Phoebe and Me... and Anh and Mona
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
By Stevie Dance
“The Dutch and the Belgians didn’t respond wholeheartedly to Laurie Anderson’s work until she got a haircut. She had long hair, and when she got her spiky punk cut, then suddenly her work became very cool and she was just embraced with open arms. It’s kind of shallow, but that’s how it was.” said Jane Crawford, on Laurie Anderson, NYTimes.
It’s harder to see yourself, than it is to see others, harder to see yourself with any great objectivity . Shooting a self portrait series then, amid the bombardment of the connected era, can render self taken images daunting at least, potentially unnecessary and at worst, utterly meaningless.
It would have been much easier to say “no”.
Mac has been asking for such projects from his artists for some time now. You would imagine most at team POP have received his Cindy Sherman challenge. Be extreme! Really go for it! he says, Mac believes in the YOU of today as a headline for his tomorrow. Most probably declined the offer, protesting the mayhem and later self affirming their decision by tapping their own shoulder as if to caution – simplify.
Normally you would have to agree, though you cannot help but wonder, can any real truth be found in seclusion?
So in light of women everywhere taking back representation of themselves, especially amid the post Weinstein lens, and in honor of all the brilliant subjects that have been brave enough to be vulnerable before you and for you, in these pages over the years, you say ok.
You rally Mona and Ahn to join you, two women whom you have always admired, as although it is meant to be a portrait of the self, you believe true value lies in the collaboration with others, in the communal wave. What We want. What We feel. What We desire.
This is a Self Portrait.
You read in the Times, the review of the retrospective heralding David Hockney’s 80th year, organized collaboratively via the Tate, The Met & the Pompidou. The review claims that Hockney’s greatness was in part, “his supremely unconflicted appreciation of himself “. And later proposes thoughts that challenge the overarching criticisms of his career - that challenge the idea that he ever could be considered an artistic lightweight. Indeed why does optimism and directness and sunny colors often insist on one’s lack of art authority? Why do some conclude that such traits equate to triviality? You have often asked yourself such questions in light of all pantheons and aesthetics and cities even and you think then of your favorite photos of Hockney himself - in pastel suits outside Disney land; mops of bleach blonde hair, toothy smiles and Californian paraphernalia; the Polo stripe sweaters, ones that say UCLA across them; pink skin, blue waters, bikini dancing dolphins, out past the ocean’s pier. Hockney’s “Portrait of an artist” (pool with two figures) comes to mind, his supposed ‘break up’ canvas, the one where the man in the simple white underpants is doing breast stroke towards the other man, Peter Schlesinger they say, dry, in his raspberry sports coat at the end of the pool, somewhere in the Hollywood Hills perhaps and you think then of the Celine suits, like Peter’s. The sorbet shades of practical pleated skirt-suit heaven. Forget the brands’ beige reign for a moment, if you will. California says sunny side up. In fact, California has often been dealt the same criticisms. The city, Los Angeles is often mocked for its lack of history, for its lack of culture. Now too, it is suddenly of interest.
You found yourself migrating to Los Angeles, because it reminded you of where you are from, Australia, the land of little imported luxury, the land they say of the simple pleasures, where cheerful colloquialisms and unbridled enthusiasm are rampantly practiced in lieu of what many are born into elsewhere. Be that heritage and restraint and in turn, all such trappings that follow such rules.
You remember who you were when you still lived back home, teenage you riding the train line looking for a liqueur called Passion Pop and wearing something called Cherry on your lips and your eyelids too; something which was not red but in fact an iced white lip balm that your Mum found horrific which of course made you wear it more. You remember the fireworks and the one-button jeans called hipsters and the RM Williams boots which you called your shit kickers and clothes in shades of sherbet then also. You remember the purple jacaranda trees and the perfect almost painful sunsets and the Sunday eggs and the chutney sandwiches and the scent of the pink frangipani flowers that vaguely smell now in your memory, like some sort of fool’s paradise. A Pink paradise, pink skin, pink sports coat, pink at night, they would say, Shepherds delight, which meant the next day would be a good day, which most days were, actually.
You remember the Chinese side of your family tree and the lucky red envelopes, stuffed with lucky money, that you would be given anytime you went to visit your grandparents on the Gold Coast. Bright lucky red those envelopes were, like that red lace Celine shirt, lantern red.
When you walked into their home, there was a painting of a waterfall in the foyer, that when you plugged it in, lit up with the sound of running water. There were lace drawn curtains around the windows. There was rice on the cooktop and duck too - sweet and sour. Everyone around the lazy Susan was in flip flops and board shorts and your Grandma’s umbrella would be by the door. She would lap around the block with it in peak summer time - she never wanted to tan too much. And you remember thinking then what you still know now, how you were never Asian enough to be Chinese, never Australian enough to be blonde.
You remember the brown meat pies and the brown sausage rolls and the way imported blueberry bagels rolled in sugar from America on the table on a Saturday was a sweet luxury, your friends always enjoyed. You remember Split Enz playing on the radio and you always singing along;
“ I don’t know why sometimes I get frightened,
You can see my eyes and tell that I’m not lying”
You remember old bouts of The Birthday Party playing where Rowland S. Howard was always the hero and festivals out on Cockatoo Island and how good your disco technique was with your girlfriends, who also had boys’ names and how most people thought Nick Cave was bull. You remember that all days started and ended with the ocean and wet hair, fish and chips wrapped in brown paper, covered in vinegar. You remember your candy striped school uniform and the boater hat you wore, sopped wet through and always covered in sand. White underpants then too. You remember the seashells that decorated everyone’s mantelpiece and the surfers down by the beach whom you would fantasize over; fantasize over beating one day as you bopped around in the waves next to them and fantasize over being if they were Pro. You remember wetsuits and potato scallops and not much need for much else more, besides the recreational pastimes, inherent in towns abandoned by all other countries on the geo map. We broke away, they tell you at school. Does this sound trivial? Does it sound too cheerful? Do those things then make it too obvious to be compelling? Maybe, but it was what we knew. What makes something obvious anyway?
When Phoebe Philo’s SS18 Celine collection arrived in Paris, the synchronized sighs of joy rolled out for most watching, be it on their laptops or in real time or later on the waiting lists for the stores, irrespective of their age. For many, it heralded, yet again, the new way in which women wanted to be. For many, it made them want to save their money and buy their future – a contemporary version of positive professional power dressing, that was the antithesis to ways such concepts have been presented before, but not at odds with them entirely, just updated emotionally and practically. Ultimately, Philo has always made it about the wardrobe and about how that wardrobe can help the woman. Even if it was only the multi zip wallet in some shade of Donald Judd you could afford if you saved or simply the big square sunglasses that you could find at your local department store - and if only for this reason – Philo’s designs made you feel as capable as you hoped deep down you were - capable, and contemporary. Coconut palm tree linen trousers, button-less suiting, one minute it is lemon sorbets and the next, it is black and patent. There were sneakers thankfully, as we are indeed running at life and there were kaftans and trench coats, made up of the sweet sound of success, all awaiting you. For the professional, it felt pleasing. Mona, Ahn and you, all could agree. In fact you are all inextricably linked by your adoration for the brand. You are part of a collective that wants and needs Phoebe Philo’s Céline. Where will we all turn to now that she has announced her departure after a 10-year post? Indeed the Hedi Slimane vision, set to replace Philo’s, this September, is certain to be an entirely different machine, one that even includes menswear as part of the new Celine offering. Whether it will draw a comparable loyalty from said collective, we will just have to wait and see.
One journalist, in an ode to Philo, announces that he imagines she could in fact end up after it all in California, funnily enough; for the architecture, he proposes and perhaps that positivity she has long been recorded as musing for. Coincidently, a SS18 Philo/Teller image appears on your feed. It’s a photo of a swimming pool, an empty pool, looking very much like a west coast locale - the tumbleweed in the foreground, further confirming it.
Later, someone sends you some sketches of Hockney’s that are showing simultaneously to the big retrospective, at the Paul Kasmin gallery. They are small-scale drawings with lots of white space. There is a note on one, of a youth with a hat and some idiosyncratic body language; a note written by Hockney himself. It reads
This isn’t very good.