Fear and clothing: Beautiful revenge of the Gucci cyborgs
A reflection on the vagaries and charms of fashion
For a fleeting social media minute there was some confusion about one of the nominations for the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa 2018 at the recent Design Indaba. The usual beautiful objects in question are things like rugs and lamps and dresses. But Neo Mashigo, advertising wunderkind and co-founder of I See A Different You, nominated performance artists Dear Ribane.
Promptly people started saying that it was such a wonderful thing that Manthe Ribane, one of the three siblings who make up the performance group and who has garnered the most attention for their work, was the first “person” to be nominated as the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa. Begging the question: Can a person be an object? And in this case can three people be an object?I mean, technically speaking, if we are talking beautiful objects of the human variety I present the case of Miss South Africa. They have been voting for her every year for decades. And that process of objectification has been raising the hackles of even the most tolerant of feminists for decades.
But let me not be flippant. Maybe Mashigo meant that the performances of the group as a whole count as his most beautiful object in South Africa. Performance is an art form – you need look no further than the queen of performance, Marina Abramovich, to accept that performance is art and each performance stands on its own as an art work. But because performance is time-bound – lasting minutes, days or even months – it exists ephemerally. Performance is the very opposite of the temporal condition required of an object to ostensibly exist. Let alone be objectified. Poof and the performance is gone. Unless it has been documented in film – in which case there is another author’s hand at play: the person recording the film. Is the film of the performance also the performance? Or is the film the object? The real object a physical packet of data that can be transmitted into the future. Or is the performance itself – as a work of art – an object?My head hurts.
A bit like it hurt looking at the Gucci Fall/Winter 2018 show. Not because I did not aspire to the clothes. I loved them – each and every delightful, gender-neutral item popping up from the magnificent charity store of Allesandro Michele’s mind. But because the show took place in what looked like a hospital lab, where the future is uncertain and the past is mined for meaning, over and over again. And this lab is damn disturbing.
Some of the models walked with small dragons in hand, others with chameleons – because the chameleon is probably the spirit animal of the moment. I mean everyone has become a chameleon. You adapt to your immediate environment and your Instagram filter without a second’s thought.The most disturbing models held their heads in their arms like futuristic ogres. They had become strange clones of themselves – Gucci cyborgs. Their heads a screw-top accessory. They are both themselves and the objectified version of themselves. The fashion show as performance – a strange and prescient artwork reflecting on our human present and immediate future. Next-level humans may already be cyborgs – in which case we are, technically speaking, not that far from objects. Both material things that can be seen and touched, and persons or things onto which an action or feeling is directed. Or programmed. Can humans be cyborgs? Probably. Can humans be objects? Neo Mashigo answered that question in the affirmative this year. Yes – very beautiful objects.