Considering the Bernadette Corporation’s “2000 Wasted Years”.
By Mara Goldwyn
It’s hard to bring myself to write about Bernadette Corporation. This amorphous collective – equal parts art, literature, poetry, fashion and film – has blasted the possibility of language for such an end. I imagine I’ll just write around or through it, or let the text have the appearance of birthing itself, as if it simply pre-existed without any identifiable author. Writing with BC on the brain, using “I” feels uneasy. Yet if I angle in from a detached, objective place, it will read like a joke, a ploy or – that sneakiest capitalist legerdemain – a gimmick. For example, I wonder whether to put the following sentences into a passive or active voice:
• They’ve disarmed irony.
• Irony has been disarmed (by them).
• It’s disarming (me).
And while I let “disarm” play around in my mind and bounce between its transitive and intransitive uses, I realise that if I’m gullible enough to un-cynically use the first person, then I’m not sure if in this context “I” is Subject or Object. It’s alright; it’s not clear from Bernadette Corporation’s oeuvre in the quote-unquote retrospective in New York’s Artists Space that it is a they, either. Writings have been produced (note passive voice) but who knows who or what has actually written them?
Though the exhibition on Greene Street is a text-heavy “three-dimensional PDF,” shoppers wandering through SoHo, blithely gulping over-merchandised realities, might on first glance not distinguish it from some LVMH-member flagship store. A kind of timeline is mapped out on polyurethane banners, assembled as if in a tradeshow or a skyscraper lobby, while artefacts that look vaguely purchasable rest in shiny glass vitrines. Mannequins display unremarkable fashions from the BC’s early days as a DIY club-kid entity, and backstage images of modelled looks flash on screens. A closer look, however, reveals that nothing is for sale – meaning, of course, that everything is.
The retrospective chronology of BC’s “career” is long and questionably accurate, and it seems this unreliable transmission of information is the artwork. My guess, a guess, anyone’s guess though, is that despite that it is ghost/zombie-written by the Corporation in a quasi-journalistic third person, this is still no claim to any sort of identity; just because something like a history has been cooked up around the collective – and it/they have recently even given interviews as people with names – does not mean BC is any closer to taking on a fixed moniker such as “artist” or “poet.” Remaining unidentifiable allows it to exist on the ever-extending cusp of the end of history, always skipping just an inch farther than its potential co-option into the protean march of Capitalism, and showing it up in the meanwhile.
BC’s mass-published novel “Reena Spaulings” and the more recent, unique-edition exhibition-poem “The Complete Poem” are the product of a collective (or “stable”) of writers. Contemplated through the bleary gaze of the compulsive consumer, these writings appear authorless, like those other textual fever-dreams of the Twentieth Century: the manifesto and the press release. This subsuming of individual identity into a ghostly collective is both Leftist strategy and the nature of the consumer product. Contemporary products also have no locatable author, and appear fully formed on the boutique shelf – what our old friend Karl Marx called commodity fetishism.
So as unlikely as it might sound, in BC’s world, Twenty-First Century style brand identity is equated with the self-identification of a political faction. Indeed the absurd late-Nineties attempt at a fashion magazine, “Made in USA” – “named after Godard’s worst movie” and recently reissued electronically on Badlands Unlimited Press – paired “high culture with high fashion,” mixing Frankfurt School-esque texts with black and white images of dead-eyed, mostly asexual fashion models. “Get Rid of Yourself,” a video-tract aestheticising protesters at the 2001 Genoa G8 summit and featuring indie film goddess Chloë Sevigny, annoyed more than a few Leftists with the implication that the black of the Black Bloc had something to do with the noir of contemporary fashion. But “all politics is aesthetic and vice versa,” BC had said in a 2005 statement; the idea was to keep the line between them “alive and problematic, rather than suppressing it and denying it.”
I chuckle to myself, or rather a melancholy chuckle is had in the faceless, yawning gallery of cultural consumption: this is where the shoe fetishist meets commodity fetishism, where luxury auto meets the Autonomists, where the Society Of The Spectacle meets the society pages. But nobody’s actually laughing, BC is not pop and it’s not light. Irony is, according to BC, “an untenable stance.” By disarming it, they create a sort of direct politics that in turn disarms the enemy in (what “Reena Spaulings” calls) a “fresher war that would produce the not normal situation.”
“2000 Wasted Years” opens at the ICA, London, March 26 2013.
Three issues of Made in USA are reissued as ebooks by Badlands Unlimited.
From Sleek 36 “The Head & Heart Issue”