help find him.  I gave them to her, she spoke quickly and softly  “ I love you”, and then rushed off in the direction of which she said was her home.  Dumbfounded, I continued to walk along the River Vltava empty handed.  I did not pick any more clothes up that day, but this brief exchange left an imprint I still carry.   It remains with me as an emotional and starkly opaque meditation on absence.  A story of clothes I can glimpse but can’t complete.


In the following days I collected a few more articles of clothing found in various places about the city.  During this same time the DV camera I was using stopped working.   The only means of documentation I still had was a 35mm camera.  After overcoming my initial distress, I decided to create a series of photographic tableau.  If not for the DV camera breaking down, most likely, I would have simply continued the work with clothes for time-based performance and video; I would never have done the constructed still images. This in many ways though was an appropriate return to my earlier studies in painting and photography prior to dance and theatre.  Actually, one of the strongest inspirations for me to come to the Czech Republic was because when I was a student in the fine arts, I really admired the Czech Photographer Jan Saudek.  His work was strange and foreign yet immediate to me. In one small cellar with a boundless window, it was like a fauvist romance layering history, politics, art, fashion, and fantasy.  It is easy to see his work as kitsch, but as well, his earlier work in particular has a subtle yet strong social dynamic.  Composed so acutely in the relationship of oppression and restriction to the necessity of invention and dreams, as well as the relationship of painting, photography, and performance, it was an inspiration to me in many ways.   So it was fitting that now when I was in Prague, to return to the directorial aspects of still photographic images.  


First though, with a 35mm camera, throughout the night and into the morning, I wandered the near empty streets, along the waterway, under the bridges, and near the transport stations into the early morning.  This became my process and precarious axis.  I collected clothes, memories, and stories, yet also I became emotionally and physically emptied.  It became easy for a loneliness and social distance to cut me reflexively.  As a solitary person, my desire became a question of how to use the clothes to create a portrait of two people.  It is with this space of hypothesis, memory trace, and a few select articles of found clothing that the photographic series continued; in Prague, and after in Berlin, Paris, and then in Seoul, and Taipei; each city with their own story, frame, opacity, and unique urban topography.   For each tableau photograph I made there were several other images of city exploration made prior.  They act as glimpses of a necessary research.  One of the first things that I would look at on a piece of clothing I found is the tag.  Seeing the brand name and where it was made gives some trace.  Regardless of country, one thing was similar, almost always the clothes were made in a different country than which they were found.  This I find to be a significant travel story in itself.  Each in their own way, the migrations and the disposability of people or product are often manipulated by economy, this is one story.  Clothes often carry details of this intimate knowledge.  I work with incompletion, imagination, and repetition to create my own meditations on impermanence.



        Someone to talk to.

        A ghost light.



As time progressed, I would have to question repeatedly if to continue this work.  On one level, it seemed a rather unsanitary, unnecessary, and harsh assignment, a cutting meditation on instability that marked a precarious weight on my own sense of balance.  In wearing the found clothes...even when washed, sometimes I would immediately wish to take them off feeling restless.  Between the stillness of each tableau, an agitation persisted and marked the movement.  Nevertheless, as if only in the middle point of a perspective I continued.


Throughout, I would return to a question on the common clothes of social acclimation and their movement language.  In this regard, there is one quote by the fashion designer Ralph Lauren that I find interesting as a simple evocation, quite haunting in a way, particularly considering the conditions in which many of his clothes are made, he states, “I don’t design clothes, I design dreams”.  These “dreams” offer another story of clothes.  In examining the language of dreams you can find many elements of disappearance.  The perception of another person, or one’s perception of his or her own body shifts often quite dramatically relative to dress.  Fashion holds a tremendous power in this regard.  It can become a myth making that dares, in part, because of its own impermanence.  It is as if the sense of dream is designed to appear and disappear.  It is a very human preoccupation. Dance can dare because of its ephemerality in its own way.   But in a question of this, how do you map the origins of habitual movement?   The traces of a past linger with the body just as a body does abandoned clothing and abandoned clothing (or people) do a culture.  The lens here can be similar to that of the Situationist’s term ‘Dérive’ or to drift.  These questions of sense phenomena to a place, object, or person relative to a carried or wandering memory often loiter in their own particular agitations.  These returns remain as questions to what could be considered ‘past’ or ‘ephemeral’.


Though there are many things in my everyday society that I would like to walk away from, I am often only in between.  With the discarded, often stained or torn garments I find, I work directorially with a tableau vivant of looking into an away, a distance, or a dream, and a questionable construct of dreams; the intention is a kind of pictorial mirage that holds the image up between an appearance and disappearance.  




        An empty print.



Seeing or meeting a person for the first time, or for an audience in viewing a performance in a theatrical context, clothes give a direct but partial reply to the question “who are you?”   For dance I want to keep this question active, moving and shifting with incompletion and transformation. With clothes, I often am drawn to articles that connect to the everyday or function as uniforms of industry.  In looking at the insignias of a city, contemporary movement and stillness, I work in a question of location and memory.  I can never fully acclimate, yet I try on different identities while often wishing to forget one’s of the past.  Here, clothes often work with movement as an opening and closing, “made in”, “found in”, size, color, a tear, stain, or particular insignia, here dance becomes its own story of clothes.


Choreography or a movement phrase, just like clothes can be something you simply take on and off or there can be another layer of asking about the resonance or response of this entire shifting process.   Travel and transience have a similar line of questioning of what is carried, what is picked up, and what is left behind.  In working with the clothes I find discarded in a given city, for photography, or for dance, I take a lot in as a process, but as well, emptying is a constant activity.  Here, I am in between again, if I remember too much I become heavy and unable to move, if I forget all, I am easily thrown by the wind. An erasure and a carried space remain in step.  In the stillness of a picture or in dance, always shifting, to remember and forget at the same time.


The last tableau photograph that I took in this series was in Hualien, Taiwan overlooking the Pacific Ocean and facing in the approximate direction of the western coast of the United States.  The clothes I used here, a set of worker uniforms with a faded factory logo on the back, I found covered in dirt behind an abandoned building near the ocean.  I felt this tableau was a fitting end point to the travel series, facing back across the horizon line of the water and into the direction from which my travels began.  Looking out across a space vacant of the city, in a question of where absence and quotidian memories coexist.

The following text is an assemblage of brief reflections on the interrelated role of clothes, dance, and photography in recent travel and site-specific work.  It is focused in particular on a series of images that have developed as a photography work unto themselves, “Clothes x Sun (tableaux for disappearance)”, and are projected as part of the umbrella performance project “To”, and as well, have taken the role of a physical image for a number of varying choreographic and improvisational works.  Each work has taken the images in considerably different directions while redeveloping and deconstructing the idea of image as a set entity or reference. Select images from this work can be seen in the January 2009 issue of the European Dance magazine ballettanz.  As well, an earlier version of this text was published on their website.  

by Isak Immanuel


Tableau Cities: clothing, travel, and the photographic frame

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