“Do you feel that your imagination is different than the imagination of those generations that succeeded us?”
– Petr Kral at Prague Writers’ Festival ‘08
How does a young artist find inspiration in a society where “everything has been done”?
In an effort to embrace the current mainstream obsessions with retro-everthing, I decided to create a vintage collection for my Disco Dolly Designs label. I spent around three months scouring the streets of New York City burrowing through thrift stores and wholesalers, street fairs and markets. The challenge: to return to Scotland with a cohesive collection of good vintage-style fashions that are not reproduced en masse by high-street retailers. I found 70s skinny jeans, studded leather boots, plaid shirts, floral dresses, original rock-band t-shirts and classic trench coats, but something wasn’t quite right. Perhaps I was searching for more than clothes.
As a young person, I feel like everything has been done.What new words could I say that haven’t already been spoken? What new images could I create that haven’t already seen? Madonna, the culture-industry icon, has built a career on borrowing ideas and presenting them as original. “The best ideas are stolen,” says Picasso, after all. In her latest tour, Madonna stands before Keith Haring images singing reprises of her back catalogue, but I won’t complain — her new songs bore me to tears. They could be Madonna, or any other over-produced wannabee. Funny, how with the internet and indie music labels we are constantly told about new diversity and breadth of available art, music and fashion; however it seems to me that only a handful of new work ever makes it to the surface.
The artist Marcel Duchamp once commented that “there was never any thought of profiting from it,” meaning Dada, his art. This concept seems unthinkable today. Today’s successful artists and designers begin with an awareness of the need to promote and market. How can it not affect their creativity? The SoHo and Village streets of New York City offer an answer, where creative lofts now house designer boutiques for the bourgeosie. Hey Mr DJ, cue Santogold’s “L.E.S. artistes” followed by Grace Jones’ “Corporate Cannibal” — I want to dance with myself.
I recently watched a documentary film The Cockettes with fascination. The Cockettes were a group of performance artists in the San Franciscan 60s — who rose to their prime while Prague was being invaded in 1968. I was amazed at how those people lived their art, as part of a community where each group made a contribution, whether food, clothing or auto repair. The Cockettes provided entertainment. Well, entertainment and probably LSD to half of Northern California, but what a way of life! After seeing the film I became even more melancholic about present day “originality”.
The latest step in this quest came when I attended Matthew Bourne’s dance interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. Yes, interpretation. Bourne’s version surrounds a supermodel’s rise to fame via his relationship with photographers, agents and an overwhelming fashion industry. His Dorian puts a brush in the hands of our perfection-obsessed culture as well as the aptly beautiful leading man, whose pictures appear inside and on the street. Perhaps Bourne is getting somewhere. Despite my awareness of how blatantly art, design and ideas are being more and more feverishly copied, I still get excited by reinventions as they refresh the past, like Alexander McQueen’s leather corset, which is an outright tribute to Thierry Mugler’s design from the early 80s.
For now, in theory anyway, as long as an originator is credited, seems good enough to me, but I can’t help but dream of something really new coming along.
To be continued.