A Vogue Idea /

Cartoon Couture / KEUPR/vanBENTM

KEUPR/vanBENTM was founded in Arnhem in 1997 by Michiel Keuper and Francisco van Benthum. Until 2001, the experimental label produced chimerical collections that followed haute-couture’s “laboratory of ideas” model.

I spoke to Michiel about the label’s reaction against thematic design and the minimalist sensibility of the late 1990’s.

I’m intrigued by your seeming disregard for the industry in how you departed from the ready-to-wear model to invent your own haute-couture framework. Did you always operate as “couture”? Why was this important?

Michiel Keuper: We graduated from ArtEz, in Arnhem, in the mid-1990s. The school was renowned for the conceptual approach. It was the time when fashion was mainly determined by grunge and minimalism. When we started to collaborate in 1997, Tom Ford’s overt sensualism at Gucci was beginning to emerge, paving the way for bling-bling fashion. Also there were the appointments of Galliano and McQueen at Dior and Givenchy, putting a renewed spotlight on haute couture. In the case of McQueen, this was an inspiring example of how a young, uncompromising designer could be picked to revive an old House.

What fashion needed was Experiment with a capital E. We wanted to go back to the once-core principles of couture, before it became a reactionary style exercise, a mere marketing tool for selling perfumes. We were convinced that couture should be a laboratory for new approaches and ideas. In that sense our approach was couture from the beginning (the addition “haute” only being allowed to houses accredited by the Chambre Syndicale). Initially we started showing during the prêt-à-porter week because of the group shows we were part of. After a couple of seasons, the prêt-à-porter frame became a bit of a strain since, despite all the editorial praise, the press and buyers inevitably started asking what the commercial value was of all these fantastical collections. Since our main drive was to present our artistic vision, it made sense to move over to the couture season, where we debuted in July 2000.

Was the label a commercial enterprise? How did you survive?

Even though we explored several ways to offer limited editions of commercial renditions of our pieces, as well as doing commissions to keep financially afloat, our main drive never was a commercial one. In our view, as a small label without infrastructure, it made more sense to invest in creating a strong design vocabulary, to hopefully attract the attention of possible financial backers.

By the mid-1990s the Fund had started supporting fashion design in a structural and strategic way. By awarding grants and stipends, that enabled individual designers to develop their work without financial pressure. In that sense, promoting Dutch fashion design became a hugely successful endeavor. Starting with the Paris presentations of the collective Le Cri Néerlandais around 1994, that laid the cornerstones of the careers of Viktor & Rolf as well as Lucas Ossendrijver, to name but a few. And culminating in 1998 in the so-called Dutch Wave, as it was dubbed by the fashion media. This also was the year when all the main prizes at the International Festival de la Mode in Hyères were won by Dutch designers, including KEUPR/vanBENTM. Part of the prize was a group presentation in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the Louvre in October 1998.

Important fashion designers are those who prompt new ideas of the body. Design, paradoxically, also has a tendency to institutionalize the body. KEUPR/vanBENTM’s first collection consisted of looks that completely transformed the body from different viewpoints. What was the process of making these fantastically fragmented outfits?

“Caught in Color” was a project initially started as an application for a rather commercial Dutch design competition. We wanted to challenge our notion of what is beautiful, or useful, or wearable. We started by writing a manifesto that placed concept over wearability, inviting risk and randomness into the design process, challenging our personal good taste. (For example, “In case of doubt, always choose the ugly option/fabric/color.”)

One of the requirements was to design a complete collection, but the maximum was limited to three outfits, which we found absurd. As an act of rebellion we then decided to merge at least four outfits into one, which resulted in hybrid creations that were completely different from every angle. But apart from challenging the fashion system, foremost we wanted to challenge ourselves. If we know that technically there are no limitations, we might as well not care about the outcome, depart from the common notion of beauty, and design in a new and free way.

Despite your alternative positioning, your dedication to fashion language was impressive: the catwalks (“Evil Wrapped in Beauty,” 1998, was at the Louvre); the photo shoots (especially “Caught in Color,” 1997); the production of show invitations (for your fictional runway “Friction,” 1999). Why did you leave? Will you come back?

In the summer of 2001, after our last presentation during the Alta Moda in Rome, we decided to skip one season in order to restructure our label. In a paradoxical way the timing saved us and ended our label at the same time. September 11 happened and the mood drastically changed. Significantly, the attacks happened in the midst of New York Fashion Week. Suddenly other issues seemed more important than fashion. And as the big brands suffered, small labels without sufficient backing did even more so. With buyers reluctant to invest in new brands, sales came to an abrupt stop, and many of our peers were heavily affected. Luckily for us, skipping the season meant that we didn’t loose on a collection. But it did mean that we were facing a different world, with less space for our “Cartoon Couture,” as Vogue had dubbed it. It seemed to us that the time needed different answers.

KEUPR/vanBENTM came out of a personal need, urge and conviction. Our work was in reaction to, and in that sense a reflection of that time. We can’t deny that in some ways we were maybe too much ahead. We are happy to see the industry is changing and now embracing many of the things we were advocating back then, such as merging men’s and women’s collections, or going back to small-scale production and craft. The younger generations are picking up on that. Because of the internet and social media, ideas and alternative approaches travel much faster. We started in a provincial bubble, still pre-internet 2.0 and working pretty analog. Given that, it’s a miracle that we managed to attract the international attention that we did. This also shows the enormous craving for new ideas and alternative approaches.

Your collections stood the test of time…

It is somewhat surprising. And then again, not, since the work was never about trends. Lately we find a renewed interest in our label. Last year the Centraal Museum in Utrecht acquired the remaining key pieces from our archive to complement their collection. K/vB is in our artistic DNA, whatever we do, so maybe the K/vB universe will appear in a different form. Time and movements come and go in waves, especially in fashion. So who knows if at one point we will feel the urge or see new possibilities.

by Matthew Linde

A Vogue Idea is a column by Matthew Linde exploring contemporary fashion practice.

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Fade In 2 Museum of Contemporary Art / Belgrade

“Fade In 2: Ext. Modernist Home – Night” is the first manifestation of Balkan Projects, a platform established by actress and art collector Marija Karan with the aim of reinvigorating the Balkan art scene. The exhibition brings to Gallery-Legacy Čolakovićy, a satellite venue of Belgrade’s Museum of Contemporary Art, twenty-one artists whose works engage with the ways the visual arts are portrayed in movies.

Revisiting props, settings and plot devices, these works confront the film industry’s power to mesmerize by inverting the process of appropriation and in a sense reinstating art’s autonomy relative to filmic narratives. On a spartan pedestal, Carissa Rodriguez’s glazed ceramic cups pierced with razor blades — copies of the Daniel Pommereulle sculpture that in Eric Rohmer’s film La Collectionneuse (1967) triggers a profound conversation between an artist and his dealer about their respective roles in society — can’t but speak for the unsettling objects that they are. However, if we are sincerely moved by the mordancy of this Nouveau Réalisme specimen, are we more affected by Pommereulle’s work or by Rodriguez’s sanitized (and multiplied) version, which is deprived of much of the original’s rough artistry but charged with Rohmer’s commentary on artistic bohemianism? Hard to say.

The exhibition is a “sequel” to “Fade In: Int. Art Gallery – Day,” held in March 2016 at the Swiss Institute in New York. Compared to the “pilot,” the Belgrade iteration (which is curated by the SI’s team together with Julie Boukobza) boasts a rather cinematic location. Formerly a private residence and a restaurant that, rumors say, served as a hotbed for the local mafia, the Gallery-Legacy Čolakovićy’s ubiquitous modernist architecture recalls the backdrop of many Hollywood movies.

Upon entering its courtyard, Tobias Spichtig’s fire-breathing, steampunk fountain Heiner Müller (2017) immediately triggers the fantasy. One of the interior rooms offers another powerful setting: William Leavitt’s corny tableau with matching sofa, end table, plant, picture and lamp (Set for The Tropics with Jaguar [from “The Tropics”] [1974]); Alex Israel’s Risky Business (2014–15), in which the artist has re-created the crystal egg from the eponymous 1983 film; and Ulises Carrión’s video The Death of the Art Dealer (1982), shown on a television atop a small bureau. Together they form an uncanny domestic environment in which an unknown scene waits to be played out — though certainly not a love story.

by Michele D’Aurizio

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A Still Life by Chardin Lisson Gallery / London

Marcel Proust praised the eighteenth-century painter Jean-Siméon Chardin for charging still life painting with the vibrancy of intimate secrets, revealed in mundane and humble subjects. The exhibition “A still life by Chardin,” curated by Essex Street director Maxwell Graham, proposes a selection of works that similarly display a disarming modesty and economy of material.

A set of postcard-size photographs line up the wall at reception. Documentation from Lisson’s early history shows the gallery in 1973 when Michael Asher proposed to cut an architectural reveal into the gallery walls at floor level. At the time, the intervention was so discreet that it left visitors confounded about walking in an empty room, yet today it has become a signifier of the white cube. Another black-and-white image shows an assemblage box by Audrey Barker, exhibited at Lisson in 1967. A compartment from that same exhibition is included in this show. Reminiscent of works by Joseph Cornell, a friend of Barker, the assemblage exudes a delicate beauty in its essential composition.

Barker, who suffered debilitating bone damage as a result of childhood illness, became an advocate for people with disabilities. Like her, other artists in the exhibition saw art as a vehicle for social engagement. Jef Geys worked as a public school teacher as well as being the editor and publisher of his local newspaper since the 1960s. After attracting attention for her conceptual interventions in the 1980s, Laurie Parsons dropped out of the art world to devote herself to social work and campaigning for the rights of the mentally ill.

Time spent with objects seems to charge them with a heightened presence. An archival cardboard box of ephemera and personal photographs by Parsons becomes a touching memento of intimate moments. Pati Hill, also a model and accomplished novelist, produced poetic images by photocopying common objects such as gloves, paving stones or garments. These images emerge like ghostly presences from intensely saturated blacks, created using her own IBM copier. Moyra Davey’s photographs of her own studio, calibrated compositions interrupted by postmarks, folds andbits of tape, become vehicles between the intimate and the public space of the gallery. .

In its understated reflection on capturing the essence of things, “A still life by Chardin” offers a poignant alternative to today’s prevailing modes of operating in the art world. The exhibition reveals personal stories of integrity, told by artists for whom an ethical engagement with the world is inescapable.

by Silvia Sgualdini

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Greater Together Australian Centre for Contemporary Art / Melbourne

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s current exhibition “Greater Together” explores the power of collective authorship in an uncertain landscape. Curated by Annika Kristensen, it brings together eight projects by collective practices predicated on themes of labor, collaboration, storytelling and friendship to explore the potential of the many.

Visitors first walk into the arms of a giant oak tree cropped into the gallery space. The installation is the latest iteration of Goldin+Senneby’s mutating retrospective “The Standard Length of a Miracle,” originally commissioned and produced by Tensta Konsthall in 2016. Set under the tree, the artists’ (Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby) theatrical work is based upon a text by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, about dry cleaner and aspiring artist Anders Reuterswärd. At 2:12 p.m. each day the story is read aloud under the oak tree by an exhibition assistant wearing a piece from the “Anders Reuterswärd” clothing line, a work in which Annie Wu and Rosanna Hall created a collection of garments with surplus stock from local dry cleaners.

Storytelling as a force for collectivity is a theme that extends across the exhibition. Dutch practice Bik Van der Pol (Liesbeth Bik and Jos van der Pol) delve into local narratives and Australia’s idiosyncratic relationship between geology and culture. In Letters to the Land, visitors are invited to lie down and listen to love letters written and read by cultural figures like Wurundjeri elder Joy Murphy Wandin, writer Evelyn Araluen Corr and philosopher Justin Clemens.

Polish artists C.T. Jasper and Joanna Malinowska’s contribution to the show, Halka Haiti 18°48’05”N 72°23’01”W (2015), is a video work that documents a theater production of Stanisław Moniuszko’s “Halka” by a group of Polish performers in the Haitian village of Cazale. An installation by artist Céline Condorelli explores social exchange in a stylized waiting room scenario featuring her publication The Company She Keeps, a series of interviews that frame friendship as a creative material.

The chorus of creative practices involved in “Greater Together” present works that reassemble, or democratize, the many authors involved in the production of art.

by Laura Gardner

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Volcano Extravaganza 2017 / Naples, Stromboli

At a summer home tucked a stone’s throw away from the island’s humble center, Stromboli, Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece, is projected every night, regardless of how many people show up to watch. The venue is the very same location where the radiant Ingrid Bergman stayed during the film’s production — the love nest where she would allegedly meet with Rossellini for late-night rendezvous.

Perhaps this daily ritual keeps the memory of the film alive — a film that massively iconized a vivid Strombolian imagination. As Gilles Deleuze theorizes in Difference and Repetition (Columbia University Press, New York, 1994), it is the act of repetition that reveals the core essence of the subject at hand. It also generates difference whereby every iteration produces a different experience for the subject that bears witness to it: on the one hand, a fixed structure given by the soundness of essence; on the other, the mobility of subjective interpretation.

This discussion around Rossellini’s film could be extended to Volcano Extravaganza 2017, the summertime contemporary arts festival organized by Fiorucci Art Trust. Curated by director Milovan Farronato, the festival has been colonizing the dreamy Aeolian island for seven years now. In partnership with UK music enterprise The Vinyl Factory, the 2017 edition made its way to Naples, too.

This year’s “artistic leader” Eddie Peake presents “a constellation of performative acts” under the rubric “I Polpi” (The Octopuses), which collectively explore the body, its limits and its excesses; in addition to performances it includes site-specific murals in the Fiorucci Art Trust Stromboli location.

Peake, a British artist who graduated from the Royal Academy, explores themes of sexuality, language and self-portraiture. Less frequently, he focuses on reenactment and repetition (and therefore difference) — concepts that, by destructuring the notion of “variations on a theme,” make up the backbone of “I Polpi.”

In music, a variation on a theme is a relatively simple structure based on a melody presented in its original form and then successively reconsidered through variations. In “I Polpi,” Peake applies this strategy to his new performance To Corpse. In theater slang, “to corpse” means to involuntarily break character by hysterically laughing. He appropriates the term by making it the title of a series of five performances in which five dancers interpret his choreography for twenty minutes or so. The choreography itself is the weft, or at least the fixed motif across all five acts. The warp is much more complex; Peake invites musicians, artists and poets to propose their own drastically altered interpretations. The space, too, transforms each time across the astonishing backdrops of Naples and Stromboli.

July 13, 2017

Animals (a reenactment of the 2012 performance Touch) is the first performance, a thirty-minute, five-on-a-side soccer game set in The Morra Foundation’s courtyard. With the exception of cleats and socks, the players are nude and play head to head on a makeshift court. The initial eroticism of the active male musculature is quickly desensitized and transformed into a candid nudity, similar to that found in a locker room. The light just before dusk warmly kisses this unconventional stadium as the audience wildly boos and cheers — a scene that is a nod to an Italian stereotype. The game is a tie, 7-7.

July 14, 2017

Variation 1 of To Corpse unfolds with electronic musician Actress in the courtyard of the Naples museum MADRE. Five dancers squeezed into white bodysuits perform an alien choreography that evokes sex, clandestine desire, violent impulses, hatred, infatuation and love. Actress’s music supplies a cosmic dimension.

The second variation takes place hours later in the picturesque setting of San Giuseppe delle Scalze, an abandoned (yet not deconsecrated) church from the seventeenth century. An ethereal atmosphere is amplified by Gwilym Gold’s mystical music. The performers, dressed entirely in black and sporting white Reeboks, evoke priests born of some profane religion. Their spontaneous Dionysian gestures transcend space.

The third episode is performed during sunset at Solfatara, a shallow volcanic crater where jets of sulfurous steam are lauded for their miraculous healing properties. Poet Holly Pester accompanies the choreography with an absurd tale about an affective disease that torments with distance and solitude. “I’m tired, I’ve lost the revolution,” she repeats in resignation.

July 15, 2017

The rhythm relaxes on the SNAV ferry bound to Stromboli with the 2005 performance Fox, a work created by Peake and Sam Hacking during their time at the Slade School of Fine Arts. A performer dressed in a fox suit is positioned in front of the boat’s bar. A second performer joins in, liberating the first performer from the mask and taking on the role of the fervent fox. The second performer then gives the first performer his clothes via a stuffy swap that takes place inside the costume. Finally dressed, the first performer can now remove the fox mask while dressed in the borrowed clothes. This act is repeated four times in total.

Next, a 2016 performance by Peake and dancer Emma Fisher, titled The Megaphone Duet, is staged on the Scari pier in Stromboli. Dressed in a black bodysuit, Fisher attempts to dance under the guidance of Peake’s stern gaze until Peake takes the microphone and interjects: “I love to watch you perform, move and dance. Do you love me?” In response, Fisher approaches him and hysterically screams, “No fucking way.” She proceeds to slap Peake in the face and then quickly embrace him. A power dynamic is evident, like the relationship between master and student — or perhaps a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

July 16, 2017

Peake’s bodies are pervaded by a reforming frenzy and a violent frailty. The epidermal surface is the site of clash and reconciliation, of internal and external conflict. The experience of each variation is fully shaped by the music and the spirit of the setting.

Variation 4 of To Corpse is held at Club Megà in Stromboli around midnight. Evan Ifekoya and Victoria Sin’s music accompany the five performers, who are now completely nude and covered in shimmering gold powder. The performance is vigorous, alternating between erotic moments and thematic undertones of vice and excess — a stark contrast to the next performance.

The fifth and final variation is set on the shoreline. There is no music this time; the only audible rhythm is the island’s soundscape. Waves lapping at the shore caress the silent choreography. The dancers’ figures are silhouetted by the dawn sky, bringing the performance to a silent, static coda marked by the closing curtain of a oncoming storm.

by Giulia Gregnanin

(Translated from Italian by Bana Bissat)
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Bunny Rogers Whitney Museum of American Art / New York

After “Columbine Library” (2014, at Société in Berlin) and “Columbine Cafeteria” (2016, at Greenspon in New York), “Brig Und Ladder” is Bunny Rogers’s third show partially dedicated to memorializing the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, thus making it the final part of a sort of architectural trilogy.

As with the previous exhibitions, here Rogers faultlessly displays a signature lexicon: alternative cartoon characters from the early 2000s, mass murder, stuffed animals, cartoonish domestic objects and the impenetrable sadness of teenagers.

The centerpiece of the show is the video A Very Special Holiday Performance in Columbine Auditorium (all works 2017), presented in a carpeted screening room with six spring-assisted folding auditorium chairs (Columbine Auditorium seating). Sitting in the auditorium chairs, we watch three animated characters (crude 3-D adaptations of characters from Clone High) ascend to the auditorium stage and perform a Russian rendition of a song from the musical Cats. While any true occasion for the “holiday performance” is indiscernible, it is understood to be related to the thirteen killed in the massacre — as a memorial, the limp and creepy preciousness of the recital casts an ambiguous mood of mourning that feels both earnest and put-on.

On the floor in front of the video lies a limp stuffed animal with a homemade quilting patch stitched to its abdomen (Tilikum body pillow). Rogers’s stated interest in the Columbine shooting involves online communities of teenage girls who express a fantastical and empathetic attraction for Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the tortured pseudo-goths who shot up their high school; Tilikum, the now-dead orca whale who killed two SeaWorld employees and a hapless trespasser, became an object of empathy largely due to the 2013 documentary Black Fish, which detailed the brutal treatment of whales in captivity. A homely body pillow of an actual killer whale speaks to the overwhelming and haphazard capacity of empathy: in this case, horror at human cruelty displaced and converted into warm feelings for a whale who, while deserving of respect and freedom, is unlikely to be a (huggable) friend of human people.

Beyond the screening room are a series of spotlit works (three wrecked office chairs, two sets of giant ladders and mops, a Thomas the Tank Engine toy, air fresheners hanging on a fence) that, per the press release, are to be understood as related to the artist’s own life and lost relationships. Their impenetrability makes them hermetic as objects of memorial or autobiography. The cheesy maroon curtains, then, differentiate between an onstage area that, with the Columbine memorial scene and Tilikum pillow, seems to speak to the inadequacy of empathy to deal with structural tragedy or individualized pain, and a backstage so oblique that it refuses anything like an identificatory response — with diaristic intimacy providing only the possibility for further alienation.

by Jack Gross

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