So a few weeks back, I bought Vanessa Beecroft's Performances 1993-2003. I've been pulled in by the Italian artist's work for some time after hearing her name come up again and again when talking about Performance art and what it means to see notions of what it means to be objectified. I bring this up in the midst of NY Fashion Week because there are a few things we tend to forget when we tend to get into the performance side of Fashion...
Beecroft is known for her performance pieces, which are staged twice- once for the public, and then again so that it can be documented via photographs and video. She sets up a milieu of almost militaristically placed models, or tableaux vivants, in a public space or event (like the Guggenheim or Biennale) with a myriad of girls standing motionless for hours. Each girl is either wearing the same thing or something incredibly similar, with inspiration taken from early European cinema, Renaissance painting and historic photographs, but as time would go on as it inevitably does, her performances changed and her girls were wearing less and less, with looks becoming more bare and unprovoked by anything.
Beecroft is in fact, Bulimic and incredibly self-conscious. She hates being photographed and put on display. In her performances, she chooses girls based on the message they will give the camera (tall, short, tattooed, plain, model-beautiful, confident, suffering, emotionally exhausted etc...) as they stand. Beecroft wants these girls to reflect and project her own anxieties and struggles with herself as they stand, waiting for nothing, saying nothing. What is in their heads comes out through the tedious task of just being.
Of course, fashion obviously plays a huge role in Beecroft's work. As these performances became more and more popular, eventually generating huge budgets, designers would flock to have her use their designs. One of her most notable fans and friends, Franca Sozzani explained it like this: "Fashion is important in her performances because she subdues it to her will... It's not important as a logo, trend or status symbol: fashion items are used to underline the woman's body and to express the concept behind her performances." (via)
So, it might be obvious as to why I bring all of this up during Fashion Week, but there is always an underlying conversation when it comes to performance art, and there is absolutely no denial that we tend to forget the human element when we walk into collection presentations or shows. Sure, the girls are prepped and look beautiful, but we don't know them and can't know them as they are all molded into one girl for the sake of the collection. Beecroft has been criticized for not taking care of her girls and subjecting them to hours of nothing, which is absolutely crippling to the human psyche, but we forget that this happens in small, fleeting increments during Fashion Week.
Aiight, so what am I saying here? Fashion Week is currently buzzing with this notion of rebellion and what it means to be a strong woman after the arrest of Pussy Riot and I can't help but think back to these performances as they were documented in this book. These women in her performances are sometimes seen as nothing but standing meat, but that's what models are expected to be, on another level, they're supposed to be nothing. I still love the Fashion industry to death, but there is always an underlying conversation of what it means to have an identity when you have nothing but an outward appearance to explain yourself. It's frightening, empowering and still a performance no matter how much we might not like to display ourselves.
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