High Minded: A Withstanding Relationship Between Drugs and Art

Jeremy Shaw, “Quickeners”, 2014. Video, 36min. Image: Film stills, Courtesy of the artist and KÖNIG GALERIE.

We’re all under the influence of something. Caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol are the most common vices—people cling their cappuccinos in the morning, the cigarette smoke of others caresses the air, while some wait patiently for that first drink of the day. And of course there are harder substances, downers and everything in between. If you live in a major city, chances are you’ve seen it all, even if you don’t partake. Humans have been getting high since time immemorial: fossilised evidence of hallucinogenic cactuses from Peru date back to 8600 BC, while it is believed that the Sumerians, in today’s southern Iraq, were using opium as early as 5000 BC. In terms of alcohol, it would seem that people have been drinking it since at least 7000 BC. During a 2004 archaeological dig in China’s Henan Province, fragments of pottery dating from this period were found covered in booze residue. You name it, by now humanity has probably ingested it, and artists have been among some of the most notorious participants.

Mat Collishaw, “THIS IS NOT AN EXIT”, 2015. Image: Peter Mallet, Courtesy of the artist and Blain Southern.

Take for instance the avant-garde in early- twentieth-century Paris, especially the Surrealists and their passion for psychedelics (Salvador Dali famously once remarked, “I don’t use drugs. I am drugs”). Elsewhere, the Abstract Expressionists struggled with alcoholism (Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko), Andy Warhol abused amphetamine-based diet pills, and Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a heroin overdose. And let’s not forget the writers: Allen Ginsberg loved LSD and weed; Hunter S. Thompson took anything he could get his hands on; Philip K. Dick used speed; Robert Louis Stevenson indulged in cocaine binges (once writing 60,000 words in six days); Jean-Paul Sartre reported having a nervous breakdown after taking mescaline, when he began to see little crabs following him everywhere; and William S. Burroughs was addicted to opiates, infamously shooting his wife in a William Tell game gone wrong.

What makes artists’ relationship with drugs unique is that they often communicate those experiences through art, some even integrating drug taking into their practice. One example is Marina Abramovic. In “Rhythm 2” (1974), she took medication for catatonia, which resulted in her complete loss of body control, followed an hour later by a dose of drugs commonly used to treat schizophrenia: “I could not accept that a performance would have to stop because you lost consciousness,” she told curator Klaus Biesenbach in 2016, “I wanted to extend the possibility […] in which the performance continues even if the performer is unconscious. I didn’t accept the body’s limits.”

“Desert Now”. Installation view Steve Turner, 2016. Image courtesy of the artists and Steve Turner.

Other artists have taken a different approach. In “Cocaine Buffet” (1994), Rob Pruitt presented a sixteen-foot line of cocaine on an equally long mirror, inviting viewers to snort the art while symbolically gazing into their own reflection, Narcissus-style. And in Taiwan, Su Hui-Yu’s performance “Stilnox Strolling” (2010) at Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art, drew criticism for giving the audience sleeping pills (later revealed as placebos) and asking them to describe the side effects.

Despite art’s longstanding infatuation with narcotics, many artists today continue to engage with drugs as a subject. So why are we not coming down? 74 years after Swiss Chemist Albert Hoffman became the first person to trip on acid, the clinical interest in hallucinogens has resurged. Studies by the University of Sussex and Imperial College London published earlier this year suggest that consuming LSD results in a heightened state of consciousnessand increased connectivity across the brain, and therefore may be useful in treating depression. In Silicon Valley, some tech and startup entrepreneurs have become advocates of ‘micro-dosing’, the practice of regularly taking small quantities of LSD, claiming it improves productivity, creativity and focus. And in Peru, the trend of Westerners seeking out ayahuasca ceremonies has given rise to an industry in itself.

“Desert Now”. Installation view Steve Turner, 2016. Image courtesy of the artists and Steve Turner.

At this year’s Venice Biennale, the Arsenale exhibition, titled “Viva Arte Viva” and curated by Christine Marcel, had an entire section devoted to shamanism, including Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s “Um Sagrado Lugar (A Sacred Place)”. The installation featured a crocheted tent-like structure resembling those used by the Huni Kuin, an indigenous Brazilian community who socialise such dwellings and use them to perform spiritual ceremonies involving ayahuasca. Viewers could enter Neto’s version and rest inside upon fabric cushions. Macel included this work in response to today’s politically, socially and environmentally fraught world, stating that “the need for care and spirituality is greater than ever”. And she’s right. With millennials being the first generation to earn less than their parents, the far right resurgent in the US and Europe, Trump’s continued provocation of North Korea and eleven million Syrians displaced by civil war, we’re in a state of global crisis.

So how do we escape? Today’s contemporary artists are exploring transcendence as a means of finding new realities. Notably, Berlin-based Canadian artist Jeremy Shaw has been making a series of videos examining this concept. Among these is “Quickeners” (2014), which depicts a fictional community 500 years in the future that veers from the immortal Quantum Human species that has developed. Here, Shaw reworks black-and-white archival footage from a gathering of Pentecostal Christian snake handlers in order to consider the “coexistence of parallel realities based on different systems of belief,” as one character says. As Shaw told Mary Scherpe in a 2010 interview, altered states are one of his main influences. “[A] large part of my work is inspired by […] music, drugs, dance, religion or the tank functioning as a medium and the transitional moment between one state of consciousness and another.” This is evident in “Quickeners”, in which a parallel is made between drug taking and spiritual ritual, emphasising the human propensity to believe in realms beyond rational reality – after all, reality can be a tough pill to swallow (pun intended).

“Desert Now”. Installation view Steve Turner, 2016. Image courtesy of the artists and Steve Turner.

The fetishisation of drug taking has also been promoted by the likes of German artists Julius von Bismarck, Julian Charrière and Felix Kiessling. Their 2016 exhibition “Desert Now” at LA’s Stever Turner enshrined an LSD tab and an Adderall pill under a plastic pyramid after their twelve-day ‘journey’ through the American Southwest. Arguably, drug taking is the new religion, encouraging us to reach for apocalyptic redemption. Then again, perhaps this is merely another symptom of late capitalism’s cult of the individual, perpetually searching for happiness, self-gratifying and self-absorbed but never satiated. After all, we are spiked with the insidious intoxication of ideology regardless of whether or not we agree to it.

Mat Collishaw’s tromp l’oeil oil paintings of cocaine wraps follow suit. His hyper-realistic depictions of folded magazines marked with white powder residues draw our attention to the binge culture and solipsism of the 21st century. Collishaw describes these works as “illusions that cunningly conceal their emptiness. Like the drugs they depict, they are delusions which disguise the abyss.” It is doubtful whether post-cocaine emptiness can be permanently filled by the LSD euphoria purported by some young artists, but when the chips (and economy) are down, what have we got to lose? One retort, of course, is our sanity – but if the times we live in are as irrational as they seem, then perhaps the risks are minimal.

Mat Collishaw, “THIS IS NOT AN EXIT”, 2015. Image: Peter Mallet, Courtesy of the artist and Blain Southern.

I Trudged My Way Through Cara Delevingne’s Debut Novel So You Don’t Have To

Cara Delevingne: supermodel,  heiress, “actress”. She may be a household name now, but Delevingne came from humble beginnings, growing up in the slums of London’s Belgravia and facing the immense financial pressures of being born into the lit-e-ral aristocracy. Despite the obstacles of unimaginable privilege, our girl rose above the rest in the cutthroat world of modelling  — and it’s not just the fashion world Cara has taken by storm. A multi-hyphenate of the grandest proportions, the actress-singer-songwriter-socialite has left no stone unturned. She’s starred in criminally underrated cult classic “Paper Towns”, and even released a single! The kind of “kooky” character who tells you to “embrace your weirdness!!! :P”, Cara has built an entire persona around being ©wild and crazy, delighting her fans with zany antics like doing coke with London’s elite and taking cross-eyed selfies.

But now, ladies and gentlemen, she’s written a book! The blurb declares “Mirror Mirror” to be “a twisty coming-of-age novel about friendship and betrayal”. Obviously, I had no choice but to get my hands on a copy immediately. I was expecting troubled teens, illicit sex and a gripping storyline. And I’ll tell you this for free: I was quite disappointed.

I actually try to go in with an open mind (admittedly made difficult by my intense loathing for Cara Delevingne’s “weird and wacky” brand of cool), but I fall at the first hurdle. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I honestly can’t help it. It consists of a grayscale fist clenched against a hideously garish yellow background, with the words “CARA DELEVINGNE” printed bigger than anything else. Above Delevingne’s name, the full title — “Mirror Mirror: A Novel”. (I can sense profound themes of reflection, double lives, secrets and lies). Below, the actual author, Rowan Coleman, is written in greyed-out letters.

The main premise of “Mirror Mirror” is simple: four misfit kids, just trying to find their place in the world. Rose: the beautiful one, confident on the outside, but broken on the inside; Red: the skinny ginger one, alcoholic mother, sleazy father, desperately in love with Rose; Naomi: the “punk rock princess” and Leo: the cool dude, and token black guy, (the fact Cara chose only him to have a family member in prison is not problematic at all.) Their band, Mirror Mirror, is the only place where they can be themselves. Why “Mirror Mirror”, you ask? Because their music is a reflection of their truest selves? Because they’re holding up a mirror to society? No. Because they’re “the fucking fairest of them all.”

But one day, Naomi suddenly vanishes — and is discovered later, unconscious, left for dead. Now the crew — Red, Leo, Rose and Nai’s sister Ash (who’s very helpfully a master coder at age 18, capable of hacking the city of London’s entire CCTV system!) — must try to uncover what happened to their friend. WHATEVER WILL HAPPEN? It’s honestly anyone’s guess. The inside cover reads:

“Cara Delevingne reveals another facet of her amazing talent with this powerful novel about identity, emotional pain, the complicated world of social media, and the dangerous weight of secrets.”

A deeply powerful storyline written by a multi-faceted talent. Cannot wait.

Barely a chapter in, and the book already becomes quite difficult to read. Over-punctuated and overflowing with rhetorical questions, Red’s first person narration is quite jarring. Cara really manages to master the subtle nuances of teenage angst through the repetitive use of the words “bullshit” and “fuck”.

Chapter 1 ends with the delightful lyrics to one of Mirror Mirror’s songs, “Where Did She Go?” in a clip-art style box accompanied inexplicably by a picture of tower bridge. The lyrics are v. poetic…

The first mention of pills comes on p. 36, as does the image of Red’s father being “tonsils deep in his latest shag”. I’m not even fully sure I know what that means, but it honestly sounds horrific. I can’t say any part of the book is particularly eloquent or descriptive; in fact, a large portion of it plays out over social media messenger conversations (bitmojis and all!). Delevingne (Coleman) also employs the use of Instagram posts and encrypted app chats to round out her narrative. This bricolage of intertextual references does not, however, illuminate the fullness of the teenage psyche; moreover, it’s fucking dull.

Chapter 7, p. 60 opens simply and sweetly with the words: “Fuck this.” Another highlight is Red’s “Fuck You Playlist”, including none other than “Make Me Wanna Die” by The Pretty Reckless — that angsty teen band ft. Jenny from Gossip Girl.

After Naomi’s aforementioned brush with death, Ash adopts a very “fuck the po-lice” mentality and attempts to solve the kidnapping/ attempted murder case single handedly (with occasional assistance from Red). By this point, I’m slowly losing the will to live, as the book turns from novelty to relentless drudgery. While Naomi is in coma, they not only realise someone has been cloning all of her Spotify playlists (!!) but also that she has acquired an unusual tattoo in the time she’s been missing (this is so unlike Naomi. She would never!). Later, Red happens to run into a girl at a gig who has the exact same tattoo (what are the chances?!). Then, Ash realises that the tattoo is actually a load of numbers! She unscrambles it somehow, runs it through a computer and lo and behold — it’s CODE. Code that leads them to a website on the dark web of girls being groomed by men. (By this point, I officially cannot.)

If you’re baffled by this sequence of events, you’re certainly not the only one. I also can’t help but question what sources Delevingne/Coleman consulted about what teenager’s lives are actually like today — “Eastenders”, perhaps? They certainly aren’t following the age-old adage of “writing what you know” — pretty sure there were no ex-convict brothers on the streets with guns in Belgravia.

The ultimate plot twist comes at p. 221 when I realise Red, the main character and narrator, is a girl. Up until this point, Red had been talking of wanting to look and act like Leo, and  referring to the other two as “the girls” in the band. But all of a sudden she’s a she, and I’m shook. Did I just assume a character’s gender because of my own heteronormative preconceptions? I’m so disappointed in myself and forced to question just how woke I really am.

By now I’m nearing the end, both of my tether and the book. Luckily, it’s all about to kick off, and *SPOILER ALERT* — it was the teacher all along! Good old Mr. Smith. Who would have thought the handsome, supportive music teacher could be capable of:
Grooming his underage student, branding her with dark web code, chucking her in the Thames and cloning her spotify playlists

Who would have thought anyone could be capable of such a ludicrous and utterly bizarre series of crimes?

Of course, rather than handing over this evidence to the police, the kids decide to out him in a video compilation at the band’s gig! The police burst in and he’s caught. And Naomi wakes up from her coma immediately afterwards. Hooray. The day is saved.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Cara Delevingne’s completely incomprehensible novel about sexual grooming is definitely not what the world needed, nor asked for. Yes, it’s a teenage book, but teenagers deserve good literature. It’s not even a Twilight-esque guilty pleasure. There’s not even any sex in it.

Cara Delevingne, please stick to what you know!

“Mirror Mirror” by Cara Delevingne is published by HarperCollins and available at all “good” book stores.

A sequel might be forthcoming.

Eytys Create Androgynous and Timeless Clothes For People With a Malleable Sense of Style

Eytys x 032c. Image by Jonas Ingerstedt.

We live in the age of the internet. Our streams of influence are limitless, our scrolls infinite, and our feeds unending. The digital native’s conception of identity is multifaceted, and fashion is a daily opportunity to reflect a wealth of inspiration at our disposal. Eytys is a brand designed by digital natives for digital natives, and one whose brand mission is rooted in community, collaboration and unbridled creativity. They create reliable and exceptional basics which act as blank canvases, primed for the bricolage of modern style. Eytys does not aim to make products which define its customers; they make products which its customers are able to define. Creative Director Max Schiller told SLEEK, “I want creative freedom for our customers to visualize a style for themselves”.

Eytys emerged just five years ago and hit the ground running with the “The Mother”: a unisex platform sneaker with a memorable sole and minimal lace. “The Mother” was the mature response to those of us who grew up in checkerboard vans and high-top chucks, searching for an updated classic. Focused on universality and functionality, “The Mother” was a welcome deviation from the snobbery of the sneaker world, which is often dominated by hype and exclusivity. The brilliantly simple, unisex design demonstrated from the get-go that Eytys possessed intimate understanding of the malleability of style.

Eytys x Kristen-Lee Moolman. Photography by Kristen-Lee Moolman.

Five years and countless sneaker sales later, Eytys conquered a new frontier: denim. The release of the five pocket jean this Autumn carried the torch of Eytys ideology forward with considerable momentum. The brand released three styles —  the Cypress, the Benz and the Boyle — which are unique in style but identical in the valor of their design. Eytys describes the jeans as “MTV meets workwear” and like the sneakers, are designed to be the only pair you’ll ever need. Both androgynous and timeless, the five pocket jeans welcome a deconstruction of categorization that has shaped the industry since its beginnings. Eytys designs aim to transcend gender, race, age and nationality, a declaration of inclusivity that is both ethical and admirable.

The five-pocket campaign launch was another reminder of an essential component of the Eytys agenda: a commitment to collaborating with the artists they admire. Eytys tapped print renegade Buffalo Zine to collaborate on the initial campaign. Schiller declared Buffalo Zine “the most interesting magazine ever”, considering each edition is an entirely new concept and aesthetic, with only the title remaining the same. The Eytys x Buffalo Zine collaboration was a fruitful one, resulting in a campaign based on ‘80s denim adverts “conceived to celebrate the fluidity of modern personal style and to embrace a contemporary approach of sexuality: liberated, open-minded, and proud”.

Eytys 5-pocket pre-launch. Photography by Phillippe Vogelenzang. Art Direction by Buffalo Zine.

Schiller says that featuring other creatives was always a part of Eytys’ mission. “We wanted to have a platform that allowed us to work with people who inspired us”. Another pillar of their progressive brand identity is giving credit where credit is due, as they are proud to acknowledge the people, places and things that shape the brand and its output. Their countless collaborations (all visible in the footnotes section of their website) illuminate the “blank canvas” initiative of the brand. The flagship store in Stockholm is an architectural manifestation of the canvas effect, a minimalist space beaming in marble, with shelves featuring a medley of Eytys approved publications and likely the latest Yung Lean record. The aim of the Eytys x _____ collaborations is to honor the work of the artist as much as the featured product. Schiller explained, “We develop a concept together. What’s really important to me is to respect the reason why I wanted to work with them in the first place- to honor what they’ve previously done and their aesthetic.”

It’s clear that an incredible amount of research goes into choosing the Eytys collaborators. Although Eytys is the brand of the internet age, much of their attention is directed off-screen. When asked about the process of discovering collaborations, Schiller stated: “It’s very organic. Some of it comes from online, but I’ve been getting more and more into print. I actually deleted Instagram because I couldn’t handle the constant flow of things coming in and out. I needed to clean my canvas. Some of the people we work with I’ve discovered through fanzines and small publications. I try to spend at least a full day every 3 months at a bookstore somewhere.”

Eytys x Esther Mahlangu. Photography by Travys Owen.

In chatting with Schiller, it’s evident that earnestness is an essential ingredient to stellar artistic synergy. “These collaborations aren’t about creating hype. We ask ourselves how we can create the best possible product and the best possible concept. We’re very humble about the fact that there are very many people out there who are way more talented than us”. Eytys aimed to create the “product manifestation of Generation Y” and with each new launch solidifies its goal. Let Eytys be a reminder that the generation they design for is rooted in connectivity and collectivity. Eytys’ design and ethos represents the best outcomes of the digital age, freedom from restraint and unnecessary classification.

Eytys x Michael Madsen. Photography by Kristin-Lee Moolman.

 

SLEEK Have Collaborated With König Souvenir on The 2018 Spätkauf Calendar

The Späti: arguably Berlin’s most beloved institution. Short for Spätkauf (“open-late shop”), and more-or-less equivalent to the English “offie”, the European kiosk and the American bodega, the Späti is convenience in its truest form. It’s the only thing open in the ghost-town that is Berlin on a Sunday, thus becoming an important lifeline for disorganised Berliners. A 24-hour bar, social centre and a place almost guaranteed to stock chickpeas when it seems nobody else does, the Späti is an essential part of the city’s weird and wonderful character. Every Berliner has a “Späti des Vertrauens” (“a trusted local”) upheld by the heroic patrons who have been known to share joints, techno and wisdom over an ice-cold Pilsner. Under-the-table and over-the-counter, the Späti is the most magically non-legit thing about Germany’s otherwise regimented existence.

In celebration of this fine institution, König Souvenir and SLEEK have teamed up for this 2018 calendar, which also functions as guide to the city’s best Spätis. Featuring portraits of Berlin’s Späti heroes by Joseph Kadow, let the year planner guide you through Berlin’s fabled late-night establishments.

The 2018 Spätkauf Calendar is now available in the Sleek Shop

Sylvie Fleury Does Terrible Things to Make-Up In The Name of Art

Left: Sylvie Fleury. Image: Moos-Tang. Right: Ombres Multi-Effect (No.2 – Jardins Eclatants), 2017.

It’s been a long day for Sylvie Fleury. “I’m a little exhausted,” announces the Swiss artist on an overcast Monday evening in October. “Do you mind if I eat my dinner now? I still haven’t left my studio,” she says apologetically. In addition to the occasional clang of cutlery, her cat, Shaman, meows emphatically throughout our conversation. “He likes to join in,” she laughs.

Time is of the essence for Sylvie Fleury, who is preparing to show a brand-new body of work at Salon 94 Bowery in New York this November. The exhibition, “Eye Shadows”, is inspired by her enduring fascination with cosmetics, which itself is fuelled by three major themes in her oeuvre: superficiality, stereotypes and consumer culture. “Cosmetics are a tool to me,” she says. “I’ve always used female paraphernalia, but make-up immediately gives my work a touch of desire.”

In order to give the show a greater sense of context, she talks through some of her most memorable experimentations with make-up, which hark back to the early Nineties. For her first solo show at Art & Public, Geneva in 1993, Fleury drove an ostentatious 1967 Skylark across the gallery floor, crushing a plethora of expensive foundations, lipsticks and eyeshadows in order to leave a glossy trail of destruction. “Yes, I’ve done terrible things to make-up,” she laughs. “I love the way that the mirrors smash and all the colours blur.”

Her video “Drastic Makeup” (2007), produced by the Sculpture Centre in New York, was similar, using automotive hydraulics (a la Nineties Snoop Dogg) to obliterate delicate metallic compacts holding ice-blue eyeshadows and peach-coloured blush. On other occasions, she has customised large cars (“I would crush them and then spray-paint them with pearlescent pink nail varnish,” she says), thus subverting a stereotypical symbol of masculinity.

Fleury also reveals that at the beginning of her career she “felt more self-conscious,” and was often alarmed at how terrible the lighting was in contemporary galleries. “Sometimes I couldn’t look at myself,” she says. The feeling prompted her to create an installation that was inspired by a colour-correcting compact that Chanel launched in the early 1980s. “I made four mirrors with different lighting effects that could correct the colour of someone’s face,” she says, adding: “It could make you look amazing, I’m so surprised that the piece never sold.”

Left: Sylvie Fleury. Image: Moos-Tang. Right: Easy, breezy, beautiful, 2000.

To Fleury, cosmetics are art. The readymade colours, with their hyper-fetishised names (from Nars’ famed “Orgasm” blush to Tom Ford’s “Devil Inside” lipstick) are employed in a similar manner to acrylic paint, creating textured markings on canvas, or short videos that confront cliches about female behaviour. She is using make-up, both conceptually and figuratively, to make us think. “I don’t want to sound pretentious or like some kind of Buddhist monk, but that’s the aim with all of my work,” she says. “To give little flashes of wisdom in a very superficial world.”

“Eye Shadows” comprises a series of large-scale figurative paintings of eyeshadow compacts. “I was browsing a make-up counter one day, and I realised that these compacts looked like abstract paintings in boxes,” she says. Fleury describes the works as “fairly simple, formalistically, but elaborate in their making.” Consisting of precisely-applied layers of acrylic paint, mixed with mother- of pearl-effect pigment and small metallic flakes, they posses a tactile, three-dimensional quality that makes them feel substantial, yet unexpectedly sensual. Most notably, none of the palette paintings contain a mirror, which she explains “was a purposeful choice, because in most cases, art already functions as a mirror.”

Fleury is renowned for taking readymade compositions, such as the aforementioned cars or make-up palettes, tampering with them and transforming them into artworks, allowing audiences to view these objects in an entirely different light. In doing so, she prompts questions about luxurious commodities, advertising and consumption – especially the desire to shop. Her very first artwork, “C’est La Vie!” (1990), in which she presented a group of branded shopping bags covered in fine fabric within the context of a gallery space, encapsulates this feeling. “Go Pout” (2000) portrayed a similar sentiment in the form of a life-sized gold shopping trolley positioned on a circular dome like an elevated porcelain figurine.

C’est La Vie!, 1990

An artist’s place of work is often filled with various stimuli – rambling notes, photos, cuttings, sketches – but this isn’t the case with Fleury. “My studio has some weird stuff in it, but inspiration doesn’t come to me in that way,” she insists. “It stems from my mind, my thoughts.” Despite its high ceilings and skylight, her studio feels darker than it actually is, perhaps due to the glow of neon light that floods the space and gives it an eerie Argento-esque ambience. “I’ve been here for six years now – no, 10 years,” she says. “I like it, it’s quiet and just far enough away from the centre of Geneva.”

Fleury was born and raised in Geneva and enjoys being part of its small artistic community. “There’s no way you can compare it to a major city like London, but it allows me to work without distraction,” she says. Yet, she regards one of the most influential periods in her artistic career as the time she spent in New York during her late teens and early twenties. “It changed my world,” she says. “I studied photography and was exposed to all these different subcultures for the first time. I also hung out with people that were making films, and that had an effect on me.”

When she first moved back to Geneva in the late ’80s, Fleury began throwing elaborately-themed parties in a lofty apartment that looked “more like a gallery with black walls.” She would serve Japanese food (“unheard of in Geneva at that time,”) and do whatever it took to surprise her guests by putting on a performance. “It ’s hard to define exactly when I became an artist, but I believe it was probably at that moment,” she adds.

Left Image: Ombres Multi-Effect (No.1 – Beverly Hills), 2017. Right Sylvie Fleury Image: Moos-Tang.

Today, her three decade-strong practice remains motivated by her own impulses and desires. “I am spontaneous and though I don’t change my mind often, I like to change my process in order to keep moving forwards,” she says. Right now, she is particularly curious about the way in which we create and exchange images on social media platforms such as Instagram. “I often wonder where we are going with it all,” she says. “People are so aware of having to create an image or selfie that stands out, that’s more cutting edge, so it makes an impact.”

She also discusses the fact that while actors, models, and musicians used to set make-up trends, today, with the advent of social media, virtually anyone can become a beauty influencer. “I feel fairly optimistic about that,” she says. “I suppose anything that exposes new subcultures and celebrates a unique point of view can be good. But I’m sure the cosmetics industry are already onto it.”

As the conversation draws to a close, Fleury pauses when asked if she’d like to add anything else. “Yes,” the artist announces. “That I am conscious of everything around me. I’m a big observer and I get a kick out of the things that I look at because they make me think.”

Meet 4 Female South Korean DJs Championing Inclusivity in Seoul’s Techno Scene

At every corner is a fluorescent neon light — a night in Seoul is never dim. If you’re in need of some youthful energy, grab some Myeongdong street snacks in Hongdae, the go-to district for students. For a more eclectic taste of music, Itaewon is for you. If you have stacks of cash to throw at bottle service, head over to Gangnam, the Beverly Hills of Seoul. Whatever your vice, you’re spoilt for choice in South Korea’s capital city.

Before club culture took off in Seoul, young Koreans frequented “booking” clubs, a venue for dating. South Korean society still maintains strong links with its conservative past; social hierarchy matters, and there’s a certain formality to meeting members of the opposite sex. At a booking club, this stiff formality is breached. Men go in with their male friends, and the ladies do the same with their girls. They each sit at their own designated table. The waiter, acting as a middleman and matchmaker, would pair women to men and invite them to sit together (sometimes forcibly). The introduction was forced, but both parties are free to leave — or stay, drink and talk — as they please. To some extent, a night out was about hooking up.

With the birth of mega-clubs that started in Gangnam, this changed. The nightclubs people once only saw on their television sets were suddenly accessible. The incredibly powerful influence of celebrities in South Korea also helped the club scene to take off. There’s a word in Korean (Sasaeng) for obsessive fans that go the extra stalker mile. Fans would flock to the clubs where their favourite celebrities had been spotted — and thus, the popularity of clubs rocketed.

Underground club culture can be traced back to Western foreigners who came to Seoul to teach English. In the late ‘90s and ‘00s, many of these teachers would dabble in DJing and promotion as a side hustle. Many musical South Koreans also travelled abroad, picking up new sounds along the way and spreading them back home.

Worldwide, it’s common to see a woman or two on club and festival line-ups, but if you were to list the number of male and female musicians side-by-side, the numbers wouldn’t tally. In Seoul, on the occasion that you do find a female DJ playing at one of the larger commercial venues, her music is often supplementary rather than the main agenda. Often, South Korean female DJs are considered to be entertainers more than serious musicians. Seoul’s female DJs are often questioned about competence, or find that emphasis is placed on their looks rather than their skill. You wouldn’t ask a male DJ if they know how to mix, so why would you question a perfectly capable woman?

Women that are in the game for the music want to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts for DJing or producing. Despite the weighted playing field, a handful of female DJs are defying expectations by staying true to themselves and producing great work. Whether it’s through carving a niche in the industry or being a fundamental role in the history of Seoul’s club scene, here are four female DJs who are paving the way for greater equality.

SUNA JUNG

Suna Jung. Image: Rose Ng.

You find yourself in a quiet lane, away from the crowds. There is no indication that you’ve arrived at your destination, but improbably, you have. A spiralling staircase leads you down to the four concrete walls of Club Vurt, an underground techno club. “The interior in other clubs are too fancy. There are too many things. It’s distracting and people don’t focus,” says Suna, clad in a head-to-toe black ensemble. She doesn’t just discuss this ethos, she lives it — her club operates completely on an analogue lighting system.

Her entrance into club culture is like most, as a clubber. She was friends with DJs, who then helped her when she wanted to get into the industry. When asked if she has ever been treated differently for being a woman, she shrugs and mentions that she’s never thought about it before. After a pause, she adds “maybe”, and concludes: “Eventually, it’s your talent that makes you keep it up, just like any other DJ.” But, having an understanding of the experiences of a woman, her dance floor is sacred. “I don’t want a broken-up dance floor like other clubs where it’s just a place to meet girls.”

Previously, Suna was a resident and guest DJ in various clubs around Seoul, but grew tired of the distorted, money-driven club culture. “For an artist to develop, they need a sincere environment to play their own music, and to communicate with the audience who listens to their music.” I was this sentiment which led Suna, along with her husband DJILOGUE, to open Vurt in 2014.

At that time, there were only five or so female DJs who were garnering recognition for playing techno. Following in Suna’s example and with her encouragement, more female techno DJs began to come up. “The underground culture in Seoul is only just beginning. Some might disagree with me, but this is what I think.” There is no doubt, however, that Club Vurt is laying the foundations for Seoul’s techno scene.

DJ SIN

DJ Sin. Image: Rose Ng.

Along with Suna, DJ Sin was part of the second-wave of female DJs in Seoul. “The first generation were only a handful of women, perhaps four or five. They got married and stopped DJing,” Sin shared. In her previous line of work as a fashion designer, Sin would find herself at a club most weekends. “It was just about dancing and drinking. One day, there was a DJ playing a set. As I listened to the music, I started to cry because I was so happy. And I thought to myself, WOW! AMAZING! DJs ARE AMAZING!” Armed with a mixer and CDs, Sin set about channeling her enthusiasm into a fledgeling career as a bedroom DJ.  

Sin, Suna, and Mario (another DJ, who has since left) formed Triple House, the first ever all-female DJ crew in Seoul. “All our parties were designed by us. We did party concepts and decorations. We did it every month, by ourselves, for three years,” Sinn proudly reminisces. All eyes were on them. As Sinn explains: “It was easy to show people the difference between actual female DJs and the rest. The generation after us became known more for looks. Visually-appealing ladies. The DJs that really focused on music took a step back.”

However, the present generation of female DJs and musicians (known as the fourth wave)  are presenting a more alternative sound. Through the internet, these young musicians are sharing their talents with an audience that surpasses geographical boundaries.

HARDCORE GIRL

Hardcore Girl Image: Rose Ng.

17-year-old Jiwoo decided she wanted to join the ranks of South Korea’s young female DJs when she saw a particular DJ working the deck. This DJ was an uncommon sight — a high school girl. “I looked at her and thought, I could do that.” Representation matters, and now, three years later, Jiwoo has the same effect on other girls. She’s plays regularly at Henz club, a budding music venue, as well as Seoul Community Radio, one of Asia’s leading internet radio stations that provides an alternative to commercial music. Hailing from Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, she moved to Seoul to truly pursue her musical aspirations.

Working under the unforgettable name, Hardcore Girl, Jiwoo encapsulates the spirit of Seoul’s modern music scene. Her music is soft, girly and colourful — adjectives you might not readily associate with someone going by the name “Hardcore Girl”. However, her work is unapologetic, and reclaims the female body and sexuality.

Neighbouring country Japan serves as a point of inspiration for Hardcore Girl. Growing up, she would listen to Shibuya K, a genre of alternative rock that she was introduced to by her older brother. And, she says with no shame, she loves “AV culture”: adult video culture. Hardcore speaks of her raw innate sexualtiy, while the word girl is a reminder of who she is, and all that she can be. Girls can be anything and everything.

CIFIKA

Cifika. Image: Courtesy of Third Culture Kids.

English and Korean vocals, brought together in dark electronic soundscapes: there really is nobody quite like Cifika. You can’t slap a genre on music which is entirely self-invented and undefined. Cifika’s music is a harmonious clashing cultures.

In February 2016, she moved from California, her home for the past 11 years, back to her motherland of South Korea. She wanted to find a label. After several attempts, she met two individuals who would be her bridge into the independent music scene: Jayvito and Mood Schula. Their record label, Third Culture Kids, strives to change the scene by highlighting the underdogs deserving of recognition. The musical landscape in South Korea puts a heavy emphasis on the voice, but often fails to recognise the person behind the beat. This is arguably fuelled by the ever-present norabangs (karaoke centres) and the revered acoustic scene.

Giant entertainment companies which manufacture and regulate artists (yes, K-Pop) have almost total control over their artists, from the way they dance to the size of their nose. “Korean culture is very conservative and they don’t actually want female artists to stand by themselves and be active artists. Producers like Mood Schula, Jayvito… they’re all feminist and they respect me as they would with any other male artist.” Wanting to collaborate with other talented females, Cifika was disappointed when her label couldn’t find anyone who made similar electronic music to her in Seoul: “It’s kind of sad that I’m just surrounded by male artists. I’m the only girl in the music scene that I’m in. It’s pretty small.” As grateful as she for the support she’s received, she wants to give back to other women, as a source of encouragement and collaboration.

FROM HERE

When you see someone like you doing something you’ve only dreamed of doing, there is a sense of hope. It gives you the session that with passion and hard work, you too can succeed. These female artists are all too aware of this — they’ve all encouraged more women to follow in their footsteps, and empathise with their sisters’ struggles. But the public has to embrace Korean female DJs too. If it’s good music, it should be taken seriously, regardless of who’s making it. Suna sums it up perfectly: “People have to be given the chance to experience real music with no pretence. If they experience that, we develop together — as an artist and as a crowd.”

Gentle Monster: Revolutionizing the Retail Space

Flagship: ‘laundry’, Daegu, South Korea

It’s an age of anxiety for brick-and-mortar stores, as more and more shoppers direct their attention online in favour of expedience over experience. The question of how to increase attraction and traffic toward flagships is an open one. However, Cult Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster have recognised this phenomenon as an opportunity for creativity and innovation, rather than cause for despair. Their progressive, hyper-modern eyewear designs are mirrored and amplified in their approach to the retail space. With the opening of each new flagship store, Gentle Monster create in-store installations which transcend all preconceived expectations of the brick-and-mortar experience. Visitors can immerse themselves the brand aesthetic in dramatic totality. Gentle Monster creates worlds of texture, encapsulating alternative realities which affect sensibilities beyond the visual.

Flagship: ‘the play:play-acting’, Busan, South Korea.

The only thing consistent amongst Gentle Monster’s flagship installations is a commitment to bridging the gap between the conceptual and commercial, thus shifting the politics of the retail space. It seems no topic is too big or small for Gentle Monster’s installations to explore, employing space, material, sound and movement to illuminate each of their chosen themes. Their Singapore flagship, for example, is an interpretation of Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, confronting men’s “desire to break free from the inescapable wheel of life”. Another flagship in Hongdae, Seoul, is a rumination on the wonders of the sense of smell via artworks reminiscent of Juan Miró’s mobiles. It features a series of works, rooms and objects which are studies of various scents, “in search for the perfect natural aroma”. The Chengdu, China, flagship tackles the creation of a post-apocalyptic world, while the flagship in Sinsa, Seoul illustrates the laws of entropy. Despite a loftiness of intention and impeccable curation, there’s a playfulness to Gentle Monster’s installations which makes the artworks digestible. The Daegu, South Korea flagship, disguised as a laundromat, is only half of what they call their [secret neighbors] campaign, promoted only through vague pieces of video art which contain clues about the flagship location. The variety of installation themes and concepts allows Gentle Monster to acknowledge a diverse range of artistic inspiration. It pays homage to the greats who paved the way for contemporary installation— notably Vladimir Tatlin, James Turrel, Donald Judd, and Yves Klein— by reinterpreting their immense contributions through a distinctly Korean lens.

Flagship: ‘the scent’, Hongdae, Seoul, South Korea

Gentle Monster’s recently opened Los Angeles flagship, ‘harvest‘, is the brand’s second US venture. The 5000 sq ft store feels like a mirage amidst the pandemonium of downtown LA. The installation series, which includes 2600 twig-like rods, mother-of-peal paddies, and shimmying, anthropomorphic haystacks, “lead[s] visitors through the stages of harvest”. Eastern design principles and philosophy combine to create a haven of natural balance in a city of endless highways and concrete.

Flagship: ‘harvest’, Los Angeles, California

Gentle Monster continue to push the boundaries of the brick-and-mortal retail space, providing shoppers with thought-provoking, sensory experiences. As of September this year, LVMH invested a rumored 53 million in the company, which is fortunate news for those of us eager to enjoy Gentle Monster’s unbridled creativity in the coming years.

Flagship: ‘harvest’, Los Angeles, California

Gentle Monster continue to push the boundaries of the brick-and-mortal retail space, providing shoppers with thought-provoking, sensory experiences. As of September this year, LVMH invested a rumored 53 million in the company, which is fortunate news for those of us eager to enjoy Gentle Monster’s unbridled creativity in the coming years.

 

On Fame and Creative Relationships: An Interview with Anne Imhof

Anne Imhof. Image: Nadine Fraczkowski

German Pavilion, Venice Biennale dell’ Arte, May 2017. Performers press themselves against semi-transparent glass fronts, spray painting them black. Sombre organ music interspersed with someone whistling fills the space. Performers squat way of avoiding collision – the audience segues, trying to avoid being pushed by the tumbling performers. Props lie beneath the food. Fellow artist Eliza Douglas is there, too, reading texts on her mobile phone. Someone has started a small fire.

The performers look exhausted, bruised. Their hair is tangled, their casual attire is dirty and worn. In the audience, clad in head-to-toe black leather, watches Anne Imhof, the artist behind this Golden-Lionwinning show. Shared countless times on Instagram, “Faust” is a spectacle which has left few visitors unmoved. As Douglas remarked,“ Anne knows how to move people, remove them from their ordinary realities.” Her work captivates the audience via its repetitions and elisions.

Nevertheless, sat in a Stockholm hotel room’s armchair on a chilly late-September day, the artist seems surprised at the success of her piece, now in its fourth month. “There was a lot of tension after Faust and some people were very intrusive,” says Imhof. “We needed bodyguards to accompany us from the museum to our homes to ensure that no one was bothered. No-one expected this! All I did was plan an exhibition.” Mulling over her answers, measured sentences trail into ellipses as she elaborates. “Originally, I had a different idea of what the pavilion should look like,” she continues. “The work was conceptualised for a smaller crowd in the space. The perspective changed and the number of performers was increased to facilitate audience interaction, and so it became a different piece to a certain extent.”

Franziska Aigner and Emma Daniel in Anne Imhof, Faust, 2017, German Pavilion, 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Nadine Fraczkowski

Imhof mobilises the uncanny aesthetics of contemporary urban life at its most nihilistic. Combining millennial obsessions (shareable images, electronic devices, banal streetwear) with more provocative themes (sex, masturbation, casual violence), she elevates disparate features into a seamless presentation. Absurd, surreal elements and props such as dobermanns and fire guitars enhance the menace. As curator Susanne Pfeffer writes: “[C]ontemporary biopolitical bodies are […] a dense interior, encapsulating both life and political control – in the form of exchange and communication. A new subject appears: hormonal, medial, highly networked.” Which is to say, here, the artistic medium intersects with social interaction, creating new dialogues.

Still, Imhof was unprepared for “Faust’s” social media success. “It is impossible to plan [for], you cannot know how people respond to the work […] I did not expect anything. But for me, this is a sign of detachment rather than involvement.” To be sure, it is impossible to read her work as a simple expression of a singular meaning. In “Faust”, as with the dialogues and conversations in her earlier work, “Angst”, there is no driving narrative, only thematic sequences; what the audience experiences are not fully realised pieces, but a series of improvised encounters.

Left: Mickey Mahar, Franziska Aigner and Enad Marouf in Anne Imhof, Faust, 2017, German Pavilion, 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Nadine Fraczkowski. Right: Mickey Mahar in Anne Imhof, Faust, 2017, German Pavilion, 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Nadine Fraczkowski.

“My paintings and performances are united by the same perspectival thoughts, the same gestures, the same symbolism, the posture of the body, layering and tonality,” the artist reflects. “Performance and painting, it’s just what I do. The two remain distinct mediums though. The resulting image is the actual artwork. I came up with sketches that reflect the exact same positions [and] attitudes that can be seen in Faust. The image of the open mouth is a recurrent element in my drawings, and in the performance it may be an open mouth of someone who screams and this comes together with something that appears in the music. I find this very intriguing.” This arrangement could easily collapse into improvised theatre, yet Imhof’s practice exists outside the formal structures of her discipline.

The work itself is not an appropriation of ist constituent media, but rather a break: everything is turned into motif, nothing remains referential. As such, it is resists definitive interpretation, as well as the notion of the existence in art of a coherent system of signs capable of ever rendering one.

Eliza Douglas Anne Imhof. Installation view, Galerie Buchholz New York, 2017. Courtesy of Eliza Douglas, Anne Imhof and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York.

The contemporaneity of “Faust” is also derived from its reformatting of the relationship between images and media. Hito Steyerl has argued that “the thing called normal life has already become deeply imaged”, i.e. copied or reproduced. Consequently, she contends, the artist’s task now lies in different forms of circulation, leading to a “reconsideration between image life, what we used to call reresentation”. With these considerations in mind, Imhof’s work poses certain considerations. How can storytelling be interwoven with digital media? And how does a work’s life on social media interact with its performance? Although “Faust” entertains these questions, it refuses to give straightforward answers.

Notwithstanding this avowed open-endedness, the artist’s show in Venice functions in tandem with its setting. “The glass creates a separation between the performers, with the roof, the door and the anterior chambers,” says Imhof. This transparent level transforms the German pavilion into a multi-layered stage, where performers crawl underneath the audience through traces of previous show littered around them. Historically, artists have frequently addressed the architecture of this Nazi-era structure, and Imhof is no exception, giving it a double glass floor and sealing off its side rooms. Performers patrol the roof and upper stories. “[This] enables me to unite two forms of architectural dominance,” she explains. “Where money and power are evident, in the architecture of banks, for instance, glass is the dominant material. It was important to me that the bodies of the visitors would be elevated vis-.- vis the building. I wanted to make the monumental, sculptural room disappear and turn it into something flatter.”

Billy Bultheel and Ian Edmonds in Anne Imhof, Faust, 2017, German Pavilion, 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Image: Nadine Fraczkowski.

Other aspects of “Faust” are equally immersive. Spray paint and water obscure and separate performers, and the music (organ recitals, chanting, electronic beats and a vocal by Eliza Douglas) heightens this surreal atmosphere. “We worked in close collaboration on the music,” reveals Imhof. “I wrote the songs together with Franziska Aigner, Billy Bultheel and Eliza Douglas.”

Prior to Douglas joining the troupe in early 2016 (she hung out backstage at an early performance at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof, with the stated objective of wanting to go home with the artist), neither the singing nor the clothing were accorded central roles. In fact, the wardrobes were intended, in part, to counteract the performers’ inexpressiveness. Imhof has spoken of her interest in the designs of Vetements’ founder Demna Gvasalia, and there are sequences in “Faust” resembling catwalk struts. Indeed, the performers are frequently decked out in casual attire and sports brands (Adidas, Nike, Reebok, jeans and plain t-shirts), leading to comparisons with the Berlin techno club Berghain. “The performers partly wear their own clothes ,” Imhof notes. “We also have costumes, which I make in collaboration with Eliza Douglas. I am interested in fashion but I would not consider it to be an essential element of my work.”

Eliza Douglas Anne Imhof. Installation view, Galerie Buchholz New York, 2017. Courtesy of Eliza Douglas, Anne Imhof and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York.

Despite its studied art-world internationality, “Faust” strikes a Teutonic note. From the Goethe-derived title to its multi-disciplinary operatic structure, Imhof summons her artistic predecessors – Wagner in particular, whose notion of gesamtkunstwerk (the ‘total artwork’) seems relevant. Imhof disagrees. “I am not sure whether this term gesamtkunstwerk applies,” says the artist. “I do not define myself along those lines and I do not see any points of contact there, not with Beuys, not with Wagner.”

Goethe’s brooding genius looms large over German culture. Hegel considered him to be the German language’s first and last great playwright, and Imhof’s rendition of his famous work is conscious of this. Her glass perches form an allusion to it, and the endless possible mutations of the performance appear to enact Faust’s restless search for knowledge. Indeed, just as Goethe’s scholar-protagonist strikes his infamous bargain, trading his soul for transcendent wisdom – and in doing so, trading something that doesn’t exist for something that cannot exist – Imhof’s images exist as promissory notes, eliding fixation.

Fragile Time: Talking About Death with Christian Boltanski

CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI, Portrait at Espace Louis Vuitton Munchen, 2017

Christian Boltanski spends a lot of his time thinking about death, otherwise conceived in his oeuvre as the period between departure and arrival. His recent addition to his “Animitas” series is a good example. Shown at the Espace Louis Vuitton gallery in Munich, it features two videos from the artist’s trip to Chile’s Atacama desert, where he installed 800 Japanese bells on wire stalks, each bearing a Haiku – an exercise he repeated in Canada, Japan and Israel. These works are, however, not designed to be experienced. All that remains of them is a 20 minute video loop installed within a patch of dried vegetation (an allusion to Chile) and scrunched up sheets of A4 paper (a reference Canada’s snowy plains). With the words “Arrivée” and “Depart” visible above in marquee lights, the effect is somewhat akin to Francophone existentialist theatre. Indeed, the title of the series is a Chilean term referring to small shrines at the roadsides used to commemorate the dead. Ahead of the opening of this exhibition, the artist spoke to SLEEK about his idea of art as a musical score, and why he would rather be remembered as a legend than for his artwork.

ARRIVÉE, 2016, Exhibition View / Espace, Louis Vuitton Munchen.

Why have you chosen to combine the new pieces in your “Animitas” with text?

All life is “depart et arrive”, and the “Animitas” videos are what comes after [them].

How did you chose the locations for these works?

I always wanted to use places nobody could find, the idea being the artwork itself will disappear after a while, from the wind, or the snow. I just finished the last one at the Dead Sea, which is also going to be destroyed very quickly. However, in [the iteration in] Japan, on the isle of Teshima, it was different. People can buy a bell for a low price and inscribe [on it] the name of someone. It becomes a memorial.

Are you attempting to posit a universal concept of dying through this, a contemporary Vanitas?

It’s a universal thing to die. For me, what is important is who makes the piece. The meaning is different for [everyone]. [But yes], I am working with the concept of Vanitas, such as in “The Reserve of the Dead Swiss” [Ed: the sculptor’s installation of obituary photos from the regional Swiss newspaper Le Nouvelliste du Valais]. The Swiss have no reason to die. They are rich. Everything is vanitas, why I’m here, when I’m going to speak. That is vanitas. If you ask me what country I come from I say “art”, and I think that most people are thinking about the same thing [but] they don’t speak the same language. [W]hat they are looking for is what is the same in each country. They are looking for a god and they are looking for understanding.

How did you arrive at this position? It is starkly contrasted with the general attitude of contemporary art, which often seems defined with specific cultural identities.

To have truth, we must have a dream identity. My dream identity is between the White Sea and the Black Sea. I think in the mind there is also some ancestral knowledge. Do you know the saying “In the eyes of the great grandmother”? [It means] you know something by your great grandmother, something very mixed, something not precise, but [which could be described as] some kind of identity – a mixed Identity.

ANIMITAS (BLANC) Île d’Orléans, Canada, 2017, exhibition view / Espace Louis Vuitton Munchen.

You have said that your work is like a musical score. How?

Two years ago I sold a very large piece to a Belgian Museum, and I gave them nothing, but the right to play the piece again one day. So it’s like a score.

You are said to have a complicated relationship with museums. Are your works meant to be public?

In Berlin, I didn’t want to make permanent monuments, it happened only by chance. [Ed: In 2013, he created “The Missing House” in the German capital, an outdoor installation concerning a dwelling destroyed in 1943.] For “Animitas” I built a little building with a Chilean architect just outside in Paris, showing a projection of the work. The modern life is so active you need to sit sometime, to look, to think. Ideally, I’d like the works not to be in a gallery or museum, but in the square, in the garden, to have some kind of little pavilion, you sit and you look. It’s public. For example, in Teshima most of the people who go there don’t know me and they don’t know [my] work. I try to create places that are more like a place of leisure.

Why have you chosen to install your latest exhibition in Espace?

It’s like the idea of a little chapel. It’s not only a video, it’s ambiance. It’s difficult to do that here, but [I’ve tried] to make some kind of home that somebody can stand [in], sit [on]. Everyone can look at “Animitas” and think something. It’s not a question [of whether] it’s a beautiful piece of art or not, but we can think something. That’s what I tried to do in my last piece, in Patagonia, where I installed large trumpets that make sounds like whale songs. I turned the work in to a ten hour film. No one will find the trumpets, they’re installed on a 100,000 acre farm.

And why do you choose such remote locations?

What I want is to create a legend. I hope in a few years, when I shall be dead, somebody will not remember my name, but will say, “He was crazy man that tried to speak with the whales”. I think the legend is stronger than the art work.

DEPART, 2016, Exhibition View / Espace Louis Vuitton Munchen. 

Are Interior Design Trends Dying?

Ada Dressing Table. Image: MADE.COM

Even for those who aren’t so familiar with design and architecture, most can name a few major eras of style. From Gothic to Modernism, design has mostly followed a succession of defining movements shaping the way we build and use spaces. But what do we call the eclectic mix of influences we are swimming in today? While schools like the Bauhaus still have considerable influence, the design landscape seems to be awaiting its next revolution with baited breath. Although aesthetics such as postmodernism once tried to push things in a new direction, it’ll take another step to truly break away from the shadow of modernism.

To dig a little deeper into current design trends — and determine whether they still exist at all — we’ve talked to some of the brightest minds in architecture and interior design. Our investigation led us to London, where we attended the MADE Talent Lab launch to talk trends with Ruth Wassermann, head of design for MADE.COM. The Design Junction fair in London further allowed us to meet with Jan Hendzel from the Jan Hendzel Studio, which specialises in sustainable woodworking, and Chrissa Amuah, director of the exhibition platform, Africa by Design, which showcases the best of Africa’s design talent and creates commercial opportunities for its featured designers. Finally, back in Berlin, we listened to the eighth edition of bathroom and kitchen designer Dornbracht’s “Conversations,” with editor-in-chief of design magazine Dezeen, Marcus Fairs, Chinese architect duo Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu from Neri & Hu, and American architect Rafael de Cárdenas from Architecture at Large.

So what is the next big trend going to be? Both architects and marketers are eagerly hoping to identify where we’re heading — and what we’re selling. Undoubtedly the greatest change in the world of design in recent decades is the rise of the internet, and particularly social media. The latter might already have been absorbed by the youngest generations as the default way to communicate, but has forced established architects and designers born without an Instagram account to take a sharp turn in their approach to trends. While these used to be defined by a relatively select group of tastemakers and experts, social media has enabled a democratisation of tastes. Trends can be initiated anywhere and die as quickly as they are born, leading to an endless, constantly renewed array of choices at our disposal.

Africa By Design featured designer Studio Badge. Image: Courtesy of Chrissa Amuah

As Wassermann puts it, social media “has enabled a constant refreshing feed of micro trends that respond quite specifically to what people want right now at any time of the year, and not just twice a year a few months in advance.” In fact, people don’t want singular trends — for Wassermann, “a well curated eclectic mix reflects far more accurately how people’s homes actually are, as we rarely create our interiors in one go.” That means our style and taste are much more malleable. There’s no need to rethink your entire home when the annual furniture catalogue hits your doormat. Instead, we simply add objects, which become absorbed into an ever-changing palette. Scandinavian cosiness is in? Add a fuzzy pillow! You self-identify as a millennial? Paint that wall a soft shade of pink! Today, interior design is a matter of progression and endless combinations.

The constant addition of elements to our interiors and closets might appear to be overwhelming at first, but for de Cárdenas, it doesn’t mean trends are over. “There just more voices and subsets, so more possibilities.” Add to that our ongoing obsession with customization, allowing us to tweak anything to our liking, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like there’s currently a need for a new drastic movement to lead the way. Customers can not only express what they want, but also get it made. Micro trends are akin to a payment system in rates, where dream homes are financed in many small purchases instead of one big investment. It’s perfect for brands, too, since ultimately we’re spending more than we would be if every item in our home was meant to last forever.

Hendzel Furniture. Image: Courtesy of Jan Hendzel.

But for all the comfort that comes with the ability to choose and shape our tastes as we go, the dilution of trends raises two significant issues: expertise and sustainability. As we drown ourselves in scented candles, marble-pattern phone covers and mugs printed with ironic messages, we obviously produce significant waste. Hendzel points out that fast furniture, just like fast fashion, is “great for making your place look fresh and cool but not so great in a couple years when things become defunct through cheap manufacturing.”

By forgoing lasting designs and more timeless style, we also encourage a cycle of production where items can be made at a smaller risk, which in turn means that less expertise is required to create. It’s the double edged sword of social media: while selling online allows makers to reach levels of exposure that would have never been imaginable in pre-internet times, the fact that anyone can initiate new styles also means that — well, that there is a lot of crap out there. As we become accustomed to cheaply produced items, handmade designs are starting to appear ridiculously unaffordable. Could it be that we’re slowly forgetting how to properly identify value? Being able to buy anything and everything considerably reduces the number of times we have to ask ourselves the fateful question: “Do I really need this?”

Dornbracht Conversations 8: Are interior trends over?, Marcus Fairs in conversation with Lyndon Neri, Rossana Hu and Rafael de Cárdenas. Image: David von Becker.

“The real sustainable alternative is to invest in things that last. The more you need to buy, the more you use up the world’s products,” says Hendzel. A sentiment echoed by Amuah, who feels like “current trends have abandoned the value of craft and handmade, something which doesn’t easily comply with cyclical trends.” In a way, the hodgepodge of micro trends we’re following can divert us from quality. In the fast furniture cycle, purchases are based more on immediate desire than an investment, which hurts businesses whose products might seem more expensive but have more value in the long term.

Brands like Dornbracht focus on the sustainability of their products by opting for a “transitional” style, which blends in traditional influences with a modern approach for a design you’ll still be happy to see in your home in 10 years. Plenty of current designs rely on a mix of influences, reinterpreting familiar patterns that used to shape our tastes so distinctively. Combining styles is an efficient way to make products more timeless and thus more sustainable, yet it might not feel new enough for some. For a true revolution in design to happen, we not only have to adjust our attitude to consumption to the reality of a world limited in resources, we might simply need more time to fully appreciate the impact of social media on our culture. As Neri puts it, “we are so connected with social media that we need time to digest.” If there is a Next Big Movement on the horizon, it’ll hopefully focus both on how we can expand the possibilities of design through technology, and on what we should do before we’re all out of materials.

 

Anti-Christmas Gift Guide: What (Not) To Buy For the Art Bitch In Your Life

Let’s be honest, you’re probably too poor and selfish to buy any of your friends Christmas gifts. But should you (God forbid) find yourself in some hellish Secret Santa situation or struck with a sudden burst of generosity, never fear. Whether they’re a painter, writer, photographer or the kind of excruciating wank who refers to themselves as a “creative”, our Anti-Christmas Gift Guide has something for everyone (as long as “everyone” has vague artistic pretensions, and is also vaguely awful).

Detoxifying Candles

Detoxifying Massage Oil Candle. Image:  notonthehighstreet.com.

Are your friends full of vague toxins? Do they need to get them out of their body by means which lack any coherent scientific explanation? Do they love to talk about toxins but don’t know what they actually are? Good news: the people who made these candles don’t know either! Now you too can remove toxins from your body by putting extra things into it that your kidneys and liver have to deal with. Share the experience and joy of flushing those toxins with your friend and feel the beneficial health* effects together.

*Placebo

Whisky Made From Diabetic’s Urine

Gilpin Family Whiskey. Image: courtesy of James Gilpin.

Speaking of flushing, what better gift to give an artist who loves to get pissed than whisky literally made from piss? This one-of-a-kind whisky is made by designer James Gilpin from the excess sugar in the urine of diabetics, which he claims will start conversations about diabetes. It’s definitely going to start some conversations with your friends alright, most of them involving the phrase “You just fed me what?”

Crystal Buttplug

Jade Buttplug. Image: JadedSecrets, Etsy

Sometimes your chakras are just all out of alignment and you need to use the vibrational powers of crystals to set them straight. Sometimes those chakras are in your friend’s butt. This is the perfect gift for that special someone in your life that needs an intimate kind of resonance.

A €360 Leather Trashbag

Bin bag 30 l. Image: biis.es.

For that high-class trashy friend in your life comes this high-class trash bag. Retailing at three hundred and sixty euros. This bag is made of hardwearing yet supple napa leather from Spain, so your trash can sit in comfort and safety. If you’re looking for something to throw in the bag, why not toss in a few solid gold thumbtacks and paperclips from the same designer?

An Inspirational Poster of Some Trite Ass Shit

“Art is what you can get away with” and “Creativity Set Black” by Vintage Vector Studio. Image: allposters.co.uk.

Every creative finds themselves at some point beset by depression, loss of motivation and other psychic turmoils. If anally realigning their chakras or burning detoxifying oils doesn’t cure their ills, try an inspirational poster of some real trite shit. How about one of a million different variations on a failed World War 2 propaganda poster? Maybe a contextless quote by a famous artistic figure? If all else fails, you can always fall back on the classics, like telling someone to “Live, Laugh, Love” or perhaps “Dance like no one’s watching”.

More Fucking Sketchbooks

Sometimes your artistic friend just isn’t feeling crushed enough by their lack of productivity, surrounded as they are by dozens of unfilled sketchbooks and half-finished projects. In that case, why not add to the weight of the millstone around their neck by buying them even more empty sketchbooks that will sit around their studio space, mocking them? For that really special someone, try buying a beautiful, handmade sketchbook with lovely, high quality paper, so that they can really feel the anxiety every time they mess up a drawing in it.

The reMarkable Paper Tablet

ReMarkable Table. Image: https://remarkable.com/ 

If buying more sketchbooks for someone suffering under a mountain of incomplete ones isn’t cruelly ironic enough for you, try buying them a reMarkable Paper Tablet. This genius new invention combines the worst aspects of the digital and physical. It provides you with all the freedom of a lightweight sketchbook and graphite pencil (no, you can’t have colour) except that it costs 600 euros, can run out of batteries and was probably assembled by slaves in a Chinese factory out of blood minerals.

Just a phial of your blood

Image: Tom Mallinson, via Wikimedia Commons.

Honestly this is probably the most practical gift you can give those creative people in your life. Whether it’s inspiration for a poem, art materials or evidence in a restraining order, true creatives can find hundreds of uses for a phial of your blood.

So there you have it. Eight horrendous stocking-fillers for the best and worst people in your life. And if you decide to go off-piste just remember: nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a passive aggressive art gift!

10 Artists and the Jobs They Will Thrive at After They Fail as Artists

In every interview, there is a moment when the artist is asked, “What would you do if you weren’t an artist?” The artist inevitably answers, [extremely artist voice]: “It’s all I know how to do.” Here, we hypothetically fire them, and send them out in the world to sow their oats to use the skills they learned in their respective studios.

1. Jordan Wolfson

Lands a job heading up efforts to revitalise the Hall of Presidents at the Epcot Center. First order of business: making robot Lincoln dance suggestively and having robot Gerald Ford beat the crap out of robot George W. Bush for no reason.

2. Amalia Ulman

Joins the Royal Pigeon Racing Association as a fancier, trains a winning pigeon and becomes the first Argentina-born trainer enshrined in the American Pigeon Museum. Her acceptance speech consists of just one word: “Coo.”

3. Jack Pierson

Hires himself out to kidnappers to write their ransom notes.

4. Lucien Smith

Turns to firefighting with great success, but disappears after putting out over 6,300 fires in his first two years on the job. He comes out of nowhere to put out a blazing condo building in Red Hook, drawing the ire of other firefighters, who all wish they could have so easily saved the lives of the rich.

5. Hito Steyerl

Accepts a contract from the German government to be a counter-cyberterrorism agent, becomes disillusioned and shifts careers into choreographing dance moves for EDM music videos.

6. Sophie Calle

Uses her past experience to get jobs as an exotic dancer, a private investigator and a psychic. Later, she combines her skills to predict who will be visiting the strip clubs she works in and how much they have in their bank accounts. Using these funds, she opens a monochromatic- food restaurant chain called Leviathan.

7. Martine Syms

Becomes head writer for a sitcom TV show about anaesthesiologists on Netflix that runs for 12 seasons. She continues to be a graphic designer on the side.

8. Raymond Pettibon

Gets drafted by the New York Mets to play in the outfield with Tim Tebow. He doesn’t show up to spring training. His older brother, Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, finds him smoking a deadly concoction of banana peels and nutmeg on their reunion tour bus.

9. Awol Erizku

Starts a fancy pregnancy photography business, which becomes such a hit that Awol Erizku’s Beyoncé-Approved Pregnancy Photography™ kiosks are installed in every Walmart the world over.

10. Anicka Yi

Anicka Yi is employed by a shadowy pharma-giant to develop a scent for their laundry detergent that will make people fall in love. It’s a success, but there are horrible side effects when a man in Florida falls in love with a goat that has eaten a part of a recently washed shirt.

How to Do Art Basel Miami Beach Like a Basic Bitch

Image: Harold Ancart, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Clearing, Art Basel, 2016. Courtesy of Art Basel.

After an exhausting succession of events each more elephantine than the last, the art year is finally coming to an end. Yet, like every December, the art world jetsetters have one last stop to make before heading off for a week of festive lounging in Gstaad, St. Barth or some other destination for people whose names appear in the Panama Papers. That final stop is, of course, Art Basel Miami Beach, now in its 16th edition and opening to VIPs on December 6th.

Alas, chances are that you’re not one of these international jetsetters. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not attending ABMB; it just means that you’ll be travelling back to your depressing hometown in an uncomfortable coach seat, and not to a private island off the Belizean coast on your own private jet. Doing Art Basel on a budget might also entail staying in an AirBnB that smells of mold, spending three hours a day commuting to the fair in an Uber Pool, and following the Anne Imhof performer diet (a.k.a. not eating).

However, it is this author’s conviction that in order to fully absorb ABMB, it’s important to indulge in some of the “have’s” most delightfully preposterous attitudes. You’ve got to do ABMB, don’t let ABMB do you! Here are some examples of how to do Art Basel Miami Beach like a basic rich bitch.

Image: Rolands Lakis, 2004, via Creative Commons, Flickr. 

Pretend You Know EVERYONE

A fun thing to do at the Ivana Trump of art fairs is pretend you’re an intimate friend to the most influential people of the art world. This feat best undertaken by exclaiming their first name, and following up with a fake-yet-credible anecdote. Example: “Oh Sadie [Coles]?! Why yes, of course I know her darling! She treated me to tea and crumpets at the Dorchester only a month ago, we talked about Confucianism and Urs Fischer’s marvellous new chalet in Verbier. Truly a gem, I’m planning to go there myself in a couple of weeks!” Obviously such a claim is a risky one, but will pay off if your interlocutors don’t know Sadie Coles or Urs Fischer personally. If they do, run away and come again the next day wearing a wig and oversized sunglasses. You’ll blend in just fine.

Pretend to Be an Art Advisor

Art advisor is a tough profession: competition is stiff, and solid connections are essential. But being (or pretending to be) an art advisor has one crucial advantage: aside from gallerists, advisorship is the only art-fair-preview-compatible line of work, as it doesn’t come with the stench of real labour. You might be neither competitive nor well-connected, but tricking people into thinking you are is highly entertaining.

It’s quick and easy: arrogantly ask someone at a booth to confirm a work’s price (which you should know already), then call a friend and talk to her as if she were a Russian oligarch’s wife: “Ludmilla, darling, come on. You know you want this. How marvellous would a Tony Cragg look in your new datcha’s foyer? A bargain, I’m telling you. Yes, cheaper than your son’s kindergarten tuition basically. OK. Call me back.”

Fork Out for the Overpriced Champagne, and Loudly Complain About How Bad It Is

In the ultimate move to prove to everyone that you’ve Made It, purchase a glass of champagne at the fair for the low price of just 30 bucks. You may very well get a call from the fraud detection branch of the credit card company, but trust us, it’ll be worth it. Ideally paired with cocaine, champagne is the art world equivalent of Gatorade. Now, don’t be precious about it: you should be gulping those bubbles down as if they were an off-brand energy drink on the second day of a rave, not a refined liquor from Northeastern France. If you have the guts and very little decency, feel free to loudly complain about the quality of your drink (but don’t mention the price tag). Something along the lines of “Ugh, how deep can [INSERT BRAND OF PERFECTLY DRINKABLE CHAMPAGNE] fall? This tastes like something my housekeeper would enjoy. Guess I’ll have to start an Avaaz petition if I ever want to drink something acceptable here again!” should do the trick.

Only Pay Attention the Most Expensive Works of Art

In essence, the stock market and the art market are subject to similar fluctuations. Some artists have reached the same status as Amazon shares: their price is already way too high, and just keeps climbing. Many of the artworks in this lofty category are as boring as they are costly; apparently, there’s always someone in dire need of a concave Anish Kapoor mirror. Perhaps the summit of basicdom is to “admit” you simply don’t want to put your capital at risk, and hence give priority to straight-up crowd-pleasers. While starting that Avaaz petition on your phone at the Champagne bar, feel free to tell a stranger: “You know, I don’t mind admitting it. I want art to make me feel good. I don’t need some sad painting by some up-and-comer hanging over my couch. I choose my art the same way I chose my golf slacks: I like tasteful colors, versatility, and something I won’t feel ashamed of in front of my Republican in-laws”.

Image: Courtesy of The W South Beach

“Stay” at the W Miami Beach

For truly credible yet truly basic art world influencers, the only acceptable place to stay during Art Basel is the W. A mansion in Palm Beach is too far away, and a yacht is only acceptable as a place to stay in dangerous third-world locations. Obviously your chances to get a room at the W are as low as the probability of getting into Berghain while talking Italian to the bouncer. However, what you can do is sit discreetly in the lobby and answer fake e-mails from an iPad. If anybody asks, explain your absence at the breakfast table or the poolside with lies nobody will dare contradict: “Darling you know me (the person probably doesn’t, but still). My shaman says UV rays and chlorine will play havoc with my aura. And if I don’t have to attend one of the Rubell’s boring brunches, I’d rather skip breakfast for a quick power meditation session while gazing at the ocean, don’t you agree?”