Currently reading : le déjeuner sur l’herbe
Some time ago, in the scope of Frieze 2011, (Yes I am not good at posting right after something happens. I kinds hold on to the hope it’s a personal style but maybe not.) I strolled to Kensington Gardens with Carri to see a performance that our friend and flatmate stylist Nicholas Royal had been working on. It happened to be an art piece by NY artist Carissa Rodriguezm styled by NY stylist Avena Gallagher! On the spot we bumped into our friend Gerlan and what could have been a quiet inspiring art afternoon became a delirious ravy evening of food and laughs. The piece was finished when we arrived anyway. Still I am )obviously= very interested by the crossovers/collaborations between fashion and contemporary art so I decided to make an interview with Avena on the piece. Here it is!
Can you give us a brief background on your life?
I grew up near Seattle, WA. I first came to NY while in high school to dance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and became obsessed with returning as soon as possible to study fashion. I went to FIT but dropped out for a job in advertising that was paying well and more exciting than school at the time.
And styling career?
I quit the advertising job after a couple of years and was floating around, dancing a bit, playing keyboard in a band called The Redlights, and waitressing. I eventually got back into fashion assisting stylists. I assisted Patti Wilson, Lori Goldstein (for a short while) and Camilla Nickerson (for 3+ years) before starting on my own. I love photography, I love fashion, but I haven’t necessarily approached styling as a career… it’s more a part of a creative practice that I’m trying to figure out.
How did you meet Carissa Rodriguez?
All Filipinos know each other.
I can’t remember how we met…but our worlds have overlapped for a long time–since the mid-90’s.
How did the project come about?
Carissa and I collaborated in NY on a performance piece in NYC about a year ago. We had been wanting to collaborate on something for some time- though we didn’t know what. An impromptu invitation to participate in an group show/happening came up and we put the project together in about a day. We were wanting to reference our shared ethnicity so we ‘installed’ a Filipino girl under a chandelier made of coconuts by artist Wade Guyton. We also made a large flower arrangement to accompany her. I dressed her in a somehow very Pinoy Prada dress with a hazy photoprint of palm trees on it. The whole thing was more or less inspired by a pillow on Imelda Marcos’ couch which read “Nouveau Riche is better than no Riche at all”. We called the piece “Design within Riche”.
This time, Carissa was invited to do something at the Serpentine Gallery for an event held during Frieze called the Garden Marathon. We decided to do something similar in form to the last project. Instead of using one person as the piece, we used 12 (including ourselves).
How did the collaboration work (concept, production)?
Well, I guess the idea was precipitated by the invitation to do something for the event, which was to do with the idea of the garden. Carissa was looking at these works:Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Edouard Manet, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat, and “the Storyteller” by Jeff Wall and how they related to the garden concept. I had just spent time in London last summer, when the Serpentine opened the season with the pavilion by architect Peter Zumthor. We started to think about what kinds of ‘garden’ scenes are really contemporary and might mean something to us and be consistent with our work together. Although the “Garden Marathon” activities were held in a geodesic dome erected for the event, the pavilion by architect Peter Zumthor was at the Serpentine and made a perfect setting for a collision of these referenced works and our hap-hazard cultural study. We were also inspired by the impromptu picnics of guestworkers on break one sees on highway medians and corporate gardens throughout “the developing world”, or the large gatherings of domestic worker-women in public spaces on Sundays in China…Transposing/transplanting these scenes into an ‘ideal garden’ by a ‘famous architect’ at a ‘respectable gallery’ at a ‘major art-world event’ seemed interesting…
What is your relation to contemporary art (what/who do you like, how important is it to you etc??
I live in a place of concentrated “contemporary art” activity–my boyfriend is an artist, our friends are artists and/or creative people…our neighborhood is becoming a new “contemporary art” zone (Chinatown) and working in fashion is continual effort of reflecting and translating what is happening in art-imagery for more commercially-driven fashion/music imagery. Having said that, what I really like or draw inspiration from is not necessarily art, but regular-life, like the Chinese people in my hood and the way they dress, working-class street style and I also have a passionate love for ethnographic imagery and how style is dictated by culture. I also love how potent style can be when the cultural ideals are strict like with the Polygamist mormons, or the Hassidic Jews, for example….
In the Serpentine project, I was trying to create “costumes” for the participants which were parodies of different style-characteristics that come from the Philippines or as expressed by Filipino people. My style references were a mix of pre-colonial ethnographic pictures of tribal Filipinos, traditional Spanish-colonial style, domesti-helper clothing (maid clothes, nurse clothes, street cleaner and industrial clothes), as well as low-price, high-street sportswear.
Where do you feel art and fashion cross?
They are both ruled by and rule an idea of the contemporary.
Is it exciting for a stylist to work in a non-fashion context?
Yes! “fashion” styling is mostly about beauty…it’s about ideas too but the ideas are just used to express the beauty. It’s something cosmetically driven., and also commercially driven. But sometimes the most inspiring and stylish people or things are not necessarily… sexy or cute. Styling outside the context of fashion allows for more varied information, or even confusion…which I am interested in. It can be less apparent or less relevant to popular fashion or culture but super expressive.
Among the thumbnails, the first are by photos by Babak Radboy and the others are by Gerlan. Then a couple of reference images.