BON has exclusively teamed up with VNIVRS to share in-depth insight into the realms of art, fashion and theatre. VNIVRS is a platform on which references from these disciplines are assigned to, associated and juxtaposed with each other.
VNIVRS is a part of the artist Anna Ellinor Sundström, who works within installation, sound and writing. For bon.se she will write a visual essay every other week, as well as posting two connected images per day. VNIVRS will guide you in this first instalment of BON x VNIVRS series through a contemporary journey of the Spiral Jetty and Britney Spears, Prada and Playboy, Bill Viola and Kanye West.
“Someday, all department stores will become museums, and all museums will become department stores.” – Andy Warhol
Site-specific staging: In Pop and as a Cultural Backdrop examines the phenomenon of how we long ago started seeking to replace religion and in that quest we shaped contemporary culture, but also the way we view ourselves. We have, through developing suspicion against old-fashioned metaphysical views, created a hole in need of being fed and substituted. We are still desperate to find the meaning of life. Our actions indicates lack of innovation and rather imitates the established, and thus with the newfound instruments of contemporary culture, it is clear that we yearn for a way back. We still possess the need to raise a symbol of belief.
”We feed ourselves with embellishments to cover up for the dust we are made up of.”
In this excursion we lead towards the truth, we are all actors; only the answers differ depending on the mediator. However, our common denominator seems to be the fact of leaving a mark on this earth. From the beginning of human history, signs of our existence have been etched onto the surface of land and in our minds. The bones of dinosaurs who suddenly vanished and now being exposed in museums as a reminder of that, Jesus who died and whose figure adorn religious sanctuaries and became a statue of faith, the 15 minutes of fame with which we are eagerly trying make our own mark… Death is upon us now more than ever. And we feed ourselves with embellishments to cover up for the dust we are made up of.
Historical references testify a huge sense of ownership of this earth in the way we made ourselves known to it; both geographically and socially. We will look at two phenomenons that, while they adorn the world, simultaneously function as its most uncompromising commentator: site-specific art and site-specific pop installations. Site-specific art, or land art – a notion coined by Robert Smithson, was intended to challenge the art environment in the 1960’s. As manifestations against the cultural-commercial environment in general were on the rise, it also influenced the art market to fight the superficiality and the consumer mannerisms. Meanwhile it acted as a chance for more female artists to exist and display their work. Their work gave land art a more specific synonym: environmental art, due to the use of the actual nature in the artwork. While rendering visible our influence on the environment, it was consequently also used as an objective but well-grounded commentary on the affect.
It has since continued to comment on contemporary society with modernised means and state-of-the-art technologies along with sponsorships and support from institutions and organisations now specialized in land art production. The scale in which they have been able to construct pieces compares to the grandeur of the nature itself. Below is one of the most famous examples of land art: Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson, 1970.
Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970.
Due to land art’s success and its diffusion in the media, it became a medium itself, and thus fell prey to their very enemy: commercialism. The phenomenon has since been re-appropriated by pop and commercial culture, just like art has been used in fashion at all stages: from collection inspiration to advertising.
A first striking counter-installation used by the pop industry is below Britney Spears’ announcement of her 2-year residency at Planet Hollywood out in the Mojave desert, rumoured to be worth around 100 000 dollars.
Britney Spears, Piece of Me announcement, 2014.
However, artists who work in the threshold between art and fashion have been able to prove that their intention is derived from a more rooted concept; to challenge respective territory while re-appropriating art into fashion and fashion into art. At times, they merge as each other’s reflection and the two universes become in the end one artistic expression with two different languages. One case where this has happened, where the lines have been blurred and questioned from both worlds, is the artwork Prada Marfa by Elmgreen and Dragset. They called it themselves a ”pop architectural and land art project”, acting as an art installation but while encompassing commercial components it stretched the Texas state’s perception of land art: They regard it as outdoor advertisement, claiming that the logo-embellished storefront is situated where a permission needs to be obtained (although it lays on private land), and wants to have it removed.
Elmgreen & Dragset, Prada Marfa, 2005.
A similar commercial land art installation that too has attracted tourist and state attention is Playboy Marfa. Conceived by the artist Richard Phillips and creative director of special projects Neville Wakefield and installed near the abovementioned artwork, it fell under legal controversy, leading to removal of the artwork and into Dallas Contemporary Museum as part of Phillip’s first American solo show. This shows inevitably that a site-specific installation, bending the boundaries of commerce in the outside world, also functions as a relatively conventional artwork in a white cube setting. Or rather, that the source of the art happily lends its work to other platforms in order to provide an analytical depth to a publicly known subject – in a setting normally frequented by precisely the public itself. The phenomenon is then not at all advertising, but a commentary on its origin and behaviour, challenging our own perception of the effect it has on us.
Richard Phillips, Playboy Marfa, 2013.
With the media now using this medium in full capacity to convey their messages, the fashion world feels entitled to the same exposure and suddenly we have a full circle as fashion (as an art) again turns into art, communicating on the same scale and often made in collaboration with artists.
”The Louis Vuitton trunk had to be removed by order of the state.”
Re-appropriated art installations does not only limit itself to deserted outdoors surroundings, where the space certainly is a condition benefiting liberty in volume and sometimes legal aspects, but also to sites that comes with a pre-established history and agenda. Red Square in Moscow is such site, in which the whole history and pride of Russia seems to be embedded (Lenin’s grave, location for parades celebrating their victory of Germany in World War II, etc.) and therefore very sensitive to the exposure it emits. If Prada Marfa is a ‘pop architectural and land art project’, then Dior and Louis Vuitton exhibitions and fashion show on the Red square would be ‘pop political installations’. The Louis Vuitton trunk had to be removed by order of the state, originally permitted by GUM department store on the square. However, the Dior mirror box was allowed to stay. This marked their second fashion show hosted in Russia, the first taking place in 1959, after Christian Dior himself was much fascinated by the culture and heritage of Russia caused by novel Michel Strogoff and nurtured by the Ballet Russes.
Louis Vuitton exhibition, 2013.
Dior, Autumn/Winter 2013.
Another site, bearing similar heavy associations and attachments in history as well as religion, is the church. Just like places of worship; galleries and other similar venues become other types of sanctuaries. The actors within these platforms attempt, or subconsciously comply with the rules of society, in order to become the symbol of their own circle. Artists become the God of galleries and musicians the God of the stage.
”Meanwhile, on a stage somewhere, Kanye West performs and needs no approval”
Not many artists have been given the chance to appropriate and expose their art permanently in such institutions, as it requires being subject to an invitation. This already eliminates the fact that the installation could be violating any legal offences and is thus more a collaboration with the site. In this case there is no need for converting an audience to a message, which might be one of the crucial differences from land art, where the art is placed as to be stumbled upon. The artist Bill Viola, known for his spiritual or even divine universe, capturing the very natural and basic essences of life and death in decelerated magnified moments on screen, brings thus a modern take on the message for viewers who already are ‘religiously’ visiting the site. Here is an example of one of his site-specific installations Martyrs, the first permanent show in St. Pauls’ church in London, commissioned especially by them. In this case, the Catholic Church rather appropriates themselves into his work.
Bill Viola, The Martyrs, 2014.
Meanwhile, on a stage somewhere, Kanye West performs and needs no approval but instead claims his standing as a mediator to the people. In his shows, notably the Jeezus tour, he aligns himself with the status of a prophet and demands to be raised up accordingly by his audience, and the point could through this evidence not be stressed more. This is not an installation in a church, however it is a pop installation in a setting replicating the qualities of the church and its associations.
Kanye West, Yeezus tour, 2013.
Bill Viola, Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall), 2005 and Kanye West, Yeezus tour poster, 2013.
Above is a last reference; another similar work by Viola in comparison with the poster art for West’s tour; the similarities become immediate and even striking. It is thus clear that they are mediating similar stories told in different languages, on different platforms. It seems that the objects in front of us shape accordingly to they way we need to see them, and that artists take the place as a substitute representative interceding the two worlds of the unknown and us; its spectators.
Anna Ellinor Sundström, born 1987, with a BA Fine Art from Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design and École National Supérieure des Beaux-Arts has since existed interdisciplinary between practice and theory within the fields of art, theatre and fashion. Her work expresses itself within the mediums of installation; sound, video, sculpture and writing. Her work has been shown at The Artch, Jeu de Paume and Annroy Gallery, as well as featured in Vestoj Journal, Dazed & Confused and BON magazine. Her collaborations include fashion houses such as Ann-Sofie Back, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
Anna lives and works in Paris.
Welcome to VNIVRS.