Following a sample loan of our Long Sleeve Liquid Top from the PRESERVATIONS collection, we were asked by drag performer Untitled Queen to collaborate on, design, and build an outfit for her November performance at National Sawdust's monthly show Nightgowns (hosted by RuPaul's Drag Race winner Sasha Velour). In 2012, Untitled had the idea for a public art piece inspired by Rita Dove's poem "Daystar", that would involve a growing smoke cloud. Drawing from what we had learned in creating the gas backpack for PRESERVATIONS, and with the rare ability to have a lot of creative freedom, we pitched a series of ideas and finally landed on the design of a set piece and outfit that would interact with each other through the transference of gas. These two pieces informed the choreography of Untitled's performance and were enforced by her vision of large scale natural imagery for the projected visual setting and futuristic styling for the look as a whole.
Daystar, by Rita Dove
She wanted a little room for thinking:
but she saw diapers steaming
on the line,
A doll slumped behind the door.
So she lugged a chair behind
the garage to sit out the
Sometimes there were things to watch--
the pinched armor of a vanished cricket,
a floating maple leaf.
Other days she stared until she
was assured when she closed
her eyes she'd only see her own
She had an hour, at best,
before Liza appeared pouting from
the top of the stairs.
And just what was mother doing
out back with the field mice?
Why, building a palace.
Later that night when Thomas
rolled over and lurched into her,
She would open her eyes
and think of the place that was hers
for an hour--where she was nothing,
pure nothing, in the middle of the day
1 | Inspiration Sourcing
The initial conceptual inspiration came from Untitled, who sent us a package of references including the poem, the original proposal for her public art piece from 2012, and images of Anouk Wipprecht's SMOKE DRESS. With Untitled being extremely flexible in terms of not literally building her original idea but using it as a means to catalyze our own approach to working with smoke, we then built our own folder of inspiration images that expanded from our gas backpack. As new ideas started to take shape, we moved towards seperating the apparatus that would house the chemical combination of dry ice and water (to make gas) into a set piece, which could then have an interactive relationship with the outfit that would be informed by gaseous properties.
2 | Material Testing
Given the tight timeline for this project (roughly 3 weeks) material testing was limited and therefor dependent on knowledge we had gained from previous work. The effect of dry ice gas that most interested us, aside from creating an ambient environment, was its ability to inflate, and so we conceptually settled on creating an outfit that could expand. The material that made the most sense in terms of heat seal-ability as well as the possibility of transparency was clear vinyl, and so after researching how to make inflatables by plastic soldering, we settled on that for our outfit. The set piece was as a simpler decision as we went with the material we know best, plexiglass. In addition to an already risky project of firsts, we decided to try theromochromatic pigment for the first time, which would react by changing colors as the body heated and gas cooled the piece.
3 | Design / Build
The project was now split into two clear parts, the set piece and the outfit. For the set piece, the design was kept extremely minimal but with structural detailing in the form of a hand-frosted plexiglass cube with different sized lap joints on the edges that would create small openings through which the gas could escape. The interior of the box was outfitted with two internal chambers for dry ice and water (one with a hose to the outside of the box), as well as strips of LEDs.
The outfit was designed based on a larger scale version of our triangle pattern from PRESERVATIONS, which was used to quilt together two layers of transparent vinyl with a soldering iron, creating an air-tight seal with sequential openings between the triangular panels to allow air flow. Using the grid as a guide, the outfit became a floor length coat with equally long sleeves and was designed so that it was only made of three assembled panels, with the right chest side of the body having the ability to inflate with the help of the hose from the cube. Additionally, the outfit was back-painted with a gel combined with the thermochromatic pigment.
4 | Ambient Experience
While we were designing and fabricating the two pieces, Untitled handled the additional elements of the show: styling, visuals, and lighting. The soundtrack for the piece was an original reading of Daystar by Rita Dove, but since the length of the poem was so short, the piece was extended by including several minutes of audio soundscapes by Jess Ramsay, which then faded into the reading. For the visuals, Untitled felt strongly that projected natural imagery would juxtapose well with the strong geometry of our pieces, and by showing the visuals at a large scale would further contort the spatial relationship of her to the cube, and the cube to the set. She personally chose and composed the imagery which the extended soundtrack was influenced by and queued to. Final stylistic touches were made by keeping the rest of the look minimal yet assertively sci-fi referential.
5 | Choreography
In the last 48 hours before the show, with the designs finalized and the pieces in their final fabrication phases, Untitled drafted up some images of styling and possible choreography movements informed by the limitations and abilities of our pieces. With the early show being the first time all elements came together as a whole performance, the show was a live documentation of her organic reactions to the pieces we had made for her.