Sunday, 24 August 2014

Please Disobey

Of all places in London the venerable Victoria & Albert Museum in Kensington might seem the least likely place for a show about revolt. And yet, "Disobedient Objects" at the V&A is not only free, but also freeing.

The exhibition introduces a range of items that were instrumental in social, political and economic protest movements in the last 40 years. These include the Egyptian revolution, Polish Solidarność and Occupy. Of course Queer Liberation was present too, with some great objects of empowerment. 

Protest flag, New York, 2011
Picture from Charlie Porter

Badge from the Act Up AIDS protests of New York 1986-87

Poster designed for Act Up AIDS by Keith Haring, 1989 (not in the show, but almost)

Bust Card for arrested gays, Scottish Homosexual Rights Group, 1979

Fierce Pink power - Queers against authority. Protest banner, USA, ca. 2012

Toy Terrorism: 
Barbie Liberation Organization, 1991 

Overall, a mind-opening and strangely optimistic exhibition. Walking out of the V&A I already saw myself smashing the shopfronts of Kensington in protest against 21st century consumerism. But then I changed my mind, and went to Harrods instead. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014


Remember Sex? Madonna's scandalous book came out in 1992. I was seven then, and whatever I heard about it at the time probably scared me. But last week I rediscovered some of its images in the murky depths of the world wide web. And I cried out: How have I not seen this before? How is this not part of our basic visual vocabulary?

Threesome with Naomi

Frolicking with Isabella

Dragging it up

Bowing to Udo Kier 


The answer is probably a mix of 20th century prudery and the censorial power of the pre-internet age. Can you imagine Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus making a similar book today and it not being seen by every being with a screen?

Racy, huh? These days most singers use sex to sell, but no one does it with so much omni-sexual conviction. Of course Madonna wanted attention, but she fought back against criticism of the book and spoke out against misogyny and heteronormativity:

"There are guys who say 'I have never fantasized about being with a man.' They are lying. And the least offensive men I've been with in terms of their sexual politics and how they view me as a woman, have been men who have either slept with men, or at least kissed or held a man once. It opens up your thinking. You don't think that women are less-than you are."

"Deeper and Deeper" 1992

True speak, Madge. And to see that she doesn't cease to surprise, check out this clip for 'Deeper and Deeper', featuring hot n'creepy Udo Kier and an extremely unexpected cameo by Sophia Coppola. Damn, 1992 was a good year. 

Monday, 4 August 2014


Birth she gave without knowing, maybe, that
What's given isn't yours.
Thinking of it, though,
Was never that easy to tell
Where she ended and I began,
And who was whose.
Happy giftday to both of us.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Running Fence, 1972

Friday, 25 July 2014

Bend it like Back Then

1. Grace Jones by Jean-Paul Goude
2. Ewan McGregor and Joanathan Rhys Meyers as lovers in Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine (1998)
3. Madonna in the 80s, with lots of boys 
4. From the Harry H. Weintraub collection of pre-Stonewall gay ephemera

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Gaultier's Genius

I didn't want to go at first. Prejudices of endless Breton-stripes and recycled quirkiness prevented me. But then a friend convinced me, and I went. O là là! To think that I almost missed the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Barbican!

The first surprise: the mannequins were alive. That's right. They had faces. It was very freaky and amazing and it felt like you were staring at alien-like beings, who would open their eyes and start speaking in French. I became slightly hysterical with exhilaration. 

Then there were the clothes. Of course there were lots of Breton stripes, but they was far from boring in their various materials and unlikely shapes (think back-less tops and silk for men and giant hat-cardigans for women). And the haute-couture dresses! This lace and ex-voto number made me want to step out of my Birkenstocks and kowtow to Jean-Paul. 

Lastly I fell in love with Gaultier's long history of highlighting unusual beauties. "The conventionally pretty need not apply", he wrote in a newspaper advert in the 90s when he was looking for models. He was the first to have a North-African muse, Farida Khelfa, whom he called 'la nouvelle Parisienne', and no-one took gender-bending as far as JPG, with his male muse Tanel 20 years ago and Andrej Pejic today habitually blowing up the boundaries between male and female. 

Although, of course, nothing can be more queer, more fabulous or more enviable than to have been friends with Madonna in the 90s. What's not to love? 

"The Fashionworld of Jean-Paul Gaultier" at the Barbican in London until 24 August 2014. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

New-Wave Misogyny

Have you heard of 'Lola', Jacques Demy's film from 1961? I hadn't either until the other week. Lying half-ill in a rented flat in Paris, I stumbled across the cover with the stunning Anouk Aimée dressed as an exotic dancer. Of course I thought - 'must be all French and sophisticated?'

In fact, the whole experience was like falling for someone pretty who turns out to be incredibly dull. The story evolves around the life of Lola, a single mother and cabaret dancer, who waits for the father of her son to return (he'd disappeared seven years previously) while seducing American soldiers and flirting with her childhood friend Roland.

This is neither a tragedy nor a comedy - it is two hours of affectation. In the very lame end, Lola's long-lost beau returns as a rich man in a white Cadillac and a cowboy hat and takes her home. But why does it matter that this film is so bad? 

Maybe because of its peculiar misogyny. Like all female characters shown, Lola is confined to either vulnerability or hysteria, and is essentially lost without a husband. And yet she is not the object of intentional criticism: Demy thinks he is portraying loose Lola with sympathy (and he is, for those times), but that's exactly what makes his treatment of her so outdated. It is not irrelevant that Demy was closeted (although married to feminist filmmaker Agnes Varda) and went on to make some of the campest films in French history, including The Young Girls of Rochefort and the musical comedy The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964).

Jacques Demy and Catherine Deneuve on the set of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort

Love Theme from 'Les Parapluies de Cherbourg'

So really, the director was projecting his own fragile fate onto Lola at a time when being a woman (let alone a homosexual man) made you a second-class citizen. This now feels outdated and funny but it helps us not to judge Demy so harshly. It's also a reminder of how far both the gay and women's liberation has come in the last 50 years. 

Sunday, 15 June 2014


Last week artist Zbigniew Libera (b. 1959) came to speak at Warsaw's MoMA for the opening of his work's free online archive. The enfant terrible of the Polish art world is known primarily for the controversies around his Lego concentration camp, and while photos of his work appeared on a large screen Libera spoke evasively about his time in prison in the early 80s (he'd been set up) and how he'd never decided to be an artist (the art world made him into one).

Curiously, none of these photos made it onto the screen during his talk. I unearthed them only after digging deep into the archives (have you ever used 'sexual organ' as a search term on a museum website?). 

Libera-Furniture Piece, 1985

Mannequins, 1985

They are Libera par excellence, combining unabashed exposure with a schoolboyish sense of 'wasn't-me'. The sun glasses, the little crochet napkin and the mannequin seemingly grabbing him all point to the same conclusion: The artist won't take responsibility for anything, not even his penis. Clearly then, neither should we.