CULTURE & ARTS
09/16/2016 11:09 am ET Updated Sep 16, 2016

Radical 'Dress Tents' Imagine A World Where Women Carry Everything They Need

Turns out women can have it all, if they carry it around in a tent-dress hybrid.
"Picnic Dress Tent," Installed off Interstate 5 near Tracy, California, 2005.
Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
"Picnic Dress Tent," Installed off Interstate 5 near Tracy, California, 2005.

Women are pretty adept at carrying just about everything we could possibly need around with us at all times. You know, in case of emergencies, or, even worse, slightly chapped lips. Lip balm? Snack? Tissue? Pen? Check, check, check and check.

Artists Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao take this idea to absurd and quite beautiful extremes with their project “Dress Tents,” which imagines a world in which women wear or carry everything they need on their backs ― including food and shelter. Turns out women can have it all, if they carry it around in a tent-dress hybrid.

The artists met at San Jose State University in 2004 when Lasser was an art professor and Pao a graduate student. The two began musing about a world in which women could wear the basic necessities of life, thus transforming a dress ― sometimes considered a frivolous luxury ― into a means of survival.

“During this time I was very interested in artists who addressed the female form with unusual, absurd or curious appendages,” Pao explained in an email to The Huffington Post. “A few artists who I was very interested in then were Ana Mendieta, Janaina Tschape, Lucy Orta and Amy Cutler.”

"Ms. Homeland Security, Illegal Entry Dress Tent," Installed beneath the California-Mexico border fence, 2005.
Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
"Ms. Homeland Security, Illegal Entry Dress Tent," Installed beneath the California-Mexico border fence, 2005.

Over the past 12 years, Lasser and Pao have collaborated on over 20 dress tents ― avant-garde outfits that unite person, fashion, architecture and nature. “The dress tent installations and photographs provide a forum for connecting our bodies to the landscape,” Lasser told HuffPost.

Not only do the dresses converge with natural landscapes, but also the various social and environmental ones surrounding each and every locale. One example, dubbed “Ms. Homeland Security: Illegal Entry Dress Tent,” blends with the surrounding San Diego terrain, or more specifically, the area right next to the California-Mexico border fence. 

“’The Illegal Entry Dress Tent’ is a ‘gatekeeper,’ figuratively and literally,” Lasser said. “She mimics minutemen vigilantes and patrol guards. Viewers are invited to step inside, crossing the border between a public and private space. Inside, viewers find a camping cot and are encouraged to write on the canvas and consider their own relationship to border issues.”

"Salty Water, South Bay Salt Flats Dress Tent," Installed in an area of salt ponds and wetlands near Redwood City, Calif
Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
"Salty Water, South Bay Salt Flats Dress Tent," Installed in an area of salt ponds and wetlands near Redwood City, California, 2010.

Each dress combines fashion, photography and performance art in a lengthy process that takes three months to complete. Lasser and Pao first have to build the dress, scout a location to position it in a specific context, and, finally, document the entire scene in a photo. As the project has grown, the duo has enlisted a team of sewing assistants, fabricators and illustrators to facilitate the job. 

“Our photo shoots are typically filled with challenges ― heat, wind, potential snow fall,” Pao said. “The process for these pieces is not quick.” An additional hurdle is taking the dress tents on international flights, which requires folding the massive robes into duffel bags. “Airport security has always given us a questionable look.”

Despite the arduous process involved, Lasser and Pao have been working on “Dress Tents” for over a decade, and they don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. One particularly rewarding work, the artists said, has been their “Ice Queen Glacial Retreat Dress Tent,” installed at Mount Shasta, California, underneath one of the few advancing glaciers in the world. 

"Ice Queen Glacial Retreat Dress Tent," Installed at Mount Shasta, California.
Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
"Ice Queen Glacial Retreat Dress Tent," Installed at Mount Shasta, California.

The piece, inextricably linked to the glaciers surrounding it, presents a haunting reminder of the dangerous effects of global warming. “The dress tent is fashioned as a polar weather station and research lab, offering a space to ponder the earth, global warming and glaciers,” Lasser said. Her niece dons the dress in the performance.

“When visitors enter the dress tent they hear a chorus of crickets. Crickets are natural thermometers, if you count the beat of their tiny wings, the temperature is revealed. Inside the tent, a chorus of crickets varies their tune, in direct relationship to the climate changes that have occurred across the globe, from the industrial revolution to the present and beyond.”

Along with highlighting the individual issues affecting various landscapes around the world, Pao and Lasser hope to create an unusual portrait of women interacting with the world around them. “I hope viewers contemplate the fashions of times past and present, and how the roles of women shift,” Pao said. “I hope it encourages people to ask pertinent questions about these landscapes and our roles within them.”

  • "Lava Tube Top Dress Tent," Installed by the Kilauea Crater in Hawaii, 2004.
    Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
    "Lava Tube Top Dress Tent," Installed by the Kilauea Crater in Hawaii, 2004.
  • "Missionary Muumuu Dress Tent," Installed on Kailua Beach in Oahu, Hawaii, 2004.
    Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
    "Missionary Muumuu Dress Tent," Installed on Kailua Beach in Oahu, Hawaii, 2004.
  • "Three Dress Tents Camping in a Faux Hawaiian Rainforest," installed at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California, 2
    Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
    "Three Dress Tents Camping in a Faux Hawaiian Rainforest," installed at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California, 2004.
  • "Cross Dress Tents," Installed at Fort Point in San Francisco, California, 2005.
    Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
    "Cross Dress Tents," Installed at Fort Point in San Francisco, California, 2005.
  • "Tanning Ones Hide Dress Tent," Installed in Monterey Sand Dunes near Monterey, California, 2005.
    Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
    "Tanning Ones Hide Dress Tent," Installed in Monterey Sand Dunes near Monterey, California, 2005.
  • "Dirty Towel Dress Tent," Installed at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California, 2005.
    Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
    "Dirty Towel Dress Tent," Installed at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California, 2005.
  • "Furry Dress Tent," Installed at the Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, California, 2005.
    Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
    "Furry Dress Tent," Installed at the Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, California, 2005.
  • "Edible Garden Dress Tent Gazebo with Edible Garden," Installed at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, California, 2011.
    Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
    "Edible Garden Dress Tent Gazebo with Edible Garden," Installed at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, California, 2011.
  • "Cave Dress Tent," Installed at Castle Rock State Park near Santa Cruz, California, 2005.
    Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
    "Cave Dress Tent," Installed at Castle Rock State Park near Santa Cruz, California, 2005.
  • "Greenhouse Dress Tent," Installed at a former working greenhouse for commercial plants in Richmond, California.
    Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao
    "Greenhouse Dress Tent," Installed at a former working greenhouse for commercial plants in Richmond, California.
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