Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, 4 April – 21 June 2015
Sure enough, as DCA curator Graham Domke highlights, Spring/Summer 2015 brings colour and glamour to DCA’s main gallery spaces, the exhibition exhibiting as it does eye-catching ‘fashion, art, film, photography, sculpture, jewellery and prints together’ thanks to the rewardingly similar and different practices of Maripol, Zoe Williams and Clare Stephenson.
Spring / Summer 2015 is headlined (sort of) by a capsule collection of work from the late 1970s to the present by legendary French-born, NY-conquering, Polaroid prescient and fashion designer, Maripol. Key elements include many starry instasnaps as well as designed garments and jewellery. Maripol has helped shape the images and media perception of galacticas like Madonna, Grace Jones and Debbie Harry. Her influence has influenced your conception of celebrity as you’ll recognise.
GSA MFA graduate Zoe Williams presents her new work, ‘Fleece’, filmed at Hospitalfield House in Arbroath and finalised during a Standpoint Gallery residency earlier this year. The four-minute film teases with its jewel-fleece-based anthropomorphism and a delightful near-corollary in the human form presented as a seductive entity of composite and tactile surfaces.
There is a perspicacious element in Williams’s work that illuminates the everpresent sexual substructure of leisure and luxury – an element that hot welds the textured accoutrements of luxury to the likely-louche participants. These party people are what their artefacts of accumulation make them: indeed they have become, in a Williamsian sense, of the same smooth, unmodulated artefactual order as their accumulated luxury trappings.
Spring/Summer 2015 also treats us to Williams’s excellent 2012 short film, ‘Drench’ which lightly soaks the big gallery space with its electropop soundtrack while offering insight into the immaculate clothes, smells, drinks, sounds, fabrics, shapes, furniture, jewellery, glassware, opulence and play-freedom of evergreen 80s styelistas; timeless as they are in their glide across the surface of the non-real space-time of Dionysian gamines and lotharios.
For this visitor at least, Maripol and Williams dress the stage for the entry of Stephenson. Domke has curated newly-commissioned iterations of both her ‘Venetian Cocktail Glasses’ and ‘Martini Bikinis’ series, and the two projects – with some carefully selected props – play very well for ‘Spring/Summer 2015’. A sculpture graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee, now living and working in Glasgow, Stephenson’s is a delicately forceful collection, characteristically so, one that intelligently marries expert formal craft with this season’s leitmotiv of leisure and luxury.
Scattered cocktail glasses in wood – some full of slatted drinks too much for the absent sated to imbibe – a now unused pro-Rococo coatstand (I want it to be), and a bucket of evidence of a tidy up, make one feel a latecomer to a good time just over, or perhaps an earlycomer to the aftermath of the afterparty. A pile of bikinis rests in just the right place on the floor of the vacated tableau. Other bikinis dry on three domestic radiators. Looks like a fun time had by all; the actors now offstage, tucked up in bed following the indulgence, their last party kilojoules burnt by the twilight dip in the pool.
This is a mini-masterpiece of visual art’s proficiency with aporetic duality (one could say) a work that foregrounds Stephenson’s ability with formal and conceptual combines. Devised in collaboration with Alex Pollard in 2011 the bone dry, barely-three-dimensional glasses convince as receptacles for liquid and the bone dry slats convince as crème de menthe volume. The oddness of being able to feel and taste to bodily experience that which is so clearly not the material equivalent of the artefact is compelling. As wood splinters make for sweet viscid drips, similarly suggestively, the bundle of bikinis on the floor is sodden and the garments on the radiator splitting dry.
Found objects play their part in the stagecraft; the lamppost/coatstand and bucket of stuff. Perhaps we arrive during the final prepping of the stage set before curtain up, the chippy’s off-cuts brought to patch the prop. Perhaps we meet the human factuality of repair and frailty amidst the glamour of sipping and dipping. Curiously, just as I can’t but taste the slat cocktail and feel the coolness of the wooden glass stem, I can’t but see the objets trouvé as refined artefacts, the product of a creative’s intervention and arrangement. Stephenson expertly navigates her practice to the point of maximum return that lies somewhere between the found and the fabricated and in shaking and stirring those ingredients she gives us a highly concentrated version of a fête galante (sans personnes), a visual conjuring of the lightness and theatricality of both life and art.
That concentrated aspect in Stephenson’s work reads as effectively at the level of the installation as the object, and as if to gild the lily, through a theatrical veil we can survey the whole collection before the curtain rises, pondering at the same time, importantly, on which side of the stage we are sited. The seductive artifice of Stephenson’s installation is the galvaniser of the colours and cadences of the show as a whole.
Sure, ‘Spring/Summer 2015’ – thanks to Domke’s careful handling – testifies to contemporary art’s ‘chameleon-like resistance to definitions and restrictions’: the exhibition also acknowledges its own cultural half-life. As much as art can give you a somatic something of a powerful (temporal) order as does Williams and especially Stephenson here, it is all prey to movements across the surface of the cultural world’s surface of derigueurality. Maripol’s galacticas are soon to become historicized, are they not, as indeed they are somewhat already for those for whom the 80s appear here not only vicariously. Without totalising anything, the attention of art moves with the current, prego, and Domke invokes wryly ‘Autumn/Winter 2015’ and, of course, ‘Spring/Summer 2016’, and…ad infinitum.
That said, and lastly, there is something at play in Stephenson’s work for DCA, and in her earlier collaborations, beyond a topical interest in fashion and styling (and in discourse on artistic labour [for another time]), something at play that is durable. Stephenson capitalises on the peculiar (and trans-temporary intrinsic?) quality of artifice of plastic art artefacts: artefacts that are for most party-goers mere artefacts of luxury and leisure, no doubt, and doubly so when directed in a play on luxury and leisure, but artefacts with meaning-potential all the same, and through careful studio rehearsal, they can perform as forcefully as what they are not as what they materially are.
As the gamines and lotharios sleep off their menthe headaches, hang up your coat, stand as part of the detritus of the DCA penthouse, then have your cocktail and keep it. Stephenson permits gliding and sipping and dipping, for who wants to work those treats out of the vernissage, but there’s an antidote in ‘Spring/Summer 2015’, and, oddly, given the colour and glamour of this performance, it is made of wood.