„Look at me…“ English
Fashion – a banal question? Only few phenomena that are so close to our daily experience as is the clothing of the body explain better the behaviour of today’s democratic societies. Although many resist accepting it, believing it is the others who succumb to it, fashion, which is more and more widespread among all social and age groups, represents a perfect metaphor of contemporary life. J. Baudrillard sees fashion –which is based on the principle of “seduction and decreed expiry date” (1) – as a key axis for understanding the functioning of today’s society, greedy for spectacle and condemned to consumption.
The traditional histories of change of clothing explain the phenomenon of fashion as related to social prestige, means of expressing the belonging to a certain social class or the aspiration to a higher class.
Today fashion becomes more “democratic” (2) and reduces the symbols of social distinction, though subtle strategies of some brands survive. The values inherited from the parents’ generation –elegance, decorum- are now obsolete, today fashion “sells” individuality, self-realization, the escape from stereotypes, fashion “democratically” proclaims the affirmation of difference: it offers a varied array of possible codes for self-realization and the construction of one’s own identity (the inevitable massification to which one is condemned is probably just covered up by the illusion of individualism). It is interesting to reflect on today’s notion of the body, which is related to the phenomenon of fashion. Adaptable and capricious like fashion, the body today makes use of surgery, diets or new products such as Botox or silicone to model and renew itself. The body and its attributes conform to the measure of the consumer who becomes the agent of his or her own singularized identity.
The exposition presents the photographic work of Anita Frech (St. Pölten, 1973) and Jakob Lena Knebl(Vienna, 1970).The two artists work employing their own bodies plus wrapping as stages for their shows.
In Anita Frech´s stage settings clothing and architecture form a unity. The artist uses compositional means such as the curtains she places at the back part of the settings, making them interact with the clothing that, in the style of the Venetian folds “à la mode Fortuny”, marks the anatomy of the body that emerges or hides behind it. The expressive possibilities of the folds of tissue, the volume of which the artist accentuates with colour spots , may be viewed as being similar to those of pictorial compositions. In the exposition small format photographs appear in which, once more, the absence-presence of the body –fragmented, distorted or cut like being part of a collage- is presented, with unsettling beauty, as part of a show.
The portraits of the performer Jakob Lena Knebelwearing different costumes (many of them used in their performances), the different make-ups and the different poses are constructions of different “me” which, using humour and irony, are subverted and transgress traditional codes: male-female, sensual and hedonistic, but also grotesque and monstrous, making references to the artistic avant-gardes and those of variété-theatre, from Bauhaus to Mickey-Mouse…there is a large variety of “me”, ephemeral and changing, that amplify and extend an identity which is absorbed by the multiplicity of its representations.
Jakob Lena as well as Anita Frech place symbols and characteristics proper to the language of fashion in their photographs, interacting consciously with some of its codes. The two artists use their own bodies with different props and stage elements to compose each one of their images.
In this exposition I wish to disconnect the work of Jakob Lena (which up to now has always been linked to the present discourse of gender strategies) as well as Anita Frech´s photographs (the elements of which have been identified on a symbolic and abstract level as forming a particularly feminine iconography) from the gender topic and reinterpret these images connecting them to the discourse of fashion as a phenomenon of the present day age.
Using formulas that have evolved from those used in the sixties and seventies by feminist artists who employed their own body as a “direct weapon” of their demands as well as later suggestions connected to post-structuralism that recognize the gender identities shaped within society and language, the body plus packaging of the images presented in the exposition are a part of an elaborate mise en scène that is similar to what one sees in sophisticated fashion photography.
In a way identical to today´s fashion shows that are conceived more to be captured with mobile devices than for the event itself, the images shown in the exposition are constructed so as to immediately attract the viewer´s gaze. They are as attractive as they are forceful and striking, provoking an immediate emotional reaction. Pure advertising effect.
Exhibitionist individuality, constant renewal, irresistible seduction…such is the language of fashion. And does not all of this in the final analysis define what in present day society is identified with culture?
(1)- J. Baudrillard. La société de consommation, 1970
(2). G. Lipovetsky, L’empire de l’ephémère. La mode et son destin, 1987
Translated from Catalan by Heinrich Blechner
Cataloge: “Look at me…so beautiful, so fun”