Towards a new, fashionable form...
At the workshop ‘Dramaturgy through the lens of Poetics’ we were encouraged to not only experiment with form, but think about the epistemology of form especially in relation to what we are doing: to think through formal values and limitations. In class I made a video about a Carly Rae Jepsen song. I argued that her lyrics – a pop song about love, The Sound (2019) – conveyed a deeper, esoteric poetics. She told her lover how to make love by telling her audience how to make music. That was about a hidden form within a love song. I felt the song was political in its negotiation of forms.
This dialogue is a follow-up to that video essay experiment: in a new form. This is an extra-curricular experiment with form that I’m carrying out, another approach to the research I am conducting. I want to use a dialogic form to uncover and define my own poetics in my process of working atm in the build-up towards making a movie. I'm thinking about malfunction, and have named my research after this word. What started as an excuse for bad-acting, lack of training, and failed performances ended in a philosophical inquiry into especially self-criticism and self exploration. To ask how to exist in the most general, ontological sense: what to do, how to be… A feminist. A writer. A Performer, etc. The choice of malfunction as medium required me to take a position on what malfunction is and how I could, if all works out, potentially turn it into a viable method for working for myself. It appears to me as of now that malfunction is a term that applies not so much to something as to the way things work together: as in a system. The subversion of function is a malfunction.
Anyways, during the workshop earlier this year I had been inspired by a tenet of a text by Bojan Manchev. Manchev argues that Ovid’s famous poem Metamorphosis inadvertently invented a new way of thinking: a poetics of transformation. After Ovid, metamorphosis became a genre, not unlike the epic poem, or novel, in which ‘a story is woven by images’, and not unlike the modern cinematic process of editing, ‘the change becomes a structurable and therefore measurable entity’ (Manchev, 2013). This is just the basic tenet of the essay, the repercussions are far more radical. I caught on to this idea. I use the discipline and discourse of fashion in my work as a kind of principle: the principle of seasonal outfits – especially in NL – and getting changed to apply oneself to the social, environmental, or even psychological circumstances you kind of predict to be applicable; so in that sense, the ‘change’ takes on a very literal form in my work: getting changed is a way of scripting, and performing my performances. There are more reasons why Manchev is important here; Manchev kind of uses Ovid. Unbeknownst to himself, Ovid – a classical, run-of-the-mill poet in whose poems women and children are constantly violated by Gods and men before seeking to avenge each other – hid a form of defiance against his own norms. Manchev points us to a story within a dominant narrative that undermines the principles of domination: i.e, Arachne’ web, Arachne, the weaver, questions the status quo by depicting the crimes of the Gods. What Manchev does is simple: he reformulates Ovid's title and adds a new political dimension to it. Finding examples of how art uses this principle is part of the exercise of the script.
The dialogue personifies two forms: Fashion and Death. By giving these forms a voice I hope to be able to make the figure of change more concrete with the intention of understanding it better for myself: what does fashion mean to me? I have made the figure of Death a slightly dull, mopey, stick-in-the-mud. He is sensitive; he is defensive, like a debt-collector, he doesn’t use fancy language, etc. His simple, no-nonsense attitude is a way of getting him to shut up: this is not even really about him. Of course, what that does is elevate him to being a good listener, no mansplaning – the perfect company. Fashion, on the other hand, is sharp and witty,
eloquent, and charming. By giving fashion all the space, I want to experiment with what the figure is capable of, her futurity. She is pedagogical, the voice of reason and good sense, without losing her playfulness.
While asking what is fashion, the conversation tries to lay bare the sexual and racial markers embedded within fashions. I use music and art loosely in order to create associative trains of thought, not unlike the kinds of look-books used for creating fashion collections.
After the dialogue I will conclude with some after-thoughts.
Hey there, is that you? My oh my, you look great!
Thx darling, you look...
Now you’re playing, sweetie
I like your hood...
Very Bowie in Berlin, Low (1977) era...
I’ll check it out...
Wait, what? U killed that man and u’d never heard his Berlin trilogy?
No, I’d never heard his Berlin trilogy, I was always more into the
theatrical personas; the glam rock theater; for the people! Not elitist,
like so much avant-garde, black box bric-a-brac..
(gestures scratching with hand)
Miouw! Cocaine certainly is a Hell of a drug, I’ll give u that. I misjudged
you, I figured you’d be all Underground LIT, cool-detached… But I agree.
However, the Berlin trilogy is an assault on theatre AND music for that
matter, as some might argue it put an end to both as we knew them...
A point we can agree on is the manner by which Bowie is remembered
in both disciplines: Theatrical and Musical at once…
And not only those two… I think that sums it up… Incredible, he thought
through reinvention and change.
(looks ruefully away)
Yes, I’m truly sorry for your loss. He has died, yet he lives too.
Whatever darling, whatever...
(rubs away tear but turns head and grabs make-up bag for concealer)
(long, awkward silence)
Everyone has their way of working, so do I u know, we have our rules....
I’m really good at what I do... Anyways, you can’t say we don’t work
for the same people. To move on one must leave behind, surely you
know this of all others?
I haven’t looked behind since Lady Die….
Do you ever just stop and think about what it is you’re doing, what are you?
A bird, a plane, Wonder Woman? Who are you?
You should know, Daddy
(grabs Death by cheek)
Yes, I know, very funny, family of decay… but seriously...
I don’t know...
I'm female because the two main categories were taken by men and things. Male and Neutral.
Female is neither, which I preferred. I’m like a recipe, I come together when things collide, ‘always crashing in the same car’ (Bowie, 1977). Perpetuum Mobile.
OK, CIcero, speak to me in layman’s terms, get off your high horse!
Si tu m’aide mon chevalier en armure brillante...
I know exactly what you want, it’s my prerogative...
U play your cards right…
OK darling, Well, you know how we started this conversation ?
Yes, same as always, I complimented you on your shape, you are looking healthy… I can tell… Health must be in vogue or something cus not so long ago it was all heroin and marlboro lights.... Hmmm.. then you made some remark
about my style that I didn’t know if I should take it as a complement… Tbh, it felt like you were taking the piss...
I mentioned your hood, you always wear a hood, and gave it a marker,
(takes out phone)
It's an association, or analogy as a form of recognition. While it allows me to make
sense of you, you in your turn have to reassess that which you thought, perhaps, was strictly yours.
You said I looked well, which is nice, it’s a formal comment that is nice and brusque.
I retorted by commenting on your hood, an aspect of your ‘look’ that obscures precisely that. The hood, or habit to which it belongs, is a strange example of fashion. Agamben wrote about it. To wear the habit, with its belt, hood, and neutral colour, as when donned by monks, ‘was an example of a way of life’ (Agamben, 2013, p.15). The habit is a visualization of the renunciation of vanity.
(looks confused for a moment)
Which is a bit of a contradiction... but fashion loves those...
Anyheuw, by complimenting you on that, there remained the suggestion that the way it concealed your face was what was in fact nice about it.
(looks away hurt and confused)
Aww, my little smoochy-poo, come here you
(wraps arm around Death)
While you put out the lights, I turn on another, I want to see where things go...
Let’s stick to our story…
The hood is by no means neutral, as the monks intended them to be: the fashion of renunciation: perhaps the most glamorous look of all! I think this is what the Bowie album cover stands testament to.
Because the idea of neutrality, Maleness, Nudity, Truth, Normal, these are highly fashionable constructs…
(pauses for rhetorical effect)
See this hood?
David Hammons - In the Hood, 1993
This is a reference to the hoodies worn by young, black men living in the slums in America. Here, the hooded identity of the young black male is in terms of their fashion statement both an escape from their racial identification – a daily nuisance resulting in their being mistakenly or purposefully murdered by police – and a signification of what they represent in a society that doesn’t recognize them as equals; a disidentification, to borrow Munoz’ term. David Hammons hung the black hoody up upon the white walls of the white cube gallery. A fashion statement. Art can’t even represent racial bias, it’s too busy with what it can see: it’s white self.
OK, yeah that’s strong, I admit. It’s simple and I like that. Black and white.
The Sun begins to shine. Death looks up and begins to wiggle his head while removing his hood to reveal the chalk-white complexion of his skull. He lets the sun shine right through his empty eye-sockets.
(repeats to himself now)
That’s good... Black and white.
Well, I guess you’re the only white 'person' who can make a
remark like that...
Death takes a deep Ouija Breath, as it becomes quite clear he is not listening. He takes out a spliff, ignites it and smokes while blowing huge smoke-rings. Fashion watches him in amusement, amazed at the fact that he doesn’t offer her anything.
(To be continued... )
While I have often written dialogues, this one really has a specific function: I want to speculate upon what fashion looks like, thinks like, sounds like, feels like, smells like, etc. Yet, while Death asked Fashion who she was, the whole conversation is centred on what Death has on, I don’t even mention what Fashion wears...
Something to consider for future edits, and messing around with traditional representation: there’s nothing that a simple switch of pronoun can’t alter these days.
Rae Jepsen, C. (2019) The Sound [video] Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6o0EN7CoLao [accessed 31 january 2020]
Manchev, B. (2015) The New Arachne: Towards a poetics of dynamic forms. Avalable from: <https://boyanmanchev.net/en/books-and-essays/philosophy/the-new-arachne.html> [Accessed on 1 April 2020]
Agamben, G. (2013) The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press
Bowie, D. (1977) Low [Vinyl]. Produced by TonyVisconti and Brian Eno. Los Angeles: RCA.
Hammons, D. (1993) Hood. New York: Mnuchin Gallery. Available from https://news.artnet.com/market/david-hammons-at-mnuchin-482738 [Accessed 10 April 2020]