Many hundred surplus-to-requirements police jackets were donated to Oxfam by Angels, theatrical costumiers, UWE students were invited to customise them for a fashion show. Many of the jackets contained traces of their past lives; labels from their manufacturer, some clearly nineteenth century, labels from their constabulary, name, rank, purpose – such as Equestrian Occasions – I did not want to dismember them.
Three garments were made of these erstwhile police jackets:
The Skirt of Police Solidarity – three jackets buttoned together circle the wearer’s waist, each has his hands on the shoulders of his neighbours; the gloves shake hands across the shoulders. These jackets are brothers; they will stick by each other.
The Cloak of Police Protection – made up of five jackets in three tiers, their arms reach up embracing and protecting the wearer. But the raised arms might equally be imprisoning, or those of fawning supplicants.
The Umbrella of the Law – the cover for a garden umbrella grafted onto a police jacket, the huge skirts could offer shelter to sinners, as the Madonna della Misericorda protects her own.
These words about the garments speak of protection and embrace, so also of the obverse; exclusion and partiality. The jackets are symbols of authority; or were. Now they are rejects, actors’ jackets with buttons from three different constabularies – or none.
The three garments are large and very heavy; wearing them gives an immediate feeling of importance; the weight and volume of fabric swirling around one. This feeling of power is of course one of the functions of a police uniform (but not of all uniforms; think Burger King). Anonymity seemed to be an important in the wearing of these garments, authority is invested in the garment not the wearer; anonymity is a protection for the wearer. Hence the masks, which were, I think, the right instinct but not well made. For the Oxfam show, the models had a haughty, distant look; people not to be tangled with.
In L.A.P.D. Uniform (1993), Chris Burden used giant sized police uniforms in response to Los Angeles’ violent riots of the previous year. Sized for men of over seven feet, 30 uniforms were hung around the walls of the gallery. Should I feel intimidated or protected? Surely, with nothing to hide I have nothing to fear, but in this age of paranoia, do I know what constitutes suspicious behaviour?