Name: Barefoot Doc
Barefoot Doc is a name chosen, so as to preserve his anonymity, by a man with whom I had a brief conversation face to face at The House of Embroidered Paper exhibition Maison de Papier in 2017. What followed was a short exchange of emails as I enquired what his garment of choice would be were he to contribute to The Talking Wardrobe. He chose a specific T-shirt, perhaps because the memories it invokes for him involve the medium of the garments he had seen exhibited. About it he wrote:
“Thinking of your database collection . . . I send a photo (myself, age 47, Pacific Ocean) which has a story: some escape, some acceptance, some loss, some defiance. Paper is rather central in the story - writing, attempting to move the world through an alliance of documents and performances. These are not ‘special’ clothes (uniforms, couture) nor is this nostaligia, in the sense of many of your…subjects? But ‘dressing up’, yes (anti-uniform, anti-couture). And a frozen moment of large life changes in process. I’ll be happy to tell the story if you’d like to have it on file?”
He also sent me detailed accompanying information. Barefoot Doc is an artist and has a very unique, thoughtful idea of the relationship between clothing and story. I've decided just to quote direct most of what he wrote, with some of my responses (S.S) and his in turn (B.D) below:
"You did wonder out loud whether I have any clothes with stories. I guess that these days (retired and free to choose the settings I manifest in, mostly) I collect clothes that try quite hard not to tell stories; so that others ideally will observe and engage with the person - and thus, co-produce a new piece of story-fabric (a wardrobe, even) - rather than bring conventions numbingly to bear. Earlier in my life - during the wage-earning years - I often chose clothes to be more ‘talkative’ or assertive....I told you yesterday that although I would love to hand-make objects, my own making-practice on the page takes up far too much mental and emotional space to allow me to develop those other capacities. What I didn’t emphasise, but you may have sensed, is that the stuff on the page is meant to be mobilised as some kind of prompt to action: a resource for performances. And that, although artfully done, it’s not done as ‘art’, it’s activism. I’m hoping to produce crafted, textured, layered, ‘bricolaged' texts which, in some sense, I or others might ‘wear’ as we walk out into the world today, with a view to it being a changed world in due course, after sufficient actions. Also: for the changes to be created by snipping and folding, weaving and stitching, the fabric of lives and the mesh of habitual interactions, into other architectures. Huge change ‘out there’ through very many changes ‘here’. And here. And here. In your show I saw the multiple pieces as multiple actions, saying: here. And here. Now here. Since talking yesterday I find myself recalling the ‘three skins’ perspective of Hundertwasser (Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Austrian painter, clothing-maker, architect and building-bricoleur, ecological activist, sailor: I’ll call him H).
His first skin is literal skin. I don’t think H really paid attention to what it is that lives inside the skin, and he took ‘the person’ for granted - I guess he was a profound extravert, oriented ‘out-there’. As a profound introvert I can’t take his base level for granted; the viscera, and the experiential partitions of body and mind and emotion and sensation and thought, are ’skins’ too, in-here. Basically, H’s ‘skin’ metaphor breaks down when we take psyche and body seriously as constructed, material, internally complex forms and processes: the ‘first’ skin isn’t the first skin. We ‘clothe’ ourselves and organise our ‘wardrobe’ inside as well as outside.
Whatever . . . H’s third skin is the world of buildings, especially, ’homes’. In my own work, I’ve addressed this sphere as ‘technology’ in a wide sense: all the configurations of artefacts that constitute landscape and resource for our being potentially ‘at home’ in the world. Paul Sheppeard, in What is Architecture? addresses this as the continuous domain of landscapes/buildings/machines. My work - professionally - has largely been about design practices through which we might ‘clothe’ ourselves differently in configurations of the ‘third skin’ of workplace technology (latterly, technologies of paper, documents and digital machinery in ‘office work’) and thus become different people doing different things with our precious working days and years, and making different worlds. So I’m kind-of with H on this layer, though broader.
The second skin is where I depart most from H. I see what we ‘clothe’ ourselves in, at this intermediate level, as our ‘acted out’ self-conscious behaviour in and towards society. This ‘skin’ of behaving includes how we dress - dressing-up is a place where we often attempt to negotiate a relationship between what’s available inside and what’s offered and expected outside. But more broadly, this level of ‘clothing’ includes the expectations that we attempt to meet and the expectations that society places upon us, the mobilisations of the resources that we have within us and the conventional assumptions that society makes about what our resources are. And thus, rather than being a simple boundary of an autonomous person-in-a-body, this layer (of behaving and choosing to behave ‘thus’, of intentionally displaying ‘this’, of dressing ‘thus’) is in fact a domain in which huge landscapes of dynamic, extended, interacting, configured forces engage with each other: the big out-there landscape of persons-in-bodies and material ‘stuff’, and the big in-here landscape of the heart-mind (footnote 1). So: literal clothing, as an element in this skin, is constituted in a relationship between complex landscapes and actions out-there and complex landscapes and actions in-here. Here is where I feel you and I have a really interesting conversation that we might have. My own ‘artful’ activism - on the page and in the prompting, furnishing (with ‘technology’), semi-scripting, rehearsing and co-directing of performances (in design, in work, in living) - needs a strong understanding of: storytelling as a means and as a pleasure and as a foundation for resourcefulness and resilience; weaving, as a mode of assembling ‘a self’ in-here each day and creating the fabric of life-today, right here; and re-weaving and re-stitching the fabric of the landscapes out-there. Your art-practice draws on and cultivates and offers for contemplation a strong understanding of storytelling through the woven (embroidered, collaged, fabricated, inscribed, etc) clothing-artefact and its textual accessories, as a means of delight in the ‘suchness’ of the-made-thing, the living of diverse lives, and the emergence of the story-artefacts themselves through hybridisation of diverse forces in widespread landscapes (known as ‘sources’ in art language). What I’m wondering is: d’you think you might want to consider art clothing-objects that visibly display the weaving-together - here and now, in this place - of extended in-here landscapes of stuff and very extended out-there landscapes of other stuff? And thus are not free-standing, apparently closed and final objects which may passively include textual references ‘off stage’, but snapshots of dynamic uncompleted webs of process in which expectations and conventions out-there are visibly articulated - on the fly, as best we can - with resources and scraps of fabrics of self available (but ordered only in an ad-hoc way?) in-here? The snapshots being animated - as in your current show - in repeated instances: this piece, this piece, this piece? Like a strobe light on a moving dancer?
For myself, I’m interested in the possibility of better seeing my own storytelling mode - capabilities, limitations, potentials for ‘readers’ - by considering how it is like and unlike storytelling through another kind of craftwork, other kinds of objects. Oh, and we both have a fundamental interest in paper, as material for making a storytelling object-in-the-world, of one kind or another. I’m tempted to go on, but will stop…I do need to make something clear…I…have a lot of texts, and texts-in-progress…I have meta-material: about the relationships of ‘making’ that I’ve written about above. I have family biography. I have vignettes of places and actions-in-places from my life. And yes, I have some ‘autobiographical’ clothes - or types of clothing - that could be sources: quite modest, unassuming items I think, quite good foils or foundations for complex embroidered collaged constructions. Oh, one last thing. A central thrust of my work now is against sentimentalising - about ‘people’, human nature, kindness, beauty, community, family, ‘knowing who we are and what we like’, dealing with what life throws up, progress. Etc. I’m attempting to tell a story (footnote 2) of continual, attentive, activist re-weaving and re-stitching of what we’re ‘wearing’ (as our lived interface between in-here and out-there), while continually discovering what there is available to weave with and stitch with, and how weaving-actions and stitching-actions can be performed: in society, in-here. In a sense, this ‘anti-sentiment’ orientation may be at quite a tangent to the emphases of tradition and reminiscence that came through in your…pieces. Maybe you would want to contemplate this kind of departure from ‘Maison de Papier’? Maybe you wouldn’t?
Heart-body-mind, really, but that’s a clumsy term. Sometimes bodymind places the right emphasis, and sometimes heart-mind. In the language of Buddhism, heart and mind have the same word. And evolutionary neuroscience is now demonstrating very powerfully that mind - especially emotion and affect, and the high-order ‘mental’ capacity for being conscious of emotion and affect – is distributed through and continuous with the body (for example, the autonomous nervous system) and doesn’t simply sit inside the skull.
In fact, a composite of three story-threads, in three personas, with recurrent epiphanies that give rise to repeated new starts within a thread.
S.S: “I tried to read yesterday and was in the wrong mindset, too outwardly focused, today however the text you sent me in May is speaking my language.
of course you're busy too and there only so many texts/lines of thought/conversations one can be involved in at any one time but for when you have time to think about this again here are my initial thoughts in response...
Firstly I want to thank you for reminding me of the work of Friedensreich Hundertwasse, years ago I came across and loved his paintings...but hadn't investigated his work far enough to come across the garments or...architecture and hadn't heard of his three/five skins theory. I found this image doing a quick search for him this morning:
I totally agree with your introverted point of view, in that he was missing out in fact, for me, the more interesting skins (re. memory, emotion etc). Of course there's a long tradition of thought regarding man's subtle bodies (rather than skins) or layers thereof eg. The alchemist Pythagoras incorporated in his philosophy the idea of a body of light. He spoke in fact of its being necessary to send the three lights that burn in man/man’s three bodies (elemental/material, sidereal/ethereal, eternal/luminous) to three schools..."
B.D: "Hmmnn - this ‘rule of threes’ is intriguing. Over the years I’ve often found a threeness of some kind arising in my responses to things. And the book that I’m writing (!) has a threeness as its basis, and is aimed at a school (just one). I rather doubt that this is the Pythagorean Three..."
S.S: “...you say: "... configurations of the ‘third skin’ of workplace technology (latterly, technologies of paper, documents and digital machinery in ‘office work’) and thus become different people doing different things with our precious working days and years, and making different worlds" do you mean in respect of us all working less on paper, in the office environment, and more in the transient space of the online world?"
B.D: "I’ve been more concerned with the material furniture of workspaces in-the-room, in their relationships with human bodies in-the-room; less concerned with the virtual spaces that are constructed ‘inside’ the networked objects. I’ve especially been concerned with the power of physical paper as an artefactual means of organising social life, which remains very significant I think. All of these concerns extend into ‘virtual space’ and digital documents; I haven’t paid much attention to transience though. I guess that’s important and I probably have paid too little attention to virtuality. Partly this may be because my own experience of my own interior ‘virtuality’ - affect, emotion, thought. memory - is that it is very spatial (in a complex, hypertext kind of way), quite durable, and absolutely continuous with the out-there 4D world of bodies. Maybe that's an odd perception?"
S.S: re. "...literal clothing, as an element in this skin, is constituted in a relationship between complex landscapes and actions out-there and complex landscapes and actions in-here." - yes that was totally what i was trying to get at at/am exploring with my work. re. "What I’m wondering is: d’you think you might want to consider art/clothing/objects that visibly display the weaving-together - here and now, in this place - of extended in-here landscapes of stuff and very extended out-there landscapes of other stuff..." can you explain what you have in mind?..."
B.D: "...I’m happiest with still, architectural and textual (and textural) relationships (and transitions and trajectories that are gestured-at and mapped rather than represented by actual movement). I think I’d be willing to argue that there’s something ‘wrong’ and unhelpful about using moving images. But this is hard to formulate. There’s a sense in which these are very opaque and too ‘hot’ and forceful, while architectural and textual relationships are (can be made to be, in careful designs) far more transparent, kind, helpful and cool.
S.S: "..paper, as material for making a storytelling object-in-the-world..." - can i adopt those words?
B.D: By all means :)
S.S: "re. your footnote: "Heart-body-mind, really, but that’s a clumsy term. Sometimes I think bodymind places the right emphasis, and sometimes heart-mind. In the language of Buddhism, heart and mind have the same word. And evolutionary neuroscience is now demonstrating very powerfully that mind - especially emotion and affect, and the high-order ‘mental’ capacity for being conscious of emotion and affect - is distributed through and continuous with the body (for example, the autonomous nervous system) and doesn’t simply sit inside the skull" - yes, again a feature of my research...and experientially also I lean this way/refer to the bodymind as a single material-ephemeral entity."
B.D: I’m not sure that it *is* ephemeral (‘lasting for a very short time’). Memories last a very long time, leave very deep residues, provide materials for many actions and constructions. I think it’s just that the materiality of this ‘mind’ stuff has to be handled, navigated and woven with different skills than the out-there (gross) materiality. The skills are not simple. And relationships of foreground and background and tacitness do have to be addressed; this requires quite a big - and highly spatial - mind?
Returning to above . . . 'weaving-together - here and now, in this place - of extended in-here landscapes of stuff and very extended out-there landscapes of other stuff’. I guess I picture something a bit comic-book like, in which the rules of space and time are different than in realist art (‘pow!’, speed-streaks, superimposed images, multiple perspectives, etc). So that 3D space might be used to represent relationships in more dimensions. These will look ‘odd’ or even ‘awkward’ or even ‘inelegant’ - and certainly ‘puzzling’ and ‘unfinished’ and multiple, rather than elegant, manifest or bounded. There may be an issue here for your work, since elegance, manifestness, boundedness and finishedness are characteristics of couture pieces?
…I’m happy that you should use the image…and any words. But I’d like to go under a pseudonym, because it’s my practice to minimise my trackable footprint on the internet... ‘barefoot doc’. (Stands for 'barefoot documents’, working in plain sight with documents; also for ‘dr’ signifying rigorous knowledge; also for ‘barefoot doctor’ - low-tech 70s para-medical practitioners in Maoist China, a bit of a myth as it turns out, but there you go!).
S.S: "As you say it's all a collaboration in the sense that it provides material shared that I can dip into for inspiration for new collections/pieces. I'm not looking to be sentimental but I am looking to be respectful and to show how impressed I am in respect of what other people go through in life (and that includes surviving mundaneity) whilst just trying to survive and live and hopefully thrive. I'm going to continue with historical garments because the wide court dress skirt, for example, demonstrates so well how people have sought to "show" their wealth (every inch of embroidery on fabric cost so much that the wider the skirt the more you could show you could afford) and I'm playing with the idea of a human life as a wealth of memories, normally stored, being instead on show and/or garments being highly decorated (including male garments) with precious detailing from life events.
B.D: With regard to 'not looking to be sentimental but i am looking to be respectful and to show how impressed i am’ . . . I appreciate that. For me though, the respect serves as the basis for producing liberating change, rather than bolstering people with a limiting sense of continuity or sameness or ‘eternal’ experiences. Rather than celebrating survival, I’m always impatient for moving on, to better survival, to thriving, to liberation. Likewise, regarding 'a human life as a wealth of memories, normally stored, being instead on show’ . . . my concern is with seeing and showing how we are and have been, in order to respectfully but deeply remake ourselves and furnish (well founded, observational, experiential) material for revolutionised kinds of being and experiencing. For instance: not greedy, nor aggressive and competitive, nor self-deluding or sentimental or grandiose or egotistical or complacent . . . qualities that seem pretty strong, I would say, in couture or in ‘fashion’ generally?"