“Artists are so bizarre and come from such strange places”: Glenn Ligon interview below

Jakob Dahlgren, Peinture abstraite (2001 – present)

dahlgren

Artists often go too far. Sometimes it can seem that any art worth its salt has to do just that, to show some form of excess, to do something inordinately repetitive, or of course skilled.

Jakob Dahlgren’s thirteen year-long durational project will have many scratching their heads, asking what is the point? But to provoke that very question seems to be the point.

The Swedish artist has worn a striped t-shirt every day since 2001. There’s not much more to it than that. Although, apparently, he invites people to ‘curate’ the wardrobe for him.

It might not sound too impressive. He has an archive of 1000s of numbered shirts. He has as many photos on an Instagram site. But the work’s very lack of gravity could indeed be his point.

Dahlgren calls the work Peinture Abstraite and that smattering of French is not putting on airs. It is rather puncturing the work of those who have been historically content to paint coloured stripes.

People are still painting stripes. In austerity Britain they are probably at it right now. And Dahlgren compares this no doubt serious endeavour with just so many sartorial decisions.

He wouldn’t name names, but the artist said he drew inspiration from a range of artists whose work he didn’t very much like. He doesn’t like them, but they engage him.

In turn, you might not like his t-shirt project. But if you are reading this, it is hoped that Peinture abstraite has engaged you in some way too. It fights fire with fire, decoration with decoration.

And the fact he has just gone too far with the t-shirt idea, sporting them at weddings and funerals alike, just makes me warm to this deceptively simple piece.

For the stripe painters out there, fear not. Dahlgren is not above picking up a brush, dusting off a worn t-shirt and painting what he sees. There’s no getting away from it.

Peinture Abstraite can be seen at Fabrica, Brighton, until 26 May 2014. Check out Dahlgren’s Instagram site for more images and see the artist’s website for more info on the project.


Hannah Knox, Buff (2013)

courtesy of the artist and Ceri Hand Gallery, Photographer Anna Arca

courtesy of the artist and Ceri Hand Gallery, Photographer Anna Arca

Painting is an empty pocket. The content it once contained, the paint itself, has in many cases gone. In all cases now, a stretched canvas is a blank canvas. Put in it what you will.

So the unadorned white t-shirt you see here, the unifying image from a show which shares its name, is more than a sly joke. It is a comment on the nowness of its chosen medium.

It was made in 2013, but it echoes the 1980s which in turn echoed the 1950s. As Knox has said, it could make you think of Marlon Brando. It could even make you think of the band Bros.

Those of us on the wrong side of history, during that turbulent decade, may have shown a preference for a darker, or more fey, English look. But here is the triumph of a cotton icon.

It is as large and wide as any buddha and all the more potent for its facelessness. Buff is a strong word for it, suggesting the ripped muscles we cannot see. The muscles of thought.

Because this is a show fully engaged with the body and the world of fashion. No two works are much the same. And the artist has even named one after the season, Fall 13.

Fashion is a threat to anyone with artistic leanings. It implies that any success is temporal. It implies that your audience has the most superficial of relationships with your work.

But Knox is not afraid of catwalks and collections. She grew up in what you might call a fashion household. This could be her greatest strength, acceptance.

So again the Buddha smiles. And given that Knox has spoken about her mother’s death in relation to her show, is Buff not also a ghost of sorts? And if it be a ghost, might it not be the zeitgeist itself?

If so, it is still waiting for your input. You might not find a better receptacle for your own ideas about art than Buff in the show BUFF at Ceri Hand Gallery. At least not this season.

Hannah Knox: BUFF can be seen at Ceri Hand Gallery, London, until October 26 2013. See gallery website for more details.


Malgosia Stepnik, City of Angels (2013)

stepnik

Halfway between painting and photography, Stepnik’s photos show people halfway between their usual everyday life and then what might be called the disease of the future.

The Polish artist has colonised their skin. Dayglo pixels creep around the countours of their faces. Hair is electrified with luminous colour. But these touches draw you in, rather than repel.

Low lighting and a UV glow gives the gallery a clubby atmosphere. Stepnik’s photos also crop up as wallpaper which puts pressure on the frames around the prints on the wall.

The artist has said she wants to make work about “the electricity of the world surrounding me”. By mounting her photos in lightboxes she is already half way there.

This is a slippery show which blurs the lines between contemporary art and fashion photography, between photography and painting, between art and decoration.

So ultimately these images disturb a serious art lover, if such a po-faced thing exists. As the press release points out, they would not be out of place in a fashion mag.

How does one draw a line around high art to ensure not getting lost in contemplation of a Gucci ad? In truth, insulation is impossible. It’s a fact this show illuminates.

Stepnik puts herself in the mix with a brave performance in which she cut off her own hair. Not so much courageous as an artistic statement, but for the results she would have to live with.

The takeout of all this is that hair, painting and the gloom can all be used to conceal. And yet as our diurnal senses adjust to a setting like this, Stepnik’s blurred lines all invite scrutiny.

City of Angels can be seen at 20 Eastcastle Street, London, until 23 May 2013.


Matthew Stone, Propaganda (2012)

This piece floats on a perilous sea of style mags; they buoy up a marble-effect plinth. Matthew Stone is not cool, he is stone cold.

But these publications have more gravity than usual. Their covers are stuck to blocks of wood, giving each more permanence than a sheaf of glossy pages.

A muted printing technique fades and dates the titles (i-D and Dazed), so what they gain in cultural validation they lose in terms of timeliness.

This is always a trade off. One surely cannot be both hip and profound. The typography and styling which threaten to swallow this plinth have been frozen mid trend.

And yet those headlines  (“Love changes everything” and “Everything is possible”) may be deep. But they mean next to nothing when packaged up as content.

Fashion magazines are detached affairs, the last place to go in search of wisdom. But new trainers change everything; everything is possible to those with cash. Too true.

Stone is said to be a favourite of the titles presented here. So his reification of the hands that feed is brave and yet, oblique; it is hard to say where he stands.

Some of the magazines are sawn in two up and fixed with hinges. This is surely an act of love as much as destruction. It is as if everything hinges on fashion here, it seems, even art.

Matthew Stone: Everything is Possible can be seen at La Scatola until October 5 2012. See gallery website for more details.


Coco Cartier and Ezili Lagerfeld, Voodoo Chanel (2011)

Brand power is interesting because brands are power. They can attract money and votes. They can set the conditions for certain types of behaviour. Even weapons have brands.

This show makes a target out of one luxury fashion brand and at first you wonder why. It is after all only a designer label. Chanel is not slashing the NHS or sending people to war.

What Chanel does, however, is create a market for luxury. It belongs to an elite and is one of the ways this elite recognise themselves. And the rest of us can just aspire.

Subvert the brand and you subvert the hierarchy, at least that would appear to be the equation. But the project here seems also something of a celebration of this label, a tribute to its fetish power.

This system of ours doesn’t run on a rational subscription to free market economics. Global capitalism thrives on magic and superstition, because people, being what they are, like such things.

So it comes down to a choice between the high priests of the boardroom and the low priests of the shanty. And if the latter seem a frightening prospect, don’t worry. They’ve got a brand now too.

Voodoo Chanel can be seen at Grey Area, Brighton, until 27 March. See gallery website for more details.


Interview: Melissa Logan and Nadine Jessen

There is something unholy going on, although it is not clear quite what, and there was nothing about bones and hair in the manifesto for the show.

“Voodoofesto,” Melissa Logan corrects me.

Stacks of folded t-shirts are laid out on a white shelf. The logos say Chanel, but the slogans add “voodoo”. I look around at gold bones, a staff with a head of hair and a skull in a makeshift water feature, submerged.

Logan (alias Coco Cartier and founder member of Chicks on Speed) is as sharp as her orange painted nails. Her collaborator Nadine Jessen (alias Ezili Lagerfeld) is more shadowy, and indeed eye-shadowy. Even I can see they are well dressed.

“It’s a project that started in Abidjan in Ivory Coast from these friends who were there and they saw graffiti on a wall at a market in Abo-abo,” says Logan.

She tells me the Voodoo Chanel project spread from a to cafes, gigs and art venues around the world. The Voodoofesto is a call to hijack the world’s luxury brands, and one way to do so is to purchase one of the T-shirts or bags.

“You can bring money and friends…” laughs Jessen, and her German accent gives the proposal an edge.

Asked about their choice of target, Chanel, the duo fall over themselves to convey a real excitement about the brand.

“They invest an extreme amount into their fashion shows,” says Logan.

“It is really decadent,” Jessen confirms.

Logan: “They brought an iceberg over, for example, from Greenland. They shipped over an iceberg for the Grand Palais show.”

Jessen, in disbelief: “They had a whole orchestra playing live for the music.”

This mixture of energy and elitism is what the current show hopes to chan(n)el back into street, or even the underground.

Logan adds: “And Voodoo Chanel is also because voodoo is something very scary for the people who buy Chanel and, yes, they have a reason to be afraid.”

There is laughter all round, mine being of the nervous variety. When Logan takes a call, Jessen offers me a tour of the darkest recess of the show, a narrow room which looks something like a shrine, except there are bottles of spirits and – my word! – a 10” long phallus sculpted from wood.

“It’s an altar and a bar,” Jessen explains. “Ja, we have some specials, some Russian cocaine, but we also start to set up an aphrodisiac but this has to sit for one week so then you have to come back in one week and then you can get a bit.”

“It’s like in fashion and also like in voodoo there are these rules but you can’t read them, and so it’s also kept secret and that’s why voodoo is also in a way elitist,” she adds more seriously. “So we really try hard to make it a little poppy and to make a possibility for sharing it.”

Jessen patiently explains that Russian cocaine is a cocktail. “It’s medicinal,” says a voice behind me. Logan is back.

“We just do cocktails and water – that’s it, you know. Like, what is the term for Rausch?” Jessen asks her.

“Rausch is like to get into a state.”

“Like a trip, so this is like medicine to help you.”

“To get into a state,” Logan clarifies.

By which point I’m clinging to my sobriety very tightly. Steering the conversation into safer territory, I ask about the procurement of the many diverse materials in what, pop-up shop and temple aside, is also a stunning mixed media installation.

“Some of it’s real, some of it’s fake, some of it’s local, some of it’s from really, really exotic places,” says Logan.

“It’s really growing, you know, so when we go somewhere and when we meet people and we talk to people and they bring stuff and we find stuff or stuff finds us,” Jessen adds.

Logan: “Some of the things we don’t even know what they are because we brought them at markets and they’re like medicines that are supposed to do different things.”

“There’s one thing I nearly forgot. Shall I show you?” Jessen’s offer sounds ominous.

We part the trailing curtains and move back into the gloomy bar. The German clicks a lighter and sets two green candles ablaze. Logan watches as she reaches into a pot and takes out a cellophane sock filled with an unidentified herb.

“This.” she announces. “I have no idea anymore what this is.”

Logan just remembers you boil it. Next the pair coax me into sniffing a dubious looking granular substance. Hmm, woody.

“And this…” Logan continues, “if you put this one in someone’s tea then they’re going to obey you and do whatever you want them to do.”

At my lame suggestion that some of that might come in useful in an office, Logan says with dead seriousness: “Yeah!”

“But be careful that it’s just one person,” Jessen warns me.

Next I am persuaded to taste a chip of something I am told is “like” dried ginger. This tastes like bark. And the women exchange comments, in German.

“This is from the barber,” says Jessen pointing at the wall behind me. My eyes widen slightly at a giant Chanel logo made out of human hair.

“Here’s the last thing though,” says Logan. “We do have Karl.”

Naturally, she now produces a voodoo doll of Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld. He is tied up with sandalwood beads and I am assured these are for a healing spell. When I point out they look like teeth, the artist merely agrees.

“Yeah,” she says. “It looks brutal.”

On my way out the door, I peer at some newspaper taped to a wall. A full page taken from that day’s Guardian recounts the murder of seven women in a protest march. It took place in Ivory Coast. The paper bears today’s date. Spooky indeed.

This piece was written for Culture24. Voodoo Chanel can be seen at Grey Area, Brighton, until March 27 2011. See gallery website for more details.


Diane Arbus/Chicks on Speed/Arabicity/July must-sees

Here’s another round up of stories written in the past week for Culture24: