Interview for Nasty Magazine.
THE HEIGHTS OF ART AND THE ABYSSES OF FASHION – IN CONVERSATION WITH AOI KOTSUHIROI
We all know that foremost, fashion affects the attitude of most people towards both themselves and others. But going further in the analysis of what fashion stands for, sociologists like Roland Barthes or Georg Simmel, relate it to many other areas of interest: from clothing, the body, consumption, identity or to art; considering it a broad phenomenon that from late medieval periods onwards applies to most of the social arenas in which clothing is merely one instance among many. Therefore, trying to question and understand fashion would mean getting closer to a more exhaustive and holistic perspective of the contemporary society.
How do you relate to fashion from both personal level and that as an artist?
[A.K.] The “fashion” contexts and phenomenons are multiple. Attitudes, behaviors, rejections, acceptances, interrelationships, the mass operating system, all this is a huge machinery that continues to pour a constant flow of dependencies of which we are both forced but also subjects and objects, of course. The relationship to self and indirectly to the other obviously implies this “skin” garment which is a “landscape” that we build, it is a kind of matrix where we develop our roots of existence which will find what they need both to stabilize us and allow us to pursue a kind of inner path. For me, this “garment” envelope has nothing to do with the superficial characteristics and with the overdose consumption that fashion can be. I am attached to the “garment” as a memory, a structural and emotional way to capture fragments of life that are some kinds of existences written within the genetic code. The reflection that I put on the material doesn’t stop at the appearance or at its technical condition of doing this or that. In my case, I take into account a kind of whole and if I look at the different woods I work with, I integrate in my process this condition of the seed, of the beginning, the growth, the environment, of the rain and the seasons, the injuries that the tree has experienced, its blossoms, its death and decay. I want a kind of essence to breathe the instinct of the possible.
The eighteenth-century separation of arts from crafts placed tailoring into the latter domain, yet it was with the introduction of Haute Couture around the 1860, that fashion started desiring to be recognized as art. Charles Frederick Worth initiated the emancipation from craftsman to fashion designer, being the first one to use living models in his presentations and also a pioneer in terms of signing his creations with a label, as artists did. Today the opinions vary, some designers considers themselves artisans some artists, how do you position yourself?
[A.K.] All these questions and labels are very far from me, the way I work has strictly nothing to do with a designer, their processes, their reasons, their relationships. The methods within which their environment is constructed are the extreme opposite of what I am. I look at the visible of what stands in front of me. It is about a physicality of things and a truth, about an emotion that moves me and not about a gadget that has been calculated in its profitability and production costs to satisfy whatever. Louise Bourgeois said: “I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands”. This profound relationship with the gesture is of interest for me, this dance between matter and feelings, a body that seeks a place to grow.
Fashion designers did not really manage to gain total recognition as artists, but they continue striving to do so to these days. Let’s take the emergence of ‘conceptual clothing’ in of the 1980s, for example. Roland Barthes compares those designers’ approach of turning traditions inside-out to the trend in modern art of accentuating the materiality of the work (by marking the pencil strokes clearly in the paintings, for example). Moreover, he considered that the essential reason for fashion not having attained the same recognition as other forms of art is the lack of serious criticism in this field, compared to the one existing in music, literature or cinema.
The press is crucial for ‘creating the creators’, said Bourdieu; as it is in the duty of the journalist to make the reader believe in what they write about. Would you agree with that? What are the reasons for fashion not receiving the same recognition as other forms of art from your perspective?
[A.K.] It is very difficult to generalize on the press, which, how, who, what ‘creator’, the conditions, environments, challenges, lies, appearances… A serious critique about fashion? What should we see, what should we hear and feel, the question of the emotion, the relationships, each case is a specific case. A painting by Cy Twombly has nothing to do with a fashion show, simply because it is not the same story, period. There are so many differences, so many things that divide them that it is impossible to have the same look or a critique that could raise a fashion show to Cy Twombly’s poetry .
Fashion remains a story of appearance without content or meaning, it focuses on superficial reasons and remains on the surface, it uses words such as “conceptual” to seek for justifications and positions, but this remains marketing issues like a label for a new product to attract consumers.
When the Russian Constructivists strived to develop their “garments”, they did so in a context both social and political, an attitude where the body acts with strong stakes. Things are thought in direct relation to their sculpture-structure, act and materials must react with similar connections, they are in a just and intimate relationship and the garment is a garment of “service” which must convey the idea and accompany the sculpture.
The 1920‘s flat-chested and straight look of women could almost be compared with the Cubist approach in art. As fashion tending towards simpler forms while leaving behind unnecessary details and ornaments, could be seen as an essentially modernist characteristic. Chanel’s approach of basing her creations for women on men’s clothing was a radical one for the time, while today it’s a commonly used technique. Which do you think it’s going to be the leading trait to characterize the designers of tomorrow? Is it something that might have its roots in some visionary practices started today that not many are aware of it yet, as it somehow happened in Chanel’s case?
[A.K.] The case and context of Coco Chanel is a European situation from after the First World War. Woman, for economic and human reasons, had to take the place of man because he has been greatly reduced due to the disaster of the war. Therefore by the addition of other factors and a favorable ground, the shift of a man-woman garment has been possible. But in an another way, for a very long time, in Japan the kimono already had this status. Both man-woman and its shape in a great simplification and rigor allowed a writing both multiple and complex of patterns, colors and other structures. Today, with a plural and common culture things took a completely different outlook and behavior. New factors have to be taken into account, other social and human conditions are developing, our lifestyles have changed and led different functions of being. These questions of expectations are delicate but nevertheless I think that the sensible and emotional vector is extremely important, today’s task remains for me the truth and the need to seize a kind of sanctuary where the body takes shape to exist in its own mythology.
Cindy Sherman was commissioned to do photography for Comme des Garçons, Nan Goldin for Helmut Lang. Julian Schnabel created interior designs for Alaïa’s boutiques, Herzog and de Meuron did Prada. Hugo Boss has established an art prize that is awarded in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum. Schiaparelli collaborated with Surrealist artists, Yves Saint-Laurent made a collection inspired by Mondrian in 1965. And the list could go on and on. Is there a collaboration that you consider as being the most successful from this point of view? If you would be in the situation to choose a living artist to collaborate with, who would that be?
[A.K.] I don’t think that we can name it “collaboration” but rather “order” . All this puts a financial value with a result and the search for a strong image to indicate in an even more visible way the existence of the brand. This is an advertising medium to get people talking about you. Usually if the Helmut Lang company uses renowned photographers for its campaigns, it is not Nan Goldin and her personal path, it remains a notch below and above all a very different way of looking at things. An artist does not collaborate, he develops his own path, uses an environment, builds relationships that allow him to structure or refuse certain things. He resists and share in the silence details and dizzinesses as destinies marked in the middle of a puddle. Successful “collaborations” are those made with ourselves, Vincent Gallo by Vincent Gallo, Charles Bukowski by Charles Bukowski.
Fashion usually tends to get inspired from artistic models that are rather safe, you seem to have a very different approach from this point of view. How do you relate to the concept of uncomfortability and that of extreme artistic practices?
[A.K.] First it would be necessary to situate these « extreme » artistic practices you’re talking about. Body Art and some performances do not really have anything new in the human culture. For a very long time many ethnicities around the world practice on their body a number of things that are unconventional for a Western gaze. Some rites of passage from adolescence to adulthood involves things which go very far, the “extreme” body is not a provocation, in accordance to cultures it is a writing, a recognition, a distinction, a hierarchy, a sign of existence, a concept of beauty and construction. I flee from lies and surfaces that no longer reflect anything. I need this reality of the depths as a preciosity of the body, this danger and this threat, this animal attachment that reveals the instinct and the truth. Comfort produces nothing, it is the boredom that covers feelings.
In the book “Art as Therapy”, Alain de Botton and John Armstrong put up an interesting idea, that the type of art which moves touching each person one of us is the one that our unconscious recognizes as containing a doze of our missing virtues, and that by coming into contact with that particular work of art we hope to correct and balance ourselves. Which are the artworks that you are looking at with admiration and which are the bits of you that are missing and you try to find in those particular pieces? Is art compensating for some of your fears?
[A.K.] In the puzzle of ourselves there are always pieces that are not in their place. I’m not trying to fill in holes or gaps or to correct imbalances. I like the absence, it allows me to travel in dreams, the holes reflect the void as an absolute, they are a circulation of connections, like a haggard memory that cannot find its place and questions itself about the impermanence. I keep this absence near to me, it is a character of feeding, a kind of sacred reflection of things. I do not seek to compensate fears by filling them with superficial values to satisfy appearances of well-being. My fears are scars of melancholy, depths that go away, storm lights, white margins, and I need them.
Some say that art is our new religion and museums are our new cathedrals. As religion is on decline it is culture to fill in the gaps? What is your opinion on that?
[A.K.] I don’t perceive any spirituality in Jeff Koons’ pieces, and if religion was on the decline there would be no wars, no conflicts between Catholics and Muslims or Jews and Palestinians, attacks would never have occurred, and the world might walk in museums and talk about beauty and admire sculptures as images and reflections where the Divine would have placed mysteries for us so that we can drink a source of freshness. But I have not seen it yet, and museums are witnesses with dirty hands reflecting the situations of a torn world. We seek islands of certainty to put our sick eyes and find a place to heal our tired emotions.
Published in Nasty Magazine, The Void Issue.
photography / Aoi Kotsuhiroi
words / Anca Macavei