How to wear a disguise (2017)

How to wear a disguise is one component in a body of work for my PhD research project: The paradox of failure: sport, competition and contemporary art in which I set out to re-stage a 50-year-old swimming race from the 1968 Mexico Olympics: the final of the women’s 400 metres individual medley. Initially, I had proposed to re-stage the race with the original competitors – 50 years later and in the same Olympic swimming pool in Mexico City.

However, as the project progressed, it morphed into a manifestation of my own serial failings: increasingly inventive attempts at tracking down the ex-swimmers were unsuccessful. How to wear a disguise was made in response to my thwarted attempt to track down the two ex-East German swimmers who were in the final, along with the shadowy presence of a German private investigator (who I’d hired online – but his office was mysteriously locked and empty when I turned up unannounced), plus a visit to the old Stasi HQ in Berlin with its curious displays of 60s and 70s spycraft memorabilia.

Viewed today, the Stasi surveillance techniques and disguises look quaint and almost comedic in their attempts to look ‘normal’; but there’s more than a whiff of the uncanny pervading those images on display. The cultivated veneer of everydayness mask the terror that underpinned the 40-year Stasi regime and its controlling ideologies that saw their young athletes unknowingly drugged with peformance enhancing drugs.

It’s no wonder that I was unsuccessful in locating the two ex-East German swimmers. No doubt still wary of any action that hinted at spying or surveillance, neither women agreed to meet with me. As a nod to my own failure as a sleuth in not being able to make contact with the two absent swimmers, in How to wear a disguise I’ve ineptly attempted to act out the spy disguise instructions in the Stasi training manuals.

How to wear a disguise was exhibited in ‘Private investigations’, a joint show with Mike Ting at Meanwhile in Wellington from 27 September to 14 October 2017. It was also selected to be shown at Sydney Contemporary Video at Carriageworks, Sydney, from 13 to 16 September 2018.

Review by Tasha Haines
Private investigations

Director/video editor Sandy Gibbs
Cameraman Chris Williams
Costumes hired from Costume Cave, Wellington
Soundtrack The Boss Henry Mancini