Helmut Lang looks to return to its Roots in the Bold

In March, Helmut Lang’s chief executive Andrew Rosen announced major shakeups to the brand. He appointed Isabella Burley, who is also the editor-in-chief at Dazed Magazine, as the brand’s editor-in-residence. Helmut Lang also tapped into to Hood By Air’s head designer Shayne Oliver to create a special collection for the brand. The company is reaching for its original roots in the bold.

Shayne Oliver seen by Ethan James Green Courtesy of Helmut Lang’s Instagram
Traci Lords seen by Ethan James Green Courtesy of Helmut Lang Instagram

Helmut Lang recently launched a new website and social media account. There is an incredible campaign available via their Instagram shot by the legendary photographer Ethan James Green; the model lineup is just as good, and involves the likes of photographer Larry Clark, performance artist Kembra Ffahler, musician Ian Isa, metal band Unlocking the Truth, adult film star turned cult actress Traci Lords, model Alek Wek, Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny aka Little Miss Flint, street cast models Dara, Yoshi and Nicky Rat, Alanie Quinones, Grace Gee and Aurel Haize, and Shayne Oliver himself. The campaign was styled by Dazed creative Robbie Spencer. If it’s relevance they are after, the team they have assembled is sure to get them there.

Larry Clark seen by Ethan James

In 1999, Helmut Lang, the designer, lost creative control over his own brand when Prada bought 51% of the company shares. Lang walked away from fashion in 2005 and Prada quickly sold the brand to Link Theory holdings, a Japanese conglomerate that owns Uniqlo. With the designer went the brand’s sense of cool — Lang had ingenious ways of bringing bondage, work wear sensibilities, and minimalist silhouettes to high fashion. His ideas still constantly echo throughout runways today.

Shayne Oliver feels like the right guy to bring the brand back to its innovative status. With no real concern for the gender of garments, Oliver’s own line, Hood by Air, mixes fetish, club wear, and high fashion while harnessing the power of streetwear. Since its inception in 2006, Hood by Air has gained both underground approval and critical acclaim — it is the only authentic streetwear line that has taken home a CDFA Swarvoski Menswear Award. While its collections are dazzling and hyped, the importance of Hood by Air lies in its ability to break down identities of its wearers. It will be exciting to see what Oliver creates with the infamous and ever copied Helmut Lang archive.

Little Miss Flint seen by Ethan James Green courtesy of Helmut Lang
Kembra and Nicky seen by Ethan James Green courtesy of Helmut Lang Instagram

Helmut Lang has announced two more upcoming creative projects. The first, Helmut Lang Re-Edition, will reissue important heritage works: a series of fifteen pieces will be dropping every four months beginning this coming September. The second project will show Helmut rekindle its affair with the art world — previous partnerships have included prominent artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Louise Boureouis. Every month of the coming year, a new artist will release limited-edition posters, t-shirts, and other products with the brand.

Shayne Oliver’s collection, HELMUT LANG SEEN BY SHAYNE OLIVER, will debut on Monday, September 11th during New York Fashion Week. The collection will include men’s and women’s clothing as well as accessories. From what is already available, it looks like the collection is going to be incredible.

A Conversation with Power Ball XIX Artists Daniel Barrow

Daniel Barrow, ‘Emoticons,’ mixed media (2010). Image courtesy of artist.

Since childhood, Daniel Barrow has found comfort in drawing. It has allowed him to export his internal visions while getting a handle of the world around him. Born in Winnipeg and based in Montreal, he works in projection, performance, animation, printmaking sculpture, and painting. All of his pieces, including sculpture and performance, revolve around his practice of drawing. Barrow is best known for his manual comic book and cinematic narratives, which are performance pieces given by overhead projectors. With these projected animations, he works through themes of fantasy, spirituality, empathy, isolation, and queerness. His installation was featured at this year’s Power Ball XIX: Stereo Vision.

Tatyana Wolfman: Comic books and films are some of your biggest influences. Which have had the biggest impact on your work?

DB: Daniel Clowes is without rival my favorite comic-book artist and the greatest comic book story-teller of our generation. I actually worry about the impact of his narratives on my own work, and try consistently to expand my reading list.

My tolerance for bad film is much greater than my tolerance for bad comic books, so I cast a broader net of influences and inspirations in film. Ronald Neame, Fellini and De Palma are some of my all-time favorite directors. My favorite movie of 2016 was Manchester by the Sea, and the best movie, for my money, of 2017, so far, is Get Out.

Music and literature also have had a huge impact on my work, along with art historical figures like Jean Antoine Watteau.

T: Your work mixes everything from rococo, surrealism, Greek iconography and contemporary culture. How do you choose the periods you reference and what do you hope to achieve with these combinations?

DB: I don’t at all map out how my references come together in my work. Nor do I have an artistic aim apart from following the freedom of my own imagination and making my work “better” in a very general sense. The piece I presented at Power Ball was specifically referencing Magic Lantern “slipping slides,” Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and the clichéd cinematic ways of representing an erotic dream.

Daniel Barrow, ‘Trash,’ mixed media drawing (2010). Image courtesy of artist

T: While big movie studios push to get animation to look as real as possible, you use obsolete projectors to create comic book narratives. Why choose these antiquated technologies to tell your stories?

DB: A lot has been made of the fact that I consistently use “obsolete” technologies , and while I am in many respects a nostalgic person, I’m far more drawn to technologies because they are simple (many of which happen to be antiquated) and I am always searching for ways to expedite my process. I prefer working with a few people as possible – ideally alone. I consider my work cinematically ambitious, but my methods are more similar to that of a puppeteer. I love the idea of perfecting an animated gesture, but I prefer to focus my energies on pictorial depictions and story, and fast-track an animated drawing by manually moving it through a gesture and moderating everything as a live performer. The overhead projector allows me to do all of this very quickly.

T: Is having transparent/demystified mode of storytelling important to you?

DB: Being present in the room to moderate the telling of a story to an audience is important to me. I love the energy of a live audience and the relationship that can develop in real time between a performer and audience.

T: Can you tell us about the two pieces, “House on Fire” and “Learning to Breathe Underwater,” you installed for Powerball?

DB: Learning to Breathe Underwater is a composited, and projected image of a prince having sex with a mermaid on a canopy bed. It is made using three video projections and five overhead projections. The drapery of the canopy bed is projected through dishes of water animated by fans. The viewer uses an aluminum “slipping slide” (based on pre-cinematic magic lantern technology) fastened to an overhead projector to activate the act of intercourse, hence implicating themselves in the obscene gesture.

Daniel Barrow, ‘Learning to Breathe Underwater/House on Fire’ (2010).

House on Fire uses 3 overhead projectors to create the image of a large box of tissue. A large mechanized pinwheel suspended over one of the projectors provides a never-ending billow of Baroque tissue rising from the box. There are 10 cardboard-mounted slides piled next to another projector. Each features a 2-frame, “lenticular” animation of a pattern, which is animated only when the viewer drags it across the surface of the projector. The animations were almost all created by taking “compare and contrast” images from books on the history of pattern. Textbooks feature the image of a pattern of a 15th century Roman altar cloth, and contrast it with the image of a similar pattern found in Turkey a hundred years later. I used these textbook illustrations to create simple two-frame animations which then move in the template of the Kleenex box.

Daniel Barrow, ‘Learning to Breathe Underwater/House on Fire’ (2010).

T: Buddhism and spiritual transformation finds its way into a lot of your work. How does it play out in your piece Learning to “Breathe Underwater,” which is a re-imagination of Han Christian Andersen’s Little mermaid story?

DB: That’s true. Buddhism has had a huge impact on my life and imagination though I can’t think of a neat link to this particular installation.

T: The tissue box is a recurring motif throughout your work. I immediately thought of cum and tears. What does this object mean to you?

DB: I’m always attracted to images or objects have the potential of many psychological and cultural associations. Recently, I’ve been using images of toilet paper as a template for meaning. The manufacturers of toilet tissue, like Kleenex, seem to want to create an aesthetic that will defend against the function of the product – usually by conjuring notions of quilted comfort and feminine innocence. It’s invariably printed with lacy floral patterns and in Europe it can be difficult to find tissue that is not perfumed. Kleenex is something a viewer could variously associate with any number of distasteful body fluids, crying, illness, comfort and sex. I’m also drawn to the simple contradiction of forms – the unraveling patterned cube with a baroque flourish rising from the top.

T: In the pieces, viewers can choose the pattern of the tissue box and are the driving force for the prince to penetrate the mermaid. Why have the audience get involved?

DB: I think I’m trying to lend my position as a performer to the viewer, while still controlling the gesture. I am always also trying to create a more intimate experience of story and one of the ways I do that is to implicate an audience in a story gesture. The only way for the viewer to see the act of intercourse is to animate it herself – presumably with a live audience watching.

T: Anything exciting planned for the summer or new projects coming up?

DB: I’m currently working on four different stories for projection performances. I have an exhibition at Open Studio in Toronto in the fall which will also launch a new silk screen. I am in the final stages of an animated short and I am also working on a number of new sculptural pieces. I anticipate having a lot of new work to exhibit in 2018. I only wish I could clone myself to get it all done!

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Contact Festival: Talking to Suzy Lake

Suzy Lake, ImPositions Pan F Contact Sheet, 1977, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects

The Scotia Bank Contact festival is Canada’s largest photography festival, with over 1500 participating artists and 200 exhibitions taking place through the month of May. It sprawls throughout the entirety of the Greater Toronto Area. This year, the festival focuses on Canada and recognizes the 150th anniversary of the confederation; explores both documentary style pieces that capture an ever-changing Canadian landscape and images that challenge our notions of the medium.

Novella had the privilege to speak with renowned artist and 2016 Scotiabank Photography Award winner, Suzy Lake.

Lake is a veteran photographer, video maker and performance artist. Her works deal with body image, ageism, beauty, as well as gender and identity construction. She explores the effects of social convention and power dynamics: “About forty to fifty years ago I started working with issues of identity and realized that, as one is trying to find one’s voice, one becomes aware of what the resistance is and so that continued as my visual journey until now.” Although her work is highly politicicized, Lake isn’t interested in preaching, “the thing is, I create work where I’m asking a question and raising discussion. It’s not agitprop. I’m not trying to convert someone.”

Suzy Lake, Puppet Study #10, 1976, gelatin silver print, string. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects

Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1947, Lake grew up in a politically tumultuous era where racial tensions ran high. She became politically active in her young adulthood. She studied painting at Wayne State University, but felt the medium did not help her reconcile what was happening around her. She began experimenting with photography and performance art on her own accord. Witnessing the Detroit Race Riots first hand, she and her husband were forced to leave her hometown, and ended up in Montreal, Quebec.

Lake quickly realized that Canada, too, was fertile ground for the exploration of identity and power dynamics. For example, when she moved to Quebec, she discovered that she was technically her husband’s property under the Quebec Civil Code. The FLQ, a political party who violently advocated Quebec’s separation from Canada, was also active in Montreal at the time of Lake’s arrival. She sought progression through her artwork. Lake cofounded a forward-thinking, artist-run space in Montreal called Véhicule Art Inc, in 1972. Many consider it to have been at the helm of contemporary art.

Lake’s interest in the dynamics of power flourished. As she described it, there were: “Identity issues that were being addressed and they were politicized and there was resistance to them and I was very interested in that because it was very much similar to the civil rights work that I was doing in Detroit. So really, power dynamics are power dynamics. The story might be different, but the dynamic is the same.”

Suzy Lake, Thin Green Line, 2001, chromogenic print. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects

Lake moved to Toronto in the late 1970s. She began to create work concerning both identity and landscapes, these were a testament to how she felt about deeply Canadian issues. Her installations, “Desire and the Landscape” and “Authority is an Attribute, Part I and Part II” explored Canada’s convoluted relationship with landownership. In “Desire and and Landscape” she juxtaposed the pride of a community in a rural, industrial paper mill town in northern Ontario, with the fallacious expectations of cosmopolitan tourists.

“Everyone really identifies with their surroundings if they have been in a place for a long period of time. Living in Montreal for ten years — that was a length of time where I learned about its history the nuances of personality so and so forth. We have a pride in that comfort of where we are and what it looks like. It becomes part of who we are,” she said.  “If you’re a tourist, you kind of idealize what that is and it’s not necessarily on the same terms as the caretakers of that land.” For the piece, Lake created wall drawings with colored graphite pencil and intermittently hung photographs of tourists.

Canada’s historical power dynamics, clearly fraught with injustice, were incorporated into her work, she explained, “The Temagami land claim was living on a tremendous amount of Ontario, they’re hunters and at the same time desire of all the cottagers of the Temagami area had desire over the beautiful vacationing landscape and the soft wood lumber industry Goulard assumed desire and ownership over the pine forest and hydro and so you know there is a different kind of investment by others than those who are really the caretakers of the land.”

Her piece “Authority is an Attribute Part I and II” further explored the relationships between First Nations people, the provincial government, and the logging and tourist industries. In Part I, we met the figures of desire and issues of appropriation, each colonial figure had a set of binoculars because their gaze holds the power of decision-making. For Part II, the Teme-Augama Anishnabai Band Council asked Lake if she could create an exhibition on Bay Street that non-Indigenous people in Toronto could see. The Council wanted the exhibition on Bay Street (Toronto’s equivalent of the infamous Wall Street in New York), “because that’s where important decisions are made.” Lake said, “They wanted their side of the story told so every decision, every visualization that I did, I would go up to Teme-Augama and present it to and have it approved by Band Council so it really was a collaboration, but I visualized it.” The photos consist of triptychs of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai Band members smiling on their rightful land and home. She also included photos of the previously identified authority figures with binoculars from Part I as well as in cut out installations to really accentuate their taking of space. There is also a small series of silver gelatin prints entitled “Game Players” of businessmen in suits playing chess on the Augama Anishnabai land. The businessmen also represent aspects of neo-colonialism.

Whether Lake is dealing with beauty ideas, ageism, or other societal constructions, her work sparks conversation. Her work is a visual manifestation of how we may feel about social injustice.

CONTACT is celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday—yet many see little reason to celebrate our colonial foundations and the ongoing disempowerment of indigenous groups. Lake’s Attribute I and II function as an important reminder of the many injustices that Canada has perpetrated over those 150 years.

You can see Suzy Lake’s exhibition is on from April 29-August 13 at the Ryerson Image Centre.

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New Music: Shamir Surprises Fans with Hope

Shamir surprised fans this past week by releasing a surprise album on Soundcloud. The album, titled Hope, is a testament to Shamir’s honesty as an artist. It sees Shamir abandoning the pop tracks that catapulted him to fame and embracing his love of lo-fi.

“I was gonna quit music this weekend. From day one it was clear I was an accidental pop star. I loved the idea of it, I mean who doesn’t?” Shamir wrote to introduce the album. “Still the wear of staying polished with how I am presented and how my music was presented took a huge toll on me mentally.”

Shamir recorded the album by himself on a four-track over one weekend, playing, writing, producing, and mixing everything. Hope is completely stripped down, unlike his totally polished debut Ratchet.   

“My music only feels exciting for me if it’s in the moment, and that’s what this album is,” he continued. “I love pop music, I love outsider music, and I love lo-fi music, this is my way of combining all three.”

The creative direction he took with Hope is refreshing for a pop act but not totally surprising from Shamir. When he dropped his debut album and critics, fans and other onlookers were obsessing over his gender and sexuality, Shamir tweeted “To those who keep asking, I have no gender, no sexuality and no fucks to give.”

And with his new surprise album, Shamir’s no fucks attitude continues to shine through. Although the album isn’t the easiest listen or the best piece of music, it’s a real expression. In an age where most pop music is a money making science, Shamir’s courage to walk away and create genuine music is something to be commended.

Listen to the full album here: https://soundcloud.com/shamir326/hope-full-album

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Your 420 Playlist

Happy 420 Novella readers! We wanted to provide you with a chill play mix for the day that went beyond the reggae and pot cliche (not that reggae isn’t fantastic). The tracklist consists of everything from pop, indie and electronic. We hope you have a lovely time listening to these tunes and lighting one –or a few– up.

Rihanna -James Joint

People Under the Stairs – Acid Raindrops

Sharon Forrester – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

Erykah Badu – On & On

Wilson Tanner – Sun Room

De Facto – Cordova

OutKast – Crumblin’ Erb

Sean Nicholas Savage – Propaganda

Aquarian Foundation – Mind Miniatures

Rhoda Scott – Molybdenum

Devendra Banhart – Seahorse

Space Dimension Controller – The Love Quadrant

Devin The Dude – Doobie Ashtray