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The post-fashion forest - click opera
February 2010
 
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Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 02:52 pm
The post-fashion forest

I spent several hours yesterday walking about with Phiiliip, who gave me a copy of his forthcoming album "Magically Bad" (both more poppy and more natural-sounding than his previous records). He also told me about the 77BOADRUM event he attended last weekend -- a big drum circle held between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges on 7/7/07, in which Eye Yamataka and Hisham Bharoocha basically hosted a huge drum circle featuring 77 drummers. It was great, said Phiiliip.

"Eye is one of the coolest people in the world," I said. "He's always pushing formats just that bit further than anyone else dares to."



Later, at Smart Deli, Yumi the owner told me about some Argentinians who were looking for places in Berlin to distribute their magazine Sede. I checked their site and was confronted by photos (by Guadalupe and Silvina Wernicke) of Mark Borthwick's Brooklyn studio, which has become an open house for people like Hisham, and Eye too, no doubt, and Miho Aoki from United Bamboo, and Yukinori Maeda from Osaka fashion house Cosmic Wonder. There's a whole gang of them -- neo-hippies of a sort, post-fashion and yet not post-fashion.



The neo-hippy vibe comes across very clearly in the photos of Borthwick's house. This is a big, open, plant-filled place (a "creator's space") where you sit on the floor and play guitars, bells, and so on. Borthwick has a music project with Hisham called Usun. Hisham also has a music project with Yukinori Maeda involving the same sort of windchimes-and-floormats. (You can see Hisham engaged in a formless acoustic strum in Prospect Park here.) These people all have links with Purple magazine in Paris, with Sonic Youth, with Animal Collective, with Susan Ciancolo. They're a scene, and a sensibility. (There's a further list of Hisham's friends on this Me magazine cover, and you can read an interview with him here.)

Now, I quite appreciate this scene, as do the kind of people I hang out with. Every female Japanese art student I've known reveres Mark Borthwick intensely, for instance. It's something to do with the refined, understated, tender-minded, nature-loving quality that comes through in his photographs, and the sense that, for the truly beautiful people, the fashion industry in itself isn't quite enough. The truly beautiful people go back to nature, hang out in the forest, have children, cook, get together and jam on acoustic guitars. They are, in other words, neo-hippies, too aloof to sell their souls to The Man.



In an interview with Fecal Face magazine, Mark Borthwick talks about being post-fashion, or rather how the fashion industry itself is out of fashion.

"I had to stop editorial photography" he says. "I was in fashion. I was always trying to find a new way of approaching how we use clothes, how we apply clothes, and how to attach myself to what it meant to be a fashion photographer. That was something that has always been very important to me. But I was placing too much importance onto continually putting myself in a position where I was questioning the industry. What is the importance of clothing? What is the importance of fashion? I think I lost that importance because I no longer believed in the industry itself..."



"You have these hypocritical fashion editors out there, a few of them that try to attain their rules and put that forth. I don't believe in any of it anymore and fashion itself has become extremely unfashionable in that sense. Especially today, I think it's amazing to hang out on stoops here [in Brooklyn] where we live and see there's another way. There's always another way. Magazines took such a step backwards over the last twenty years trying to close the door to the other way. And I'm always interested in the other way, and I attach myself to that, whether it's with the clothes, the music, the cooking or just the idea of bringing people together. There's so much joy to be had with the small little events that happen to you daily. The last couple of days have been magical. I walk out of this place, vibrating at a pace that's just phenomenal. There could be two or three people walking down the street, could be a kid and its mother and they sit down on the floor and... that's very precious. That lasts forever."



Now, I totally appreciate what he's saying here. I feel the same way about the music industry. And as a follower of John Cage (who got this from Eastern religion and philosophy) I share the hippyish belief that real life -- the view out of the window, or the sounds coming in through it -- is more exciting than most art, especially aggressive commercial art.

The thing is, the people Borthwick sees on the street are unlikely to share his views of their own beauty. They're probably hooked into the very commercial culture he abhors. If he were to go home with them and be forced to listen to the music they listen to and the TV they watch, he'd probably stop approving.

Certainly, when a bigger public is forced to confront what Borthwick does, the result is huge dissatisfaction. Check out the comments on the Amazon page for Speaking for Trees, the Cat Power DVD Borthwick released in 2004: two hours of Cat Power standing alone in a forest playing guitar and singing, shot with a fixed camera and no edits.



Speaking for trees, maybe. Speaking for Cat Power fans, well, no. They'd have preferred a pretty standard film with cliched editing and close-ups of their idol, it seems, rather than this neo-hippy, post-materialist stuff.

"The video is awful," says Dredfish, writing from a basement in Seattle. "The whole "Chan in nature" thing falls flat. It looks like they filmed it in the parking lot of a city park. Probably the worst are the three "music videos." If Mark Borthwick is an artist I'm sure he'll be a starving one. His filmmaking style is sadly lacking. Anybody, and I mean anybody, with a video camera could come up with something more compelling than this drivel... Blech."



At the end of his Fecal Face interview, Borthwick talks about his love of nature and the street as "universal", and there's a hint that he might want to make "universal" art -- follow figures like Mike Mills and Spike Jonze into movie-making, for instance, taking his neo-hippy values mainstream as he does it.

While I don't think Borthwick will starve -- he'll eat much better than Dredfish, and in better company -- I doubt he'll be able to pull this "universalizing" trick off. His values are too non-toxic for that. And what comes after disillusionment with the fashion industry is not a re-uniting with the great mass of the populace. It's isolation in a creative ghetto -- a very, very pleasant one -- with people after one's own heart, other post-professional beautiful people who want to hang out in the forest.

Rather than "the universal", this place we reach in the middle of our creative lives is somewhere very specific and restricted, somewhere you can only go to after passing through all the rings of fashion hell. The ring of the stylists, the ring of the publicists, the ring of the models, the ring of the press. It's a post-fashion forest where the appeal is all bound up with abhorrence of one's more mercenary colleagues, and the way they edit, angle, plot, and style life. You can see this in Cage's disdain for standard musical education and professional musicians just as clearly as you can in Borthwick's scorn for "hypocritical fashion editors".

It's a scorn which is totally understandable and largely correct. But it would be a mistake to assume that big majorities of the public shared it, and were just waiting to join us in the post-fashion forest.

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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 01:32 pm (UTC)

I think fashion itself, and any visual medium, has become these days completely devalued. Even the most beige person on the inside can throw down a couple of bucks to look like a Wild Art Rebel on the outside;

or, the most mercenary artist can take a page out of the book of Post-Modernism in 2007: The Investment Banker's Guide to Interior Decoration.

I personally think we're approaching a post-visual culture. hmm???


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 01:39 pm (UTC)

Right off man, It's the talking about it that cheapens it all. Zip it and live it.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 01:53 pm (UTC)

All back-to-nature ideologies tend to denigrate intellectualism to some extent -- never analyze, never talk, as if such things were the antithesis of the good life.

Are those musical instruments in Borthwick's house there to stop people talking? Do you strum a guitar instead? I'm sure they talk a lot more than I do, in fact. Living that particular idyll would be the opposite of "zipping it"!


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olamina
olamina
blackgirlgenius
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC)

It's isolation in a creative ghetto -- a very, very pleasant one -- with people after one's own heart, other post-professional beautiful people who want to hang out in the forest.

While I wouldn't refuse to join the beautiful people in the art forest I am sure I wouldn't last there very long.... at least not at this point in my life. Their self-imposed exile smacks too much of defeatism. It seems that they view mainstream fashion, music, and art as a fixed point where they cannot/ will not make any interesting intervention or be part of an ideological shift. Does this speak to a lack of creativity and imagination amongst them or they all really that fed up already?

While I think it is possible for them to be "waiting in the wings"-- ready to swallow up other defectors from those worlds and build up some new movement--- Borthwick doesn't sound that ambitious or interested....

Anyway, great post, and great timing as it fits right into my newfound obsession with Hisham. :)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 02:38 pm (UTC)

The thing about this neo-hippy thing -- and there's a darker shadow-version of it in figures like Dash Snow and Jonathan Meese -- is that it's super-sexy. Devendra is sexy, Borthwick is sexy, Hisham is sexy, and Eye... well, according to the Papermag blog "He generates such great energy, power and sexual vibes that my friend Kazumi kept saying, "I need to go home and take a cold shower!"

This, I'd venture to guess, is why this forest stuff gets so much play. It's not that people actually want to hang out in the forest. It's that the nature imagery makes one very, very hot.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 03:02 pm (UTC)

Oh, I bought their first album. I quite like 'em.


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jenny_junkie
jenny_junkie
jenny_junkie
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)

Not having seen the Cat Power DVD, and assuming it isn't any sort of big ironic comment on this nature scene that you speak of, releasing a recording on DVD that's supposed to emulate natural contact or something like that is exactly the opposite of what those people are apparently trying to accomplish. Instead of fighting the good cause, is Borthwick disguising the spectacle once again with hippie imagery?
But it could very well not be as straightforward as this, obviously, and I haven't actually seen it. The concept though, seems a little hypocritical to me, at first glance.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 03:06 pm (UTC)

releasing a recording on DVD that's supposed to emulate natural contact or something like that is exactly the opposite of what those people are apparently trying to accomplish

I did this joke in front of Dash Snow's work at the Whitney biennial last year. I basically read out excepts from a Dash Snow interview in a fashion mag that detailed how he didn't have a cell phone and hated technology, the city, the media. Then I said "It's just a pity that I had to read these admirable sentiments in a fashion magazine, and not scraped in the dust of a forest clearing with a ram's horn."


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 03:04 pm (UTC)

I tend to think fashion was magazines, and magazines sold an audience to advertisers, using something called lifestyle. Fashion was the charleston. Fashion was trying too hard to exemplify your times, being seasons or years, when such things are unavoidable in the longer term.

Re: commercial, commercially anti-commercial (hot), or aggressively commercial (which no-one buys any more) - I wish Kurt Cobain hadn't obsessed with proving he hadn't 'sold out'. No-one cares, in truth. No-one you'd want to have a drink with. The average house sale is more an intrinsic rip-off than any creative contract or profit.


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC)

What I find interesting is that this scene came out of the punk and noise scene. I like that the music has shed punk tropes and moved toward trance and drone.

It's a strange trajectory: bands like Animal Collective move from noise to "freak folk." (They were my first introduction to this type of music, around 1999.) At the exact same time, we were seeing the visual prototype for the last few years coming out of the Yale school (a group of women photographers who studied under Gregory Crewsdon, like Justine Kurland). It's funny, because both things hit the streets around 1999, mirroring a sudden interest in the London "freak folk" scene. Hisham and the gang came out of the Providence noise scene, which, of course, comes out of the Boredoms, and although their music has softened, it's still deeply rooted in noise, but, as I said, has moved toward trance and eradicated most of the standard punk tropes. At about that time (2001?), Devendra popped up in my neighborhood heralding his version of the same.

In the next few years, the street in Williamsburg moved from theatrical and club-orientated Electroclash to communal group shows centered in "authenticity" and thrown in parks, parking lots, etc., and re pleat with noise drum circles (such as the great Aa (Big A, little a)).

What I distrust (and I always have to distrust something) is the intense pressure placed upon authenticity, even if it is usually tongue-in-cheek, and the reliance upon transcendentalism and "dropping-out," which I think is one of the worst aspects of hippie-culture. I also deeply distrust notions of authenticity, and have always associated it with violent male culture, as opposed to theatrical culture which tends to be gay, but those are personal biases.

That said, I love EYE (he no longer uses his surname, no?), love what Hisham is doing, love the community in the new scene, and thought that 77BOADRUM was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)
MOMUS TRIVIA QUESTION!

What do Momus and Neil Diamond have in common???

The winner receives a premium anonymous account with 100 different proxy IP addresses for Momus to look up and crack a joke about!


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC)
Re: MOMUS TRIVIA QUESTION!

Easy. They both did a duet with Barbra Streisand. No, hang on. Barbra was more backing vocals on 'Pygmalism'.


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)

puppet show

Who would want to leave all this behind for a bunch of trees?


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andalus
andalus
seven quintillion five quadrillion
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 06:51 pm (UTC)

To speak of Eye and his drums for a minute, I was worried going into it that 77boadrums would be just another neo-hippie drum circle, with a bunch of well-dressed hipsters sitting on the grass pretending to feel closer to nature. Reading the press materials on it raised my eyebrow further: Eye really considered it a celebration, a celebration of the sun, which he always associated with the number 7, the spiral, etc. I'm all for celebrating whatevers but when it crosses into fetish territory then it's more about what you're denying than what you're lauding. But I was genuinely surprised how structured it was -- chaotic and impromptu yes, but almost mathematical in the way sounds moved up and down this spiral, the limited vocabulary of three-cymbal drum sets, and the sun continually setting in the background. So, less a neo-hippie drum circle and more like a noise machine. Made me think of Edgard Varese, really. Though I was as bored with Seadrums/House of Sun as you were.


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olamina
olamina
blackgirlgenius
Mon, Jul. 16th, 2007 04:06 pm (UTC)

I, too, was worried that it was just going to be an hour of cacophony.I was blown away by the amount of form and structure though the performance had not been much rehearsed.

Whereas so many alternative types (hippies, punkers) seem to push liberation through rebellion and formlessness, I am excited about the freedom found in discipline and structure.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 07:22 pm (UTC)

Borthick is probably the finest photographer of th late 90s early 00s and i'm glad he's not making carricatures of his own stuff like so many others. Probably Borthwick (and purple) had more impact on fashion magazines than most people realize, both in scores of them adopting the low-key style and then the counter-action return to glitzy glamour (in fact the new rather glossy purple fashion itself is very much such a reaction against the old purple)

The cat power dvd: although is was marketed as video the dvd has to be seen as an extension to the thick picture booklet packed with it (which oddly none of the amazon commenters seem to mention) and it's much more a borthwick piece than a cat power one.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 10:43 pm (UTC)

Isn't real life, and I suppose I do mean real life, and its representations on the Internet becoming an industry?
Isn't the intention to make this communication "pay" in some way?
Even psychogeography became mainstream. Iain Sinclair just had to learn when to call his fictions travel books.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 15th, 2007 11:47 pm (UTC)

Neo-hippy fringe dwelling? Sounds seditious in a deeply conservative, retrograde, been-done-before sort of way, possibly an interesting way to pass six months en-route to a career in organic food marketing, playing bass for Marillion or in finding employment writing a preachy enviro-righteous column for The Guardian. Makes me want to get my PIL records out of the attic.
Thomas S.


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