Pieces of Scarlet, street performance, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham City Centre (2001)

Wearing 50 layers of white underwear, each layer had a piece of scarlet cloth with a letter or symbol pinned to it. As each layer was removed a ‘piece of scarlet’ was given to a member of the public.

Both symbols and letters were historically believed to have magical properties if worn next to the skin. These beautiful pieces of scarlet cloth were not legible, any more than the gendered maternal body or female subject is legible in our society . The transposition of archaic belief in text contrasted with the Modern and Victorian architectural in the city site. The public display of removal of clothing drew in crowds of people waiting to see how far the spectacle would go.

This performance humorously used the dissonance between the performance of gendered gift and a masquerade of femininity to share tokens of belief and created dissonance between the performance of  gift and shared tokens of belief with questionable magic.

Fascinated by gendered histories of text and image, representation and belief structures, this performance was a metaphor for the palimpsest of the self and the layers of gendered historical symbols that result in invisibility and confinement for women.

Thanks to Paul Ward for filming. Watch the documentation film below.

View other street performances that created an interface, an exchange – or interchange of some kind with the public.