A Rebellious Spirit Is Hard To Define

Monday, January 29, 2018

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By Stevie Dance

Something sparked in Sissy two years or so ago when she clicked on the youtube link Gina had sent her of something called Punk Prayer. When she saw the footage of five young women dressed in colorful shifts, tight and balaclavas, in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, in Moscow it looked like, at first glance, it could be any number of things. Part freedom. Part farce. Part art. Part pure terror. It was almost so radical and steeped in such a sense of visual fantasy that without any context, the notion of it being someone’s reality seemed inconceivable. Later having uncovered the political nature of the performance staged by Pussy Riot she had been made privy to, Sissy started to feel a desire to do something herself. But where to start when at present she wasn’t sure what oppression she felt, just that she wanted to be able to liberate whatever may exist. She wanted to find a way to relate to the movement that was personal to her existence. Sissy began to ask herself what her personal protest would look like and what it would stand for. Although aware that later she had in fact been watching something some academics would go on to describe as miracle art, she knew there was a way to translate the sentiment, of freedom for choice to her own life.

“Our body, our choice. Our tumblr, our voice.”

Christine was listening to the new anthem streaming on RookieMag.com titled Go Forth Feminist Warriors from her place in BK and this chorus struck her the most. She penned it on a piece of paper and stuck it to her notebook. When asked to describe what she felt this meant, she mentioned the importance of an internal dialogue, “living, being true to yourself and what you want, regardless of what is expected of you in society or elsewhere – the spirit of Pussy Riot really. I like to think that I live my life and support other women.” When asked if there was any literature or music she turned to in light of this she responded without hesitation, Chris Kraus’s 1997 novel, I Love Dick, because she said it was the type of novel you have to share. She says there are quotes in it that taught her how to change her thinking. This was one of those books she would take to with a highlighter, and later followed up in an email to me one of her favorite stanzas “ … I think the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but above all else public is the most revolutionary thing in the world.”, It read.

It will perhaps suggest a certain sense of the mood to this past year when you hear that Lila’s biggest fear has been being perceived as a girl-girl and the negative emotional constructs or superficial boundaries she associates with that. When her therapist asked her what that meant exactly, she said this “you know, it’s a bunch of things that I can’t make sense of, that I know sounds contradictory but at the same time it feels fair to me. I want to be able to leave his place and not give a fuck and feel good from the fuck. At the same time I don’t want to have to call home only to hear my mother ask me if I’d met anyone nice lately; the hope lingering that maybe nice means “marrying kind”. And I don’t want that to mean something to me. ‘Cos right now it does. ‘Cos that would be nice too. I want to be able to buy him dinner and I want equal pay but I don’t want to lose romance. Romance is what makes me feel like gold dust just fell on my face by some stroke of luck. I still want that. I want to feel good in my skin and I want that ‘good’ to be based on my own sense of self, not what society tells me it should be. And I have so much guilt about the fact that I kind of want a boob job; the guilt because I’m not sure whom that boob job would be for. And if it isn’t for me, then what does that mean? Does it mean I am not keeping the spirit? Basically I want to be treated as a person, but not a man, and in doing so I still want to be desirable, but not because I have to be. You know? Does this make any sense?”

Someone once brought Hailey to a dinner party where it turned out Donna Fame was hanging down on Canal Street. It was an attempt, Hailey thought, maybe for Donna to feel like-minded with her peers, despite the ridiculous amount of coverage she was currently being prescribed post a very public drug bust in Penn state. DF didn’t say much, nor did she smoke an E cig like everyone else in the troupe which she travelled in, but when she did start a conversation, post messing with her instagram feed on her phone, she said something so acute and observant of the scene; questions Hailey had been pondering herself, that her downtown notoriety suddenly seemed so much more relevant.

“Does anyone get this new ‘Art Girl’ thing going on at the moment. Everyone down at Basel. I mean I get it. I get that they don’t care. They video themselves lighting farts on insta ‘cos they don’t care and that’s freedom. That’s their stance right? They are real, they got bush, that’s real. They are writing a thesis but they still dig how they can twerk and how hot their ass looks in those high-rise skinnies. That’s Now. But then what? You’re not burning your bra but you aren’t not either? Does anyone get it?” It was the last thing Hailey expected someone like Donna Fame to have an outburst on but it tapped pretty deep into the ideals she was struggling with herself. What constitutes a worthy personal protest? Did listening to Bikini Kill still count? Was there a success meter to being rebellious? Did you need traction for it to count? Spirit is better than nothing right?

Anouc got an email in her inbox while she was on holiday on the Bahia, from this writer she had met through her girlfriend. It read like this,

“I’m writing an essay think piece on Pussy Living and the inspiration spawning a new set of feminist trending elements out and about. Pussy Riot to Petra Collins. Any thoughts on this I can quote you on? What you think Pussy Living is?”

And so she replied, “I’ve never had to use the term, if it it even is one – of Pussy Living. My pussy has always lived its own life, breath and personality. Sometimes it’s made decisions for me. I have a full bush and I don’t have to shower an hour before I know I have a date to remove living traces of what my taste is. I have shaved, bleached and put purple in my pussy to flash it a bit more when I was younger, but now I am much more inside, I know, it is a living piece of initiative rhythm.”

Liz is an artist that has found notoriety on the Lower east side, specifically due to her bleeding vagina paintings and perhaps the underarm hair she has flashed in nude editorials for highly regarded fashion art journals. She is well read, articulate, a John Waters fan and sincerely transparent. When asked if Pussy Riot has inspired her and her work she texts back this:

“They are pretty much the most badass women in existence. Every time a man calls me sweetheart or baby I want to scream some PUSSY RIOT in his face but I don’t speak Russian (;”

And when I asked about this so-called inspired PUSSY LIVING that is being curated contemporarily she says “LOL. What exactly do you mean?” And she is right. She is spot on. Pussy Living doesn’t mean anything but just because you can’t measure it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

On Pussy Riot, Miley Cyrus & Surfin’ the Fourth Wave.
By Lily Silverton

I may be a Fashion Features Director at a fashion magazine, but (believe it or not) my thoughts are not entirely, 100%, at all times focused on fashion. Sometimes they venture to pastures less peripheral. And right now, I’m not contemplating chunky Balenciaga flats and debating whether or not I can pull off head to toe white in February (answer, yes); I am also thinking that it is a good time to be a woman. Or more specifically, I think it’s a good time to be a creative woman.

My preoccupation with this thought began last year when I interviewed one of my favourite artists, the POP contributor Linder Sterling, at the preview of her exhibition and performance The Ultimate Form at the Barbara Hepworth Museum in Wakefield (if you haven’t been there, make a date with the Hepworth asap).

Linder and I chatted at some length about the place of women and of the feminine spirit in contemporary life, and she really got me thinking about how far we (women) have come. Since then I have been immersed in the words of some other inspiring female creatives: Carolee Schneemann and Collier Schorr (for this issue) plus Judith Bernstein (for a forthcoming project, watch this space). As I digested each women’s words I was left with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and joy. Three generations on from Barbara Hepworth, and so much has changed since she first Pierced Form. So much has changed for the better. 2014 feels like a good year to be a woman.

Now I’m writing this with a certain degree of trepidation. I’m a bit scared what people will think… I work at a fashion magazine, I wear high heels and G-strings (often at the same time), I like Henry Miller; is it a good idea to even contemplate using the word feminism? Well, I think if 2013 has taught us anything it is that anyone, ANYONE, is entitled to comment. And on that vein, a disclaimer: I know that gender inequality is no myth, I know that we have a long way to go, I know that I’ve probably missed out crucial points, I know that my view is not even applicable. But… Screw it, I have this desire to exorcise a few thoughts.

Here’s the thing. For more than 200 years, many brilliant and angry women have demanded a change to the status quo. These women didn’t have the access to the system that we (as women) do today. It really was hard out there for a bitch. Schneemann, Bernstein, Schorr, Linder and many, many others fought to get us to where we are. They used art as a tool for active social and cultural change – shifting gender assumptions and challenging stereotypes. They changed the system, and we should be very thankful to them; as a result of their unwavering dedication to the cause of gender equality within the arts, we are most definitely getting there. Because of the female artists that have fought for us, it really is a good time to be a creative woman. We are winning Germaine Greer’s Obstacle Race. In heels and a G-string. Or trainers and jeans. Whatever you want; which is the real point.

Now feminism (like all isms) is, of course, not a unitary concept. It is a diverse and multifaceted grouping of ideas and actions, and there are increasingly more and more strands that make it up. At its core there is one unifying belief, however: gender equality. For me it’s simple. If you believe in gender equality, then hands up high, you are a feminist. Or more precisely in 2014 a “fourth-waver”.

The fourth-wave movement follows the first-wave campaign for votes for women in the 1920s, the second-wave women’s liberation movement that typified the 1970s, and the third-wave declared by Rebecca Walker (Alice Walker’s daughter) in the 1990s. This fourth-wave, like most political and social movements of the 21st Century, is largely defined by technology and the Internet. Oh yeah and, unlike most political & social movements of the 21st Century, by Miley Cyrus.

Let’s get stuck in to Miley because it kinda has to be done. Whether you took offence to Miley’s… well, just to Miley I guess, or whether you found her particular form of feminist expressionism inspiring, there is no arguing that her performance (and everything that followed in its wake) brought the issue of feminism to the forefront of people’s minds. In 2013, feminism weirdly became a Trend. It hit the front page of the Mail Online multiple times over; the significance of which should not be underrated.

Miley announced: “I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women not to be scared of anything”.

Here’s the thing, as a woman, I think you perhaps should be scared to leave the house dressed in Cyrus attire acting in the way that she does in her pop videos. Because not everyone has a bodyguard, and there are some things to be scared of, as any mother (such as my own) well knows. Miley has a big influence on very young women, and I don’t think she takes this responsibility at all responsibly. She’s an idiot. There, I’ve said it.

The whole hypersexual culture as empowerment just doesn’t sit right with me. When female empowerment was discussed in the past, it was not the idea of a near nude young woman pretending to fuck a foam finger that would spring to mind (rather, the attempts by women to gain real political economic and cultural equality.) But I respect that some feel this emboldening. The fact that women can be openly sexually active and experienced without being condemned is a direct result of feminism’s second wave (pay attention at the back). This is clearly something to be celebrated. Ultimately, the Miley sentiment is good. The Kids Are Alright (I hope).

The reason I’ve picked on Miley is because her behaviour is indicative of something far bigger than a wrecking ball. The Internet has allowed women to build a strong, popular, reactive movement online. It has attuned this new generation of women to all the terms, categories and issues that sit under the (wide) umbrella of feminism. And it has affected this audience from an early age. These girls are on it. So really, what also defines the fourth-wavers is the fact that these women have been brought up to believe – to know! – they are equal to men. Now, more than ever, women feel as if they not only have a voice but, crucially, that they are entitled to that voice. This means a lot in the context of art as a profession. Maybe women don’t always feel listened to – who does!? – but they feel allowed to talk. For how long has this been the case? I don’t think Schneemann, Schorr, and Linder were raised to feel equal to men. They felt entitled to their voices, but they also knew that society, as a whole, didn’t necessarily quite agree with that. Or them.

Women and girls today are far more likely to be encouraged to be who they want. To be themselves. In general we don’t need to act like one of the boys to now be taken seriously as a girl. Not that a good shout up once in a while doesn’t do any harm.

Which brings me to our cover girls, Nadja and Masha. Pussy Riot needed to scream; and scream they did. I don’t think you can watch Punk Prayer, and not be impressed. Even if you don’t like the performance, even if you don’t agree with their methods, even if you don’t like colourful leggings, I think it’s still remarkable. (Full disclosure: it gave me goose bumps, and I am normally a bit numb to protests – seeing as I studied at SOAS, where there’s more protests than coffee breaks.)

In their provocative (politically, not like licking a sledgehammer provocative) video, Pussy Riot pray to The Virgin to kick out Putin and protect the political sanctity of Russia. They don’t hate religion; this is not about the church. This is about the separation of church and state, this is about democracy and equality. This is an attempt by a group of women to affect real political, economic and cultural change. It is art, it is protest, it is raw. And its existence is proof we still have a way to go. (Plus its internet trajectory/ubiquity, proof of fourth-wave era power!)

When we chose to feature Nadja and Masha, just a couple of weeks after their release from prison, we did so because we believe fully in their cause. FULLY. We want the same world as they do: a world in which all women know they are equal to men. The interesting thing is, these women essentially go against all traditional values. Which we, at POP, don’t. Well I don’t anyway.

But here Pussy Riot are now, talking with us over croissants. Shot for us by Juergen Teller and, wonderfully, smiling! It will be interesting to see where Pussy Riot goes from here; unmasked in the midst of a capitalist world with which they don’t want to engage, but probably must in order to continue their protest. I’m just the (wo)man at the back, demeaning the pack. I feel it’ll be a big year, 2014.

You know what? Let’s not forget all the women who fought for us. And let’s support the women who continue to fight. And let’s appreciate how far we’ve come… The list of successful contemporary female artists is now long and beautiful. Museums and major art institutions are now focused on locating and buying-up blue chip feminist and political art, particularly in the 60s and 70s. Women now sell and then some.

The American artist and writer Judy Chicago spent years trying to recapture a sense of the value of the art that women traditionally made throughout history. In her biography, Through the Flower, she wrote: “Much of the work of women possess a world view, a set of values, and a perception of reality that differs fundamentally from the dominant perspective of our culture.” This female “world view” has always been there, but we haven’t been allowed to express it so openly. We haven’t always been listened to so closely. And now that we are, there is even more scope to question, challenge and inspire.

I for one feel so lucky and excited to be a part of that.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes. One Million Meadham Kirchhoff Fans Can’t Be Wrong!
By Susie Lau

Back In December, Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff were invited by the Victorian & Albert Museum to stage a retrospective fashion show as part of the V&A’s Fashion in Motion programme, where the public get to see an impressive designer in the stately room of Raphael Hall. As we stood in the entrance lobby before the show, you could see the girls dressed in their own mish-mashed homages to Meadham Kirchhoff – with a combination of vintage pieces and their recent successful collaboration with Topshop (it was the fastest selling designer collection to hit the high street chain), they were all fan-girling different Meadham Kirchhoff epochs with their studied outfits. It occured to me that a) I had never seen that at a Fashion in Motion show and b) there are really only a handful of designers in the world that would ever have a discernible hardcore fanbase. I’m not talking about super rich clientele, who have direct dials to their dedicated SA’s at a Céline store or editors and buyers who get discounts and wholesale prices. I’m talking about, for want of a better word, “normal” girls (and in Meadham Kirchhoff’s case, more often than not, they are girls) who Tumblr endlessly, lovingly saving and reblogging images of Meadham Kirchhoff’s work, and recognise in the duo, a kindred spirit in the world of making lovely things.

“Lovely is a good word. I try and approach clothes as things someone can see and feel delighted by. That’s the entire point of clothes. They’re things that you can feel emotional connections to and feel joy from,” explained Edward Meadham, when I prompted him about why I, and so many people, have such a deep and obsessive love for what MK do. That love transcends beyond mere fashion. In fact, the majority of their fan base probably is not clicking obsessively on Style.com, because for them, only Meadham Kirchhoff matters. Their culminative body of work, starting from when they began their gradual ascent of rebellious and willfully uncompromising exploration of the Cosmology of Women, created a vortex that would forever suck in every pensive dreamer girl, with a penchant for the dichotomous combination of stickers and Courtney Love. Their abundant use of glitter, marabou, lace, trim, ruffle, sequin, embroidery and just about anything fanciful that comes out of a haberdashery, along with the narratives they build in their shows, seems to have connected with girls (and boys) all over the world, who were previously told to “Tone it down” or “Play it safe”. Meadham Kirchhoff, in effect, has given license to breathe freely in the course of self-expression, something that in your formative years, can be something of a painful process. Hence, why when I approached fans at the Fashion in Motion show for a photograph, they mostly shirked away in their layers of loveliness.

For those outside of the dreamer realm though, their Spring Summer 2014 collection clicked in a different way. Previously you’re either someone who “gets” Meadham Kirchhoff, or you don’t and frankly, they don’t want everyone to get it. But even those that were naysayers or somewhere in the middle had to take note of the tighter edit and maybe, a magical moment where if you didn’t relate to the “Fuck you” feminist missives, they could at the very least, appreciate the undeniably beautifully accomplished ensembles that were sent out. “I had a motto when working throughout the collection. My only point was to ‘Make it nice!’” said Ed. “In comparison to other seasons, there’s less of a point I was trying to make. There wasn’t a result I was trying to get, other than not to hate it. It was also the first collection where I didn’t draw anything.” The duo were hardly winging it though. They were simply confident enough to reiterate what they had done before without fear of repetition. “We’ve never really done the thing of rehashing things,” said Ben. “We don’t want to be proud of anything at this stage. We’ve had so many ups and downs. It’s difficult to be self-confident enough to say ‘Ah yes, that’s what we do.’ It comes from the innate sense of new challenges, new battles and new wars to fight. This time, we felt confident enough to a do a little bit of that.” Both Ben and Ed admit that there wasn’t necessarily any new territory explored – the polka dot chiffon, the precious slip dresses, the helter-skelter tailoring. What struck you was the incredible finesse of every piece. Their more-is-more approach this time round wasn’t just to pile and pile it on until everything was obscured but to ensure that when a dress hung heavy with pearlescent bugle beading and traditional blackwork embroidery, every stitch was neatly in place. “It came together a lot more accurate,” said Ed. “Nothing looked wonky. Nothing looked messy. Everything came together in a visually calm way.”

Ed and Ben cited David Bowie as a reference – surprising not because the exhibition at the V&A was so seminal but because as a reference, Bowie can often be a hackneyed hole that many a designer has fallen into. They avoided that hole. “I’d been to a Bowie exhibition, and it struck me that I had never had a Bowie phase,” said Ed. “He had never been a really important part of my life. It made me realise how much it affected me without even having that specific period time of obsession. My favourite Bowie moment was the Thin White Duke – I loved the way he looked in that and in The Man Who Fell To Earth. He looked so much more extreme when he was Ziggy.” They avoided any reference-ridden clichés as they incorporated aspects of Elizabethan portraiture. You wouldn’t exactly call the collection sparse but in comparison to their previous shows, there was a knowing or a call to arms but in truth, it’s gotten to the point where there’s no need. Meadham Kirchhoff have been producing work for the past decade. In the last five, they have cemented their audience. Their devotees are already 100% Team MK. As opposed to the fashion fitters who dance from one “HOT” label to the other, you get the feeling that once you fall hard for Meadham Kirchhoff, that love endures. If there was any message to be taken from this collection, it was that beyond lofty references or thematic exploration, it was that it was perfectly timed ode to beautiful things. We’re three years into the second decade of the millennium and if the noughties had no discernible aesthetic traits connected to its fashion, as previous decades have, then the twenty-tens are even more of a blank. “I love shops,” said Ed. “I love clothes, but there is nothing to want on a universal level. It seems like fashion is just perpetuating this coma of pointlessness. Everyone likes the same thing. There’s nothing that I personally feel an attraction towards. They’re not trying to make fashion not scary for people.” This isn’t to say that Meadham Kirchhoff are by any means, the only people out there making lovely things, but it does seem that increasingly, designers of their ilk, whose sole aim is to create without compromise, are making way for “brands” that know the profit margin and buyer-appeal of commercial sweatshirts and an IT bag. It’s heart breakingly hard to avoid the fact that an Insta-generation of fashion lovers are in danger of losing appreciation for the type of labour-intensive craft that Meadham Kirchhoff employ in their work.

Not that either Ben or Ed are vaguely concerned with appealing to everyone and anyone. “I don’t see the point of talking down to people,” said Ed. “If they don’t get it, maybe they’re not supposed to.” All the better for those who do ‘get’ it to appreciate what they do. That Victoria & Albert Fashion in Motion together with the fact that it was with record breaking time that people rushed out to buy feather trimmed pink PVC skirts and green glitter monster faced heels on the day they came out in Topshop. For both Ben and Ed, it was a satisfying vindication to know that what they have been creating over the years had selling power. It begs the question of buyers, who pre-mediate what the consumer is going to go for – do they always get it right?

In a sea of mediocrity, Meadham Kirchhoff stands firm and tall. They can easily be misinterpreted. Their work can confuse people who are looking for “easy” solutions. But ‘difficult’, ‘complex’ and ‘puzzling’ are words that can all be turned into positives, when talking about Meadham Kirchhoff. The converted don’t need to be preached to. They’re already out there, either wearing MK-inspired homages or if they’re lucky, the real shebang. To them, everything the duo do is lovely. Regarding the naysayers though, what fashion enthusiast would object to the sort of loveliness that Meadham Kirchhoff are devoting themselves to creating?

“My real point in my life is to challenge myself on a technical level and to create things as amazingly as I can,” said Ed. “Often I fail, sometimes I succeed.”

“My real point in my life is to challenge myself on a technical level and to create things as amazingly as I can,” said Ed. “Often I fail, sometimes I succeed.”

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