Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
Crass commercialization, savvy marketing, and political irony are not necessarily the first motifs that spring to mind when making art. One may be more familiar with these kinds of modern, tactile ploys in boardrooms or shares meeting for some branded global enterprise, rather than baring relevance as context to a retrospective show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art. However, if you consider these aspects as being synonymous with the works of a certain group of artists, then the involved works become elevated and wholly appropriate.
“2000 Wasted Years” is the title for the first UK retrospective by the New York-based collective, Bernadette Corporation. For this exhibition – on view through June 9 – the group, instead of assembling together former seminal pieces, remade works authored since their 1994 inception. Over the last nineteen years, Bernadette Corporation have utilized an oeuvre of concentrated mediums, toying with diverging elements such as film, literature, fashion, and installation to create their own brand of subverted impressionism, conveying a society obsessed with commerce and high culture, or more aptly, New York gallery-land and Calvin Klein.
From their beginnings, founding members Bernadette Van-Huy and John Kelsey adopted a name for the group to suggest anything other than artistic practice, and if glancing upon their collective activity for the first time, you would be convinced not to think twice. This question of identity and commodity is apparent upon walking into the show, facing viewers is a sleek, black airport style boutique that offers the artworks as though they are products to be sold. Around and within the specially built structure, the room features slouching, heroin-chic mannequins dressed head-to-toe in the Corporation’s legitimate fashion line created in the early ‘90s, and held seasonal catwalks that were highly coveted for their blasé presentation and nonchalant attitude. Inside are glass plinths holding more ‘goods’ like inkjet printed silk scarves that embellish the BC logo; at this point it still remains confusing as to where (or even whether) the actual artwork will appear. However, under the sheath of exploding rock music and jarring lights, this brainwashing dilemma becomes all part of their continuous bid to subvert consumerism. In the middle of this is a condensed blockbuster style trailer from their 2003 film Get Rid of Yourself starring the notorious downtown poster girl, Chloe Sevigny.
Get Rid of Yourself was a response to the burgeoning anti-globalism G8 crisis that occurred in 2001 using real footage of rioters tearing up the streets in Genoa. Under a somewhat laconic Sevigny dialogue, the actress re-performs phrases and quotes from the protestors themselves, but the film stands alone for another reason having become infamous as the Corporation’s significant response to 9/11 – a date which changed everything and evokes even more post-modernity.
Speaking to the ICA’s curator Matt Williams, he insisted upon the relevance of the Bernadette Corporation’s approach and that this is not a retrospective in the conventional sense, but more so another enticing turn, bringing together their sporadic ventures into magazine publishing, film production, activism, and literature under the unifying exploration of conceptual art. Possibly the most concurrent example of this is found in their 2004 novel Reena Spaulings whereby over 150 anonymous authors contributed towards creating the fictional persona of Reena Spauling and helped tell the tale of a spiraling, post 9/11 lifestyle, one seeking for identity within the exclusive worlds of high art and haute couture fashion.
What is fascinating about 2000 Wasted Years, and in many ways the Bernadette Corporation, is the complete disregard for concerns of what is genuine and false, and interpretations of the past and the future. Instead, they seem only to concentrate on how our present day conventions profoundly shape ones outlook towards a society that deems individualism as some form of commodity. “2000 Wasted Years” appears as ambiguous as their attempted branding strategies, yet notions like these are made clear upstairs in the ICA’s continued gallery space, where a rectifying timeline is put in place to mark the various opaque, and to some degree, unappreciated developments that the collective’s career has thus far foregone.