Style: V&A Club to Catwalk | London Fa-fa-fashion in the 80s – why aren’t we that free?

Guest post by Caner Daywood

Bowie beating his face

Bowie beating his face

As I write this post I am proudly blaring out some vintage 80s classics from Bowie (above), George Michael and even some Spandau Ballet because I felt so inspired and transported into this era after I attended the fantastic Club To Catwalk exhibition of 80s London fashion at the V & A. I had always wanted to be a teen in the 80s as a kid (I’m an 88 baby) and seeing the fashion, hearing the music, feeling the care-free rebelliousness, boundary breaking attitudes with the nuts drag queens and fetishistic fashions I was sure I would fit in with these gender f*cked up guys.

Ironically when we think of 80s fashion I think we sometimes mistake the silly garish thoughts of cheesy 80s-themed parties with lots of neon and Madonna (eekkk) as reality for this era, but it was never intended to be tacky or cheesy back then, quite the contrary, fashion was far more evolutionary in the 80s with edgy takes on evening wear and flamboyant prints and designs that sought to test genders and turn conventional ideas upside down.

Evening wear with some edge

Evening wear with some edge

Eccentric much?

Eccentric much?

Men wore tonnes of make-up and lots of colour and people weren’t afraid to stick out – in fact that was the name of the game. Some of the fashion pioneers of the 80s rebellious movement that exploded around London were Betty Jackson with her slogan print tops and dresses, Vivienne Westwood fronting the punk movement with her whalebone structured skirts done in contemporary fabrics such as denim, and John Galliano coining his iconic mad, theatrical structured suits and crazy head pieces as featured below.

Galliano pre-antisemitic phase

Galliano pre-antisemitic phase

Icons of the 80s were obviously totally unforgettable like Bowie, Boy George and Leigh Bowery and were stars everywhere in the exhibition in video content and images, including a wonderful catwalk of the leggy bombshell blond Jerry Hall walking for Anthony Price and the androgyny queen Grace Jones.

Jerry Hall and Grace Kelly - before Rita and Cara

Jerry Hall and Grace Kelly – before Rita and Cara

The funniest thing was that after I settled down a little from my euphoria of walking around this timewarp of fashion and culture, I started realise that so much of this fashion is inspiring current trends right now. Extremes in fashion are totally re-emerging with structured power suits and oversized designs featuring heavily next season for Celine and Dior and even crop tops/ fetishistic fashions are massively en vogue which were all showcased in the exhibition.

Come on rude BOY LONDON - pre-Rihanna hype

Come on rude BOY LONDON – pre-Rihanna hype

Get strapped in

Get strapped in

Is this not like a Saint Laurent moment right now

Is this not like a Saint Laurent moment right now

I think even if I haven’t inspired you to visit this exhibition through these images and content the most inspirational element I took from the show was the state of mind that came across through everything – a state of abandon, of rebellion, of true expression and fashion freedom, which felt so lacking when I left the exhibition and had a look around me in Chelsea. BUT things aren’t this bleak and as the rise of RuPaul’s Drag Race TV Series shows fashion and true boundary-breaking expression is still around with great new gender-f*ck icons like Sharon Needles (below) paving the way for revolutionary fashion for men and women everywhere.

Sharon Needles

Sharon Needles (yes he is a boy)

Ultimately fashion back then wasn’t JUST about aesthetics and/ or even comfort (probably rarely so), it was rather the truest form of expression for people and conveyed their freedom in the 80s be that for gays, straights, trannies and everything/anyone in between, and this sense of purity and confidence to be so outspoken has become somewhat swallowed down in today’s PC society. SO what I suggest is that you *right now* go book your ticket to this show and express and enjoy the 80s fashion moment at the V & A and then take some of that freedom back home with you and apply it to your daily life….(thank me in fabulousness… and bags).

Arts & Culture: David Bowie Is

Unless you’ve been living in complete isolation for the past few months you will have invariably heard the hype surrounding the new David Bowie Is exhibition at the V&A. You may well be thinking that it couldn’t possibly live up to the media’s expectations and scoffing at your friends and family clamouring to buy tickets. Well then, you would be wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. It’s the best thing they’ve curated in years and more than justifies the frenzy surrounding it.

I pretty much leaped out of my chair when offered the chance to go and see this and walked around the exhibition with a big fat grin on my face from start to finish. It’s honestly that good.

bowie border

I know no one who dislikes David Bowie. His music seems to transcend boundaries and add an uncannily celebratory power when played. The end credit sequence of Lars Von Trier’s Dogville; Young Americans played over images of Depression-era families and children is so powerful with or without the context of the film it gives me goosebumps every time. And what kind of person didn’t kind of fancy the Goblin King in Labyrinth? I mean, come on now.

But I digress…

It would be impossible to categorise ‘David Bowie Is’ as simply an exhibition of music memorabilia, it is so much more. Part fashion retrospective, part art installation, it tracks a journey from small town anonymity to all-encompassing, boundless expression, floating through space and back again, through drug hazes, ludicrous outfits to piercing, stripped-down clarity. Sure, I’m gushing a tad, but rightly so. The curators have included every conceivable variety of memorabilia, from scrawled lyrics on cigarette packs to some of his most iconic images.

bowie yama 2

This exhibition is fantastic in so many ways, a beautiful multimedia celebration of a career so varied and intertwined with popular and niche culture. Every facet of Bowie’s ever-changing image and artistic intention is lovingly explored through a mixture of photography, video installation, literature and, of course, costume. It chronologically charts his progress through varying sounds and identities yet still allows him to remain enigmatic.

I was half expecting him to be roaming round the galleries himself, disguised and slipping unnoticed around the journalists and bloggers. Alas, he wasn’t.

The breadth of Bowie’s immersion in and influence on culture is astounding and thought-provoking. Unlike the majority of today’s crop of “out there” performers, Bowie put a great deal of consideration into his influences, twisting them into something new rather than simply referencing. The exhibition pays special attention to the influence of the work of J.G Ballard, George Orwell and Stanley Kubrick on his music and image, with key pieces of their work positioned in the context of Bowie’s vision. The hollow, savage worlds of Ballard are dangerous yet fascinating, referencing the strange beauty of huge abandoned swimming pools and high-rises while emphasising aggressive sexuality in the smallest of facial curvature, magnified beyond all recognition, as in The Atrocity Exhibition. The exploration of inner space brought out by these works fascinated Bowie and allowed him to construct new identities, new worlds for his music to play in. He invites transformation and expression in himself and his fans, an aspect the exhibition pays homage to.

bowie yama

His lavish and iconic costumes populate the space on thin white mannequins; of particular interest are an Alexander McQueen tyre track printed suit and the extravagant shapes and textures of  Kansai Yamamoto’s all in ones. There is such a kaleidoscope of colour and effect in these pieces it’s quite difficult to absorb all at once, but the curation places them in the context of transformation and evolution, it all somehow makes sense. For me the most impressive part of the collection is the huge video installation in the central room, thirty foot high translucent screens with concert footage projected, speakers cranked to the hilt. Completely immersive and awe-inspiring, it is an experience that will stick with me for a good long while.

bowie video

Whether or not you’re into David Bowie you can’t deny the effect he has had on music, fashion and the way we express ourselves. The exhibition is truly comprehensive, and regardless of if you view him as a highly skilled plagiarist (no) or a trailblazer who was / is way ahead of his time (yes!) it’s well worth spending a good few hours in.

The exhibition opens on the 23rd, as far as I know tickets are selling fast so get in there swiftly…

For more photos check out my Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/nadiaramoul/david-bowie-is-press-viewing/

@NadiaReads

Arts & Culture: V&A: Postmodernism Style & Subversion 1970-1990

I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting of the V&A’s current major exhibition Postmodernism: Style & Subversion 1970-1990 because the problem with postmodernism is that is it so damn hard to define. From the promotional image of Grace Jones, I expected lots of bright 80s pop culture references but actually the exhibit aims to cover everything from art to architecture, clubbing to music. With the promotional video fast-cutting between so many different subjects,  I wondered how they would fit it all in.

The answer to this question reflects the very nature of postmodernism itself: they decided to just stuff the lot together. The very definition of postmodernism (if it has one) is to sample inspiration from the past and put it together in a beautiful pastiche. This has promoted some criticisms from other reviewers. TimeOut complained that the decent art works the exhibition did have were placed so badly, it was impossible to appreciate them. I have to say, I went on a weekday and there are parts of the exhibition that are so packed in, I wondered if this would be a problem when was is busy. The exhibition presents us with some  pieces of questionable taste, for example a coffin in the shape of a car, and challenges the viewer to make their own mind up by placing them alongside more respected work and well-known work.

The house Robert Venturi built for his mother shocked the architecture community at the time, Philadelphia 1962

The exhibition starts with an overview of where the movement started in architecture. As a bit of an architecture junkie, I found this really informative and fascinating. The exhibition explained how postmodernist architects like Aldo Rossi and Robert Ventri were rebelling against Modernist idealism and trying to find a form of design that would protect them from what they saw as the increased alienation and decay of capitalism. The Modernists had believed that with order and simplicity they could create a Utopian society. However, as a housing project in Missouri exemplified when it became a hotbed of crime and had to be pulled down just 16 years after completion, Modernism failed to achieve its dreams for unison. The outcome of this was a mish-mash of architectural influences being used for purely aesthetic purposes: a bricolage of cultural references both high and low, past and present. Las Vegas in the 70s is a perfect example of a postmodern city, with all it’s flashing lights and faux classical buildings rising like a mirage from the desert.

James Vines showroom for Best, Texas 1975. The decaying nature of the building itself symbolises the decay of Modernism's ideals

Charles Jencks Garagia Rotunda, Cape Cod, 1975

Having felt I really understood what Postmodernism meant, the exhibition then moved onto home wares and interior design, which included Mickey Mouse tea sets, futuristic vacuum cleaners and crazy lamps, by way of Vivienne Westwood and a projection of a clip from the film Blade Runner. Then suddenly we were thrust into the New Wave club scene of the 80s and I started to get a bit confused. The exhibition explored pop culture’s fascination with superficiality and consumerism, giving way to postmodernism’s supposed downfall which was that it the couldn’t escape its own commercialism. We saw Jones, Warhol, Lagerfeld and i-D magazine before New Order asked us if we really knew who we were anymore.

Interior of the exhibition

Super Lamp Martine Bedin

Helmut Newton questioned ideas on gender and sexuality and mixed high fashion with low cultural references

One thing that really struck me as being problematic about an exhibition about Postmodernism is that it’s not clear that it is really over yet. The curators chose to stay between 1970 and 1990 but watching the Grace Jones’ videos, I couldn’t help but note that the stylings of Gaga and Rihanna haven’t moved on very much at all. Also the values that make Blade Runner Postmodern such as sampling different genres, such as film noir, and mixing them with modern themes are exactly what lots of directors are still doing today. Some people have criticised the exhibition for not being very clear, but maybe that is exactly the point, Postmodernism isn’t very clear. Does Postmodernism really exist as a clear genre or are we still just rebelling against the ideals of Modernism without a clue how to find a better solution?  With all the stresses and uncertainties facing our society today, are we still pacifying ourselves with the aesthetics and ideas of the past because we don’t actually know how to move forward?

Jenny Holzer’s Times Square Billboard, 'Protect Me From What I Want' ,1983-85

Clip from Blade Runner, where the fake humans think they are real

Arts & Culture: Figures & Fictions at the V&A

'Babalwa', (from the series Real Beauty), Jodi Bieber, 2008. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery

It seems like a cliché, or a dreadful pun, to say that a medium which began in black and white might offer a particularly clear window into a country in which, more than any other in the world, a preoccupation with colour has poisoned social relations.

Recalling her childhood in Cape Town, the curator of Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography, Tamar Garb, observed that “one’s way of negotiating the place was over determined by the social and political structures that taught you who you could talk to, how you could talk to people, how you could behave.” In this profoundly disturbing, disturbed society, photography offered the possibility that the social, cultural and moral distortions of Apartheid could be exposed by a documentary art form that could bring those contradictions right into the viewer’s face.

In South Africa, Garb argues, photographers have traditionally used three distinct modes of representation to tell the story of the place. One of these, dominant during the middle of the twentieth century, is the documentary mode described above. Another is the tradition of portraiture – I have a photo of my great-great-great-grandfather shot in a studio in Cape Town at the turn of the last century that can attest to the long roots of this genre. The third is the ethnographic, which collected and catalogued people, particularly non-whites, as nothing more than types, exemplars, specimens; almost an extension of the flora and fauna, Garb argues.

Having begun to think about the richness of contemporary South African photography after curating a show on contemporary art in London in 2007, Garb approached the V & A with the idea of putting on an exhibition which could challenge the dominance of these three modes, and show the subtleties and richness of contemporary photography in South Africa. She has succeeded in unearthing a number of photographers who are well aware of the role of these three traditions and capable of exposing the ironies and contradictions in South Africa’s photographic heritage.

'Blitz Maaneveld', David Goldblatt, 2008. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery

Roelof Petrus van Wyk deliberately subverts the ethnographic tradition with his series of pictures of Afrikaners – including Yolandi Vi$$er of Die Antwoord – who are depicted as though being subjected to examination or to measurement in a series of profiles and headshots. He thus parodies the fascination of ethnographers with native South Africans by his portrayal of twenty first century members of Africa’s only white tribe. Pieter Hugo and Jo Ratcliffe produce interesting reflections on the rest of Africa, and of the influence of their home country throughout the continent. Ratcliffe’s Angolan landscapes reflect on the aftermath of South Africa’s ‘Border War’ in the 70s and 80s, while Hugo depicts a worker at a toxic waste dump in Ghana with the words ‘Sun City’ (a gambling resort near Johannesburg) on his t-shirt.

A number of the works are deeply introspective, personal and sometimes ambiguous. Santu Mofokeng’s portraits, including of his HIV-positive brother, raise the spectre of human mortality, while Berni Searle’s work clearly reveals her background in sculpture, installation and video.

Graeme Williams’ work is the highlight of the exhibition for me (and I haven’t even mentioned David Goldblatt, easily the most famous photographer in the show). Seeking to move beyond the documentary tradition and capture a mood rather than an event, Williams shot street scenes that were deliberately confusing and difficult to interpret. “I wanted viewers to be slightly unsure of what was going on in each photograph, and this reflects how I felt about change in South Africa at the time,” he said in an interview with Garb.

Zwelethu Mthethwa’s photographs of young Zulu men dressed in ceremonial clothes remove them from their ceremonial context, placing them alone or in small groups in the landscape. This highlights the individuality of the subject and probably reduces the likelihood that the London audience will assume that they have seen this before, as perhaps they might if presented with a more familiar portrayal of Zulu ritual. The exhibition challenges our expectations of what South African photography should look like, and is the stronger for it. (For example, there are no pictures of rich white people walking past beggars with a just-in-focus Coca-Cola ad in the background, or of black men selling ice cream to white sunbathers on Camps Bay beach.)

Indeed, the viewer’s expectations are the elephant in the room. Sometimes it feels like the photographers have tried too hard to challenge these, as in a number of portraits of LGBT South Africans. The act of challenging conventions can sometimes in itself become a cliché. However, it’s important not to overstate this objection, and in general the quality of the work is consistently high.

South Africa is an endlessly fascinating place; troubled, poor in a lot of ways, but rich in lots of others. It’s also incredibly diverse, (much more than most people in Britain probably realise), and in this sense at least is probably more comparable with, say, Brazil than with Zimbabwe. I began this article by talking about black and white; well, you should see what people can do with colour film nowadays.

Figures & Fictions is on until 17 July at the V&A museum
www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/figures-fictions/about/