Published by FRIENDthemagazine.com January, 2014
Words by Sarah L. Clark
CONVERSATION No3 ‘ROMANCE WAS BORN’ starring Anna Plunkett & Luke Sales
In a light and airy studio two assistants quietly toil away as Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales, co-founders and designers of the artistically astonishing fashion label Romance Was Born, arrive to start their working day.
Through large open windows the sound of peak hour traffic hums below. Racks of vividly coloured clothing, cutting desks, sewing machines, rolls of fabric, and floor length gowns covered in crochet seaweed share the space with a fern hanging in a resplendent macramé pot in the kitchen area.
Plunkett and Sales seemingly entered the Australian fashion industry five years ago and scooped up every award possible in one fell swoop (the proof stands marked with fingerprints and casually pushed together in the middle of a second meeting table), but the truth is, for the first three years of the label’s life the two were, “just hanging out as friends and making stuff.” FRIEND connects with Plunkett and Sales as they prepare for a bust day ahead.
SARAH L. CLARK—You met while studying East Sydney Technical College, didn’t you?
ANNA PLUNKETT—Yes. But we didn’t know each other until after first year.
LUKE SALES—Anna had a house party and some people from my class were invited. I’d seen her work and I thought she was my only competition.
SLC—Did your work have any similarities?
SALES—I remember a stupid brief where we had to choose an era of music to design to. I chose the 80s and so did Anna. What we designed had a similar kind of vibe. I just really appreciated what she did.
PLUNKETT—It’s so weird. I made fabric, and Luke made his, and it was similar. I saw Luke’s work when we were back stage [at the presentation], and I was pretty confident until that point. He won.
SALES—So I went to the house party at Anna’s. I hadn’t really spoken to her much before but we ended up getting really trashed and dancing the night away. In second year we did a lot of assignments together and we’d just hang out and listen to music. There was never talk of starting a label. Then the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came to Australia and we made costumes for Karen O.
SLC—And you hadn’t started the label at this stage?
SALES—No. We always joked about calling it Romance Was Born. It was a badge my cousin had and it just sounded like a cool name. Actually, a lot of things we do start as jokes. After a while we just think, “OK, let’s do that.” We started out doing little group exhibitions. Then we got accepted to go to ITS#4, an international talent support award for people in their first year out of university. We were the first Australian’s ever to get chosen – out of over 600 applicants from all over the world.
SLC—You applied for that together?
SALES—Yep. We went to Florence for the finals. After that, we got offered the internships at Galliano, but we didn’t take them. We just weren’t ready. Once we got back to Australia we started the label. For the first two years we weren’t making ready-to-wear collections. Everything was still one-off and handmade. It was still a hobby. Then we started doing ready-to-wear and got a sales agent. There was a lot of time when we were just hanging out as friends and making stuff.
SLC—Do you think you work together differently now than you did back then?
SALES—When we were first friends we used to say, ‘oh my god, we’ve got so much in common’. But now we’re totally different. Anna says at least once a week, ‘oh my god, we are so opposite’.
PLUNKETT—We’re like black and white. Yin and yang.
SALES—As we’re getting older we’ve mellowed out. I don’t get the shits with Anna about things so much.
PLUNKETT—It’s so intimate. I know everything about Luke.
SALES—Because we’re friends we talk all day about things that are going on in our lives. I’ve never had a job outside of this, so I wouldn’t know if the way we work is … I mean, I know it’s not conventional.
SLC—Tell me about your upcoming fashion week exhibition. It is part of the Carriageworks artistic program for 2014, isn’t it? SALES—Yep. We’re doing an installation with Rebecca Baumann, the Perth artist.
PLUNKETT—It opens during fashion week but stays open for a month. They have a public program so we’ll be doing a Q&A.
SLC—Why have you chosen to execute a month long installation rather than do a show?
PLUNKETT—After what we did last year, with Mushroom Magic, it felt like a shame that the public couldn’t be engaged with the experience and all the effort that went into creating the environment. Sometimes I don’t know if what we do is deeply understood or appreciated so we want to put it in a different realm. Give it to another audience. SLC—What is it about your work that you think the fashion industry doesn’t understand?
PLUNKETT—The way we make one offs – we’re creating characters, people. It’s not something you’re going to wear down the street, and that’s cool, because it’s just an expression of the ready-to-wear. They just want to see what they can buy, and what’s hot and trending.
SALES—What we do is more than just fashion and fashion people don’t see beyond fashion. So it’s for our fans, our consumers who buy our stuff, and people outside of fashion who have an appreciation for what we do. It’s cool to be able to do something that’s a bit more accessible to the general public. And, yeah, we just feel like it’s got more longevity.
SLC—You feel that because the general public doesn’t get to see your shows they don’t get to see that more creative side of your work?
PLUNKETT—Yeah, but more like the industry doesn’t appreciate the art that goes into making a show. We think it’s important to change what we do and make it feel new. This exhibition started out as a just new thing for us, but now I think it’s smart because more people will get to see it, and because Rebecca is really quite well known in the art world she will be appreciated in that way. We are representing artists, as well, in the context of doing it like this.
SALES—A few years ago when we did the Comic Book collection we wanted to do something ready-to-wear and tell a short, sharp, story. I think we really achieved that. Then with the Mushroom Magic collection we wanted it to be all about creativity. This year we want to go beyond that creativity and not have to worry about the confinements of ready-to-wear.
SLC—Regarding your collaborators; do you end up knowing them because of what they do, or is it more that you are friends to begin with?
PLUNKETT—We’ve never known them. We’ve loved their work, asked to work together, and then ended up loving them. I guess you wouldn’t like someone’s work, or have those feeling towards it, if they were an asshole.
SALES—Their work is a reflection of their personality so it makes sense to end up being friends with them.
PLUNKETT—This whole thing about collaborations, it’s who we are and it’s something we’ve always done. I feel like more than ever, now, people are doing it. But it’s just an unconscious part of who we are. Working with artists – we’ve done that from the get go with Del [Kathryn Barton]. We’ve worked with Marvel comics, and Disney, and now the National Gallery of Victoria (an interactive exhibition is planned for late 2014). So, it’s not just artists.
SLC—Tell me about your friendship with Jenny Kee. Was she aware of your work when you first met her?
PLUNKETT—Yes, she’d been told her we were like she and Linda [Jackson] were back in the 80s, but for today. She thinks our work has the same energy as hers. And it is a lot about energy with Jenny. I feel weird connections to her. She’s always throwing us weird advice. We have other creative partnerships outside of the collaborations. With our hair and make up people and our show producers. They’re a really important part of what we do. It’s a little creative family.
SALES—Yeah. Like Alan White who does our hair. And Natasha Severino always does our make up. There are different key people that we’ve been with for a while. I know other designers just use whoever is available, but we’ve become really good friends with these people. We try and stick with our little team because we’ve been together so long and done a lot of cool stuff together.
PLUNKETT—You sometimes forget you have to go through the process to get to that awesome end point. We really enjoy working with these people. They’re another branch to our creative tree.
SLC—What are some of the creative highs and lows you’ve shared together?
PLUNKETT—I’ll tell you the crazy worst. It was fashion week 2010. We were showing the Renaissance Dinosaur collection.
SALES—Oh that was your worst thing? I wasn’t even there!
PLUNKETT—Exactly. You were on Xanax. The model that was opening our show came two hours late. I was in a dungeon at the University of Sydney and I suddenly realised everyone had left me with her, and I had to dress on my own. We had a complicated crochet mask and the shoes were too small. It was hectic. I was just thinking, ‘Where is everyone? What’s happening?’ I could hear the music had already started, and I was saying, ‘wait, I’ve got the first model’. I just wanted to die. I was like, ‘kill me this is so fucked’.
SALES—That show was really good when it was about to start.
PLUNKETT—What? When I was about to die. Luke’s just blissed out on Xanax.
SALES—You could hear everyone in the audience screaming like a concert was about to start. It was super-weird and really funny.
SLC—Where were you seeing all this from Luke?
SALES—I was backstage.
PLUNKETT—No, you were getting your photo taken with the models.
Yin and yang indeed.
Published by FRIENDthemagazine.com November, 2013
Words by Sarah L. Clark
CONVERSATION No1 ‘KINDRED’ starring Mike Nock & Laurence Pike
Mike Nock and Laurence Pike have a lot in common. They both have extraordinary musical talent, both have been professional musicians since well before they could legally pour a whisky sour, and they both idolise Miles Davis.
Their main difference is the jazz legend used to call Nock on the telephone in the 60s to talk about music, while Pike had to settle for good old bedroom worship upon discovering him at age 13.
Although Nock ‘grew up’ with some of the world’s most esteemed jazz musicians and is an acclaimed classical composer with over 100 recordings under his belt, and Pike is a percussionist in an experimental rock band 40 years his junior, the two have forged a friendship based on a shared approach to being musicians. They speak the same musical ‘language’, and most importantly to Nock, the ability to play with empathy.
Over a cup of tea at Nock’s dining table in Sydney’s inner west, the day before their second live performance as the improvised jazz duo Kindred, the musicians take a break from rehearsing in the sitting room (which is crowded with instruments, a Persian carpet, and plenty of books) to discuss sharing the stage with Santana and music as a religious experience.
SARAH L CLARK—So, how did you two meet?
LAURENCE PIKE—I went straight out of high school in to The Con [Sydney Conservatorium of Music] and Mike snatched me up. I had you for ensemble class in second year. You weren’t so into the group.
NOCK—I can’t remember.
PIKE—Mike would be the guru who would occasionally fall asleep out of boredom, and occasionally yell at us, you know.
NOCK—At that time I had a band. When Laurence came along I wanted him to play with me because he had something special. Something the music would benefit from. We ended up touring Australia and Canada with a big festival circuit. We went different ways, as you do, then our paths crossed again. Kindred is a more recent thing.
SLC—And you released an album last year?
PIKE—That came about basically from doing this [gigging at Mike’s place]. For me this uses a totally different sphere of emotion and thinking. If I’m away touring a lot with PVT [Pike’s rock band] it’s physically and emotionally a very different type of performance, so to do something like this presents a whole different world to me, and it’s a world I really love. It engages me in a way I don’t get from playing rock music.
SLC—Is that because other music is prescribed and you’re re-playing the same songs?
PIKE—Yes. But also dynamically it is a very different thing. Playing through a PA is an entirely different proposition to playing acoustic. The way you interact, listen to each other and rely on your instincts, is a totally different thing.
SLC—When playing music in this style how do you produce something that sounds cohesive?
NOCK—That’s the fun of it. I compose for classical music. That’s what I do. So for me, this is a fantastic opportunity to really test myself – to see what comes out in the moment. We might even play songs. Or we might not. I mean it’s got to be that open, you know. We haven’t done any song playing so far, as such, but we could.
SLC—Are there songs on the album?
PIKE—No, they were just a bunch of improvisations. We did a recording and, as you do with a record, selected the best moments.
NOCK—But actually ours are songs. They’re improvised, spontaneous, songs.
SLC—Do you ever cover old ground?
PIKE—Ideally the aim is to play in a state where it is possible for things to come out without you thinking about it. It’s about trying to let go, to be in a state of freedom.
NOCK—It’s a big challenge. We’ve both played a lot of jazz and, you know, it’s a prescribed thing. You know what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go. We bypass all that, so there is the chance we will fall flat on our faces. Mostly it has got to do with the vibe. As a matter of fact, I say all the music I’ve played is about the vibe. First and foremost if the vibe is good and there are enough people there that are really into it, and that could be half a dozen people, it’s going to change what we do.
SLC—So the audience plays a part?
NOCK—It’s an unspoken part.
PIKE—It’s an environmental music in many ways because you respond to the space you’re in, the sound of the room, and the energy.
NOCK—Ideally, but it’s not always like that, in fact most of the time it wouldn’t be like that because so much music is prescribed. Look, people generally, and this is how it is, like to hear music they are familiar with. Whether its classical, rock, or jazz they like to know what they’re going to hear. Our stuff is not like that. We’re actually asking a lot of the audience.
PIKE—I like the aspect that when it’s laid bare you have to rely more on unconscious things like memory and personal experiences. Often when it’s really good you surprise yourself and each other.
SLC—Laurence, I’ve seen your live solo drum performance. You were using a drum kit in a very different way than I had ever imagined it could be used. It seems like you’ve experimented a lot and come up with new ways of making sounds with the instrument.
NOCK—He does. That’s Laurence.
PIKE—I’ve never really considered myself much of a drummer. Not in a way like I know drummers who are super into the drums and checking out drummers. For me the drums have always been a means to make music, and I’ve always been interested in being a musician before being a drummer, there are many ways to skin a cat. I think I’ve just always found them an interesting instrument like that. A lot of people think of drums as being quite vertical but I’ve always thought of them as being more horizontal, like a big array of textures and sounds.
SLC—Mike, what was it about Laurence that made you notice him?
NOCK—I have a similar approach to the piano that he has to the drums. Basically I don’t see myself as a pianist, more as a musician. The piano is my thing, and of course you try to get your piano playing as good as possible, but I see it as secondary. And talking about Laurence, it’s his sensitivity and his ability to listen. And also the fact that he’s got a big background. We talked about this when he was just a young guy.
PIKE—Oh yeah, I was always a big listener. Especially when I was in high school.
NOCK—So that makes a big difference. He’s aware of the music, and what it’s all about, and he happens to like the same musicians I like. Right away there was a degree of empathy there. We’ve always had that and it covers quite a broad range of music. Laurence likes to listen to classical music, Glenn Gould playing Bach, and that sort of stuff. Some of my favourite classic music is like that, too. And I’m very aware of that when we play. I really am. What we’re doing is talking in a language we can both understand. You know, the language has been heard. That’s huge.
SLC—When do you think you became a musician or realised you were good at music?
PIKE—I don’t even know if I am.
NOCK—He’s a musician, period. You don’t even think about it. What he just said is something that is quite common amongst the better musicians. I don’t know if I’m any good or not, I mean, you play with these things and you put them aside and you just try to work with what you’ve got. Just learn what you can, do what you can, and be there. Just be there with the music.
PIKE—And certainly Mike’s been a big influence in my upbringing in many ways. His attitude towards making music, and it’s something that the older I get the more I realise, and the things that are important to me are nothing to do with what your head is filled with when you’re studying at The Con. What it comes down to is what you get out of it emotionally. How it makes you feel. These very, very, simple ideas that are, in some ways, very basic and quite naive. It’s why I got to a point where I felt like I wanted to unlearn everything. To be able to access this state of mind.
NOCK—But that’s an artist. You know, Picasso would have been the same. Art on that level. That’s what I think. The best musicians, in my humble opinion, are the musicians that are able to be in that space. It’s unlearning. It’s like being a child in a sense. Of course you have to do all the hard yards, but you can’t let that mess you up.
PIKE—And a lot people do let that mess them up.
NOCK—Of course they do. They’ve invested a lot of time in doing it.
SLC—You mean being in a band, or being successful?
NOCK—Exactly. Or even with your playing.
PIKE—It can be never ending. You can get lost in the labyrinth of wanting to perfect an instrument or be the perfect musician. But playing the shit out of an instrument doesn’t make you a good musician.
NOCK—It doesn’t at all. I mean, you can practice all you want to, and learn certain things, and that’s what musicians tend to do. They learn their scales really well, and I’m not against that and I would do the best I can, but I don’t want to get caught up in it. My whole purpose in practicing is about being able to feel free at the instrument and whatever I need to do to get to that point. I don’t care if I’m messing up. It’s not about that, it’s never been about that, and when I hear music of any kind it’s not about that. It’s about the emotional thing I get from playing. Weather it’s classical, rock, or jazz it’s like, yeah, this person is saying something and having a great time. But it’s more than that. It’s a very subtle art form and unfortunately we get overlooked a lot nowadays in our society, which is very much visually oriented. The quick hit, and you know. It takes time to really appreciate music. Once you get hooked on it, it’s like nothing else. It can fulfil you so much.
SLC—Mike, how did you start out?
NOCK—I’m from New Zealand and my father started me on music when I was 12. We got a piano at the house and he gave me my first lessons. He was a piano player and he tough me out of a book. When I’d only been playing a short while, a few months, I had my first concert, a ragtime. Then I got a little neighbourhood band together, with people who couldn’t play anything. But that was the start of it all. It was the local kids, anybody who wanted to be involved in music. I had a great deal of success when I was young, I came to Australia and realised I’d better get out of here as I was already top of the heap at 18-years-old. It was ridiculous. I went to the States after a couple of years in Sydney and stayed for 25 years.
SLC—Tell me about someone who had a big impact on you and your career.
NOCK—By going to the US I came across a lot of people. One person is Tony Williams. He was one of the great jazz drummers. He’s dead now but he changed modern drumming. Wouldn’t you say, Laurence?
PIKE—Oh yeah, definitely. As a drummer and someone who is interested in the instrument you can’t escape his influence. He really redefined the drums at a very young age with a whole different way of thinking.
NOCK—I met him when I was pretty young and lived in Boston. We played together before he became famous and hooked up with Miles Davis. Just being around this guy, he had that attitude. At that time Keith Jarrett, the piano player, was studying at the same school I was at. Often we’d be sharing practice rooms. As a matter of fact on the first record I did in the US I borrowed his drums as someone had stolen mine. There are a lot of connections. All these people really influenced me greatly because one of the things I realised was, well look, my friends have become superstars. That affects you. It’s like, why not me? Of course it’s not that simple but it still affects your confidence and makes you feel you’re as good as anyone. I had the feeling, ‘The world may not know it yet, but I can do it’. When you’re in a place like Australia you tend to idolise everybody. I mean, I still have my idols. One guy that used to scare the hell out of me was Miles Davis. I was petrified. I would have loved to play with Miles but I would have been a mass of jelly. Very few people would do that to me.
PIKE—He went out of his way to be intimidating, right?
NOCK—Well, I met him a few times. He even called me up once. I used to work with a lot of people that worked with him like Tony, Al Foster, and his producer Teo Macero. In other words, it was always around. But for Miles himself to actually sit down with me, that would be like just, you know. Because of who he is. Who he represents to me.
PIKE—He’s been my hero. He was my hero when I was 13 and started listening heavily to his music, and still is really in a lot of ways.
SLC—Mike, tell me about The Fourth Way.
NOCK—I moved to San Francisco from New York in the Summer of Love . The whole hippy thing was happening and jazz was in a decline. We had a little band and it was racially mixed. It was two black guys and two white guys, so we had a thing. It just came about this way but for the times it was perfect. It was at the time they invented the Fender Rhodes piano. We were playing in these clubs and we needed to do something different, so I got a Fender Rhodes and suddenly I had a brand new instrument. I had a new way of playing the piano. The bass player had an electric bass and we used to play rock clubs more than jazz clubs. It was quite an exciting period. We got signed by Capitol Records and made three records for them. I guess probably more people know me from that period than anything because it actually had a big impact. Although we never got a review in DownBeat. Never. We got them in Rolling Stone. It is a very happy memory for me.
SLC—Is there something you’re trying to achieve with the music you’re making together now?
NOCK—It’s not just for the personal enjoyment. I mean of course it’s for that. But what got me into music in the first place is the fact I always felt a bit like a priest. I was bought up a catholic, quite religious, and I lost faith with the religion when my father died really young. Music took the place of it in my mind. I turned my back on the church, and the thing is, it’s about giving something to people. It’s not just about us getting our rocks off.
PIKE—In many ways people don’t understand the value of what a musician is in society. It’s a really powerful role and it works on a whole lot of levels. Whether it’s improvised music, or rock music, that factor is still present.
NOCK—And that’s why people like Laurence and myself do what we do, apart from the fact that we all like to make money and be successful, behind all that there’s something much bigger.
PIKE—I think of it the same way. It’s a vocational thing. It’s like a calling in the same way that a priest is called to help people through religion. It’s not the kind of thing you take on for the sake of lifestyle; it’s something you’ve just got to do. It makes you tick, and it’s your way of processing the world around you. It can be a really transformative experience for me personally.
SLC—Is there something you look to, or a routine you follow before playing, to help you feel inspired?
PIKE—To prepare for what Mike and I do I feel I need to have spent a bit of time with the instrument attuning myself dynamically to the way we play. It is much, much, more sensitive and requires a level of nuance and listening different to PVT.
NOCK—Of course, we’re both into music all the time. My life is music. Sometimes it’s a bit obsessive but I’ve accepted that.
SLC—Is there something else you still hope to achieve?
NOCK—I used to try to sing but I remember a club owner saying, ‘The singing is fine, but it has just got to stop.’ It was always one of my fantasies to be a singing piano player.
PIKE—To me it’s the exponential curve. The goal posts always get higher.
NOCK—Exactly, they always get higher. A lot of musicians, they’re comfortable, there’s nowhere else for them to go. They sit back and relax, and some of the world’s most successful musicians are in this camp, but that’s never been it for me. To me it’s always trying to stay in the moment. As a matter of fact a friend of mine was saying to me the other day, ‘Oh, you’ve done it all, you don’t have to worry about anything’. But I’m not like that. I want to do it. Hopefully as long as I’ve got some sanity about me I’m going to want to do this. I just want to play. When Laurence and I play I’m just about always surprised and wonder, ‘How did we get here?’ It’s a journey to some internal emotional landscape. You know when you’re dreaming, things just happen, there’s no logical progression. And that’s wonderful. It’s a total exploration.
Published in Russh Magazine October/November, 2013
Words by Sarah L. Clark
In 2008 Erik Madigan Heck, a somewhat unknown photographer, created a large body of uncommissioned works for the revered Belgian fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester in New York.
He sent 40 large c-prints rolled in a tube directly to the designer in Antwerp and included a letter introducing himself.
“The series was originally made as an anonymous gift to Ann. Before the shoot I had made numerous attempts to photograph her collections, and was never successful, so I took it upon myself to do it without anyone’s permission.”
Pulling together a mismatched assortment of her menswear from people he knew in New York, Heck arranged a casting of men he thought embodied the designer’s spirit, and set out on a DIY photo shoot in Harlem’s Morningside Park.
“At the same time I had been ferociously studying Mario Giacometti’s early black-and-white photographs of young priests in Italy. Considering the nature of the shoot I felt it would be perfect to merge my interests in both artists into a contemporary hybrid homage.”
The models dressed in Heck’s flat and walked to the location through West Harlem.
“When we arrived at the park my direction for the models was simply to walk around and casually talk to each other while I observed from afar. It was an awkward demand for young men who had never met. It became more of a social experiment than a traditional fashion shoot– a real time Lord of the Flies .”
Eventually the images made their way to Demeulemeester, marking the beginning of a long friendship.
“The shoot remains one of the most personal and inspired bodies of work I’ve created.”
Today the names of Heck’s collaborators serve to confirm the Minnesotan photographer’s talent, as well as his status among the world’s most gifted fashion designers and artists.
Kenzo, Rodarte, Alexander McQueen, Mary Katrantzou, Rochas, and Comme des Garcons are a few. Not to mention The New York City Ballet and The Metropolitan Opera.
Bundle those in with ongoing contributions to A Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, W, M Le magazine du Monde and Time as well as his own limited edition art fashion publication Nomenus, and you start to get a feel for the impact Heck is having, not only on Ann Demeulemeester, on the worlds of fashion and the arts today.
In May this year Heck won the impressive 2013 ICP Infinity Award for applied fashion and advertising. This closely follows his appointment as the youngest photographer to shoot the famed Neiman Marcus Art of Fashion campaign in 2012.
Eddie Nunns, vice president, Neiman Marcus brand creative told Women’s Wear Daily at the time, “We wanted to pair up this season’s exquisite fashions with a true creative visionary. Erik Madigan Heck’s work blurs the lines between photography and art”.
These accolades group his work with that of Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, and Bruce Weber – some of the most revered fashion photographers of the last century.
There are exhibitions celebrating his work at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt, and Etro Soho Space in New York this year alone.
And all before his 30th birthday.
Moving between a painterly, colour saturated, style and classical black-and-white imagery, the photographer is aware a “style” can be the death of a photographer, even if it is necessary in a commercial sense. “I started out with painting when I was younger, then moved to black-and-white still photography in college. I have come back to photography with a colour approach that is much more primal and akin to how I started painting as a kid. I have many influences, but primarily I create the way my mother taught me how to paint a long time ago.”
On his colour work, Heck says, “I love the intensity you achieve with bombarding one singular colour over an image, and adorning a person in its full wraps. Colour creates emotional reactions, and I want my work to move people, so it’s only natural to use it to its extremities.”
Heck’s style is not typical of a fashion image-maker. And there’s a reason for it.
“I’m interested simply in creating work and I find the fashion world to be a freer place to do this than the art world. It’s certainly much less restricting on the work itself. Getting my MFA at Parsons [School of Design] taught me one valuable lesson. Stay as far away from the art world as possible.”
Parsons philosophy Professor Arnold Klein is Heck’s self-described, “brain mechanic” says, “all one has to do is compare Heck’s fashion photographs to what else goes by that name to see how free and unconditioned by its contents his vision really is. It is because of the integrity of his intuition that Heck’s photographs retain their individuality and self-consistency while remaining suggestive of those prior masters whose intuitions so curiously border his own.”
Of their relationship, Heck explains, “He helps me think through all levels of my work, articulate what I am trying to do, and why I’m doing it.”
The photographer’s next undertaking is a large project focused on the female form, from behind, throughout painting history. “A history of fashion from behind,” he says.
Heck is making a big impact on the fashion world. Ann Demeulemeester, though, is perhaps making the biggest impact on Heck. “She was not the beginning,” he says, “however she is the most important for me.”
Print preview published via Russh Magazine iPad ap October/November, 2013
Words by Sarah L. Clark
Read the full story via iPad here.
Published on RusshMagazine.com April 10, 2013
Words by Sarah L. Clark
13 Rooms: Hans, Georg
Find three sets of twins of identical appearance, height, and stature over 18 years of age.
This is the brief Damien Hirst gave Pollyanna Clayton-Stamm when it came to casting for his work Hans, Georg in October last year.
The work is coming to Sydney’s Pier 2/3 this April, along with 12 other performance works by the most important contemporary artists of today, as part of 13 Rooms – the latest exhibition in the Kaldor Public Art Projects series.
The exhibition has been curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director of London’s Serpentine Gallery, and Klaus Biesenbach, Director of MoMA PS1 in New York, and will include works by Laura Lima, Marina Abramović, John Baldessari, Simon Fujiwara, Joan Jonas and Tino Sehgal.
“Our mission has always been to bring the latest ground breaking art to Australia and this very much full-fills our plan,” says John Kaldor.
The Hirst work consists of a pair of the artist’s signature spot paintings with a pair of twins sitting beneath them. Each spot painting contains 90 spots of 90 different colours, arranged in different formations, on the same grid.
“The twins sit underneath the paintings, and whatever one is doing, the other has to do as well,” explains Clayton-Stamm, 13 Rooms Production Manager. “If they are reading, they both have to read – and they have to read the same book.”
The intention is that the twins are identical but slightly different. The fact the paintings posses the same qualities is no coincidence.
“That is the crux of the piece,” says Clayton-Stamm. “You walk into the room and you’re presented with these spot paintings, and then underneath each painting is a twin who looks identical. They might look similar but, actually, there are infinite differences.”
Clayton-Stamm worked with Hirst in Germany on 12 Rooms, the second incarnation of the Rooms project, held at the Folkwang in 2012. She explains the spot paintings will be applied directly to the wall of Hirst’s ‘room’ by a technician from Science Ltd, the artist’s London-based company.
“There is an absolute technique to it, and I saw that in Germany, it’s something that is very specific,” says Clayton-Stamm.
What’s been interesting for Clayton-Stamm in producing 13 Rooms is a casting process more akin to the acting industry, not the visual arts. More than 140 local performers, or “interpreters”, will participate in the works.
“It’s been a very new experience for me,” she says, “and what’s been amazing in the casting process, that I absolutely appreciate now, is how important it is to be absolutely authentic and true to what the artist wants.”
In Clayton-Stamm’s final musing on the Hirst twins, she says, “Perhaps they are there to trick you even further that the paintings are the same, it compounds the visual trick of the eye, but because they’re there next to each other at the same time you’re really forced to try and figure it out.”
Kaldor Public Art Project #27, 13 Rooms, will run for 11 days from April 11 to 21 at Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay, Sydney. Admission is free.
Published on RusshMagazine.com April 10, 2013
Words and images by Sarah L. Clark
13 Rooms: Revolving door
Amongst the clutter of a Harry Seidler & Associates construction site, inside Pier 2/3 at Sydney’s Walsh Bay, a neat man, of somewhat advanced age, with a neat grey beard, is concentrating intently on the rehearsal of 10 lithe dancers.
Under the direction of Rafael Bonchela, Sydney Dance Company’s Artistic Director, the performers are in the process of learning the choreographer’s interpretation of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s Revolving Door.
The work is coming to Australia, along with 12 other performance works by the most important contemporary artists of today, as part of 13 Rooms – the latest exhibition in the Kaldor Public Art Projects series.
“This show represents all the artists who have made major contributions across the last several decades. Damien Hirst, Marina Abramović, John Baldessari, Joan Jonas, Tino Sehgal. It’s just amazing,” says Pollyanna Clayton-Stamm, 13 Rooms Production Manager.
John Kaldor, the man with the neat grey beard, is responsible for bringing 13 Rooms to Sydney for 11 days this April.
Kaldor says, “It is a new way of presenting art. It’s the coming together of visual art and performance art but in a totally new way.”
Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director of London’s Serpentine Gallery, and Klaus Biesenbach, Director of MoMA PS1 in New York, 13 Rooms promises an interactive experience.
“As Hans Ulrich says, it’s like a sculpture exhibition where the sculptures go home at night. Artists, instead of using marble, or bronze, or steel, are using the human figure as a sculpture. These top international artists will interact with over 100 Australian performers,” explains Kaldor.
In this three-part series, RUSSH will explore further three works presented in the exhibition. The first is Revolving Door.
All 13 rooms in the exhibition are five meters square with a three-meter-high ceiling – but you’ll only find out what’s inside by stepping through the door and “activating the artwork”, says Clayton-Stamm.
“What’s different about this work is there are two doors leading into it, and it is round inside. When visitors enter the room they will be met with a wall of dancers who will move around the room just like a revolving door. The intention is for the audience to get swept up in it,” she continues.
Bonachela has choreographed the work in collaboration with the artists, Allora and Calzadilla, who have been working together for 15 years and represented the US at the latest Venice Biennale in 2011.
Through their work the artists explore the history and meaning entrenched in today’s culture and see the influences of this work – movements from political protests, military marches, and chorus lines – as an imitation of the similar gestures we make in unison as a society.
This is the third incarnation of Revolving Door. Like most of the works in 13 Rooms it was presented as part of 11 Rooms at the Manchester International Festival in 2011 and 12 Rooms at the Folkwang Museum in Germany in 2012. A new artist is added with each presentation. Hirst was that artist in 2012.
Although the choreography for each performance shares the same influences, the artists use local talent to push the work in new ways.
Clayton-Stamm says, “It’s a very fun, humorous, piece but there are quite political undertones to it.”
You wouldn’t expect the man with the neat grey beard to attend dance rehearsals for a small component of his latest exhibition. But when you’ve met him you realise why he’s been bringing groundbreaking art to Australians, for free, for the past 40 years. He’s genuinely excited about it.
Kaldor Public Art Project #27, 13 Rooms, will run for 11 days from April 11 to 21 at Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay, Sydney. Admission is free.
Published on Cultures In Between March 19, 2013
Words by Sarah L. Clark
A lesson in contrasts with Helmut Newton and Bettina Rheims
The beauty of seeing an exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales starts with the grand entrance, and the feeling you should have dressed nicely to visit such a grand locale.
The scale of said gallery is echoed in the current Photography Gallery Exhibition, The fashion of Helmut Newton and Bettina Rheims, in the decadence of the scenes Newton sets and the accidental majesty of Rheims portrait subjects.
Cultures In Between was lucky enough to speak with Judy Annear, Senior Curator Photographs at The Art Gallery of NSW, about the exhibition and why it is important to show the work of Newton and Rheims together, even though they were working 15 years apart.
Annear says, “Putting Rheims and Newton’s work together is an exercise in seeing how two very accomplished photographers of different generations, working in similar genres at different points in time, approached their subjects.”
In the 90s the gallery was given more than 20 Newton photographs from the late 70s and early 80s and the entire Rheims Modern Lovers collection, taken in 1989 and 1990, but this is the first time the photographers work has been shown together.
“Newton and Rheims both pushed the boundaries with the way they photographed people and fashion and that’s why their work is still relevant today,” she says.
The similarities in the work of Newton and Rheims are hard to miss. The low light and muted tones of the concrete floors and white walls this one-room-exhibit calls home emphasises the black and white images, sometimes famous faces (Rheims Kate Moss and Newton’s Sigourney Weaver), and contemporary feel of both artists – despite the vintage of their work.
Annear says, “It’s important for people now to see high quality black and white gelatin silver photography. These days we are obsessed with colour and movement and can forget how beautiful and complex black and white photography is.”
Perhaps the most impactful contrast, as explained by Annear, is the way this exhibition illustrates how styles changed between the 70s and “Newton’s use of very strong models in claustrophobic environments” to the 90s and “Rheims’s plain studio shots of young androgynous people who may be self possessed but seem nonetheless almost transparent.”
Some of the Newton work represented in this exhibit is close to 40-years-old – but it is strikingly contemporary.
Similarly, Rheims shot Kate Moss when she was 14 for Modern Lovers. The photographer’s images of this time could be seen as a prelude to the Corinne Day 90s grunge movement. The images are raw and of adolescents on the cusp.
Annear says, “I didn’t know when I decided to do this exhibition that Rheims saw Newton as a mentor and, in fact, that they were good friends.”
Despite nearby exhibits in the gallery competing for your attention with sound and image through open doorways, once you begin to fix your eyes singularly on each work, your mind is drawn into a game of contrasts.
The first and second Newton images on display – Masked woman by the sea, dressed, Monte Carlo and Masked woman by the sea, undressed, Monte Carlo – taken in 1981, could easily pass as a product of the doyenne of dominatrix fashion today, ex editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris Carline Roitfeld, for her new and highly lauded tome CR Fashion Book.
Newton’s photography placed women in a position of power. His images are indoor or outdoor tableaux and the interaction is between the models and the environment he has put them in. There is action in his composition.
By contrast most of the models in Rheims images are shot head and shoulders or to the waist. Despite wearing very few clothes they are represented in an extremely different way to Newton’s subjects.
Annear explains, “This is not to say they are sexless, as Rheims was clearly fascinated by their youthful beauty … her photographs are set up more like classical studio portraits. The interaction is with the photographer and therefore us.”
One major distinction Annear sights has roots in a cultural shift due to AIDS.
“The time Newton was photographing was pre AIDS. The 1970s and early 80s was a period of anything goes in life and art. By 1990 AIDS had created high anxiety around sexual activity. Androgyny denies the possibility of sex whereas the implied sensuality of Newton’s photographs also implies anything goes,” she says.
One particularly striking image from the Newton collection titled Jenny Kapitan, Pension Dorian, Berlin depicts a woman standing naked in an ornate room with a full leg cast, neck brace, and crutches. Annear describes the work as a typically gritty black and white Newton image explaining the photographer has used a strong flash to make the subject stand out from the background – a classic Newton photograph showing strength, sexiness, and control on the part of the woman.
“In common with most of Newton’s models, Jenny Kapitan is clearly a very strong woman. She might be nude and with a bandaged leg and neck brace but her gaze and the walking stick very clearly communicate ‘don’t mess with me’.”
The beauty of visiting an exhibition like this is realising a lineage of creativity and how one original mind can influence the next. In fashion they say everything old is new again but Newton and Rheims present a strong case in authentic progression, and a passing of the evolutionary baton, which has created some of the most influential fashion images of our time.
The fashion of Helmut Newton and Bettina Rheims is showing at The Art Gallery of NSW until May 19th. Admission is free.
Words by Sarah L. Clark
Alexi Willemsen's image of light, adieu
Alexi Maria Willemsen looks like her art. She’s been told this more than once.
Observing the painter surrounded by the 23 works which make up her most recent collection image of light, adieu, on opening night, it’s not hard to see the similarities.
Surrounded by collectors, her gallerist Melanie Roger, and her closest friends and family, the first comparison which can be drawn between the artist and her work is their delicate beauty.
Common themes in Willemsen’s work include isolation displayed in a figure or landscape and atmospheric light and setting. The artist’s long limbs and athletic figure can be seen reflected in the figures she paints, who in this collection are experimenting with their physicality, playing with balance and movement.
On these themes, Roger says, “Alexi captures light and paints beautifully but I think what elevates her work is that she brings out an emotional response in the viewer. It is this element of her work that lifts it from being good painting to something really special. Alexi is dedicated too. She isn’t someone who likes to paint. She was born to paint and that shows. She doesn’t really have a choice! Being a painter is literally a big part of who she is.”
The artist traditionally paints in extremely muted shades of pale grey and white, but has extended her range to incorporate very pale pastel tones of blue, yellow, pink, and green amongst expanses of white for this collection. This evening, her blue grey eyes, sky blue silk scarf, and long pale yellow hair match the hues of the works unintentionally.
Delicately strong, serene, and possessing a thoughtful nature – the artist and her work also share an air of mystery and a considered point of view.
Willemsen intentionally balances various weights and light in the paint, or in the pallet, which ensures the viewer must move around the work to truly appreciate it. Light falls on the tiny feather-like brush strokes in different ways, cleverly tricking the eye, to reveal more or less of a figure in motion or a lonesome landscape as the viewer moves around it.
Roger says, “The works change as you move around them, or as the light moves around them. It’s this sense of mystery I think which is very powerful. It is the combination of miniature brush strokes and a muted palette that make them unique. They are strangely expressionistic even though there is obviously a lot of control to keep the markings this size. Most work, where the brush strokes themselves form such a part of the work, is larger and often embrace colour more. Alexi’s restraint is more unusual in its technique.”
A tiny, isolated, figure will emerge from a scene when you’ve been gazing at it for just long enough, or a man’s face will emerge from behind a woman’s in one of her double portraits.
Willemsen says, “I think what people really enjoy most is when they get a surprise. Especially the ones that really do disappear and then emerge. People respond to that. And that’s what’s important in the work. You have to see them in the flesh to appreciate what I’m doing with the actual painting medium.”
In a painting as a big as one meter squared a Willemsen figure may only be five centimeters high, a tiny body below an expanse of sky, tumbling in the grass or falling down a hill, usually alone.
“I think finding these bodies that have something awkward about them means when you see them you feel it, rather than recognize it as something that is quite common or what you imagine someone to be doing. It’s more about physicality of movement,” she explains.
Drawing is an equally important practice for the artist.
“Because the paintings are relatively simple in composition I use drawing to find different ways to explore the body and physique beforehand. And to work out how I can portray my formal painterly ideas within a very fluid, physical, body,” she says.
Born in New Zealand, the eldest of four, and now 28-years-old, it’s not difficult to see the impact the landscapes of her childhood homeland of Kenya, with the heavy low-lying clouds she recalls, have had on her artistic practice
When asked about her inspirations for the show, Willemsen singles out, “a photo of the Kenyan landscape taken by my dad when we lived there, and a purely nostalgic selection from Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa. Her descriptions of the Kenyan landscape help to sharpen memories long faded which play an important role in my work,” she says.
Now living and working in Sydney, Australia, in her teens Willemsen lived in such a small country town in New Zealand she was the only painting student in her high school. Encouraged by her teacher she graduated from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, in 2008 with a Postgraduate Diploma, and has since exhibited in private galleries and artist run spaces in both Australia and New Zealand. She is a member of the 217 Artist Collective and this is her first solo show.
One week before the opening Roger had seen only one of the works.
“I had just seen the one image that we used in advertisement for the show. I am fine about that. I believe in working with good people and trusting them. Alexi’s work is incredibly difficult to ‘read’ in a photograph too. They are ridiculously difficult to photograph,” she says.
The family ended up in Kenya as Willemsen’s father was a drilling consultant for a mining company.
“The first time I went was when I was about three. We were going back and forth until I was nearly six. We went home twice in that time I think. We also spent time in Iceland visiting family during that time, so that was a lot of experience for a kid,” she says.
Both parents enjoy painting and drawing but Willemsen is the first in her family to take up the profession.
“Mum always wanted to pursue painting and drawing. She does it in her own time. Dad always drew when I was little. I don’t know where it came from but it’s always been like that since I was really little, I was always drawing, and they were always encouraging it,” she says, “I think they always knew.”
Willemsen’s mother is a teacher and home schooled the children from kindergarten age in New Zealand through primary school in Kenya.
“We had our classroom there with all the drawing tools that you could ever imagine. I think having that creative time with Mum, just being able to play, and obviously the inspiration from my surroundings have really exaggerated my imagination. Being in a foreign country with wild animals and going on safari drives must have just pushed me into this way of expression that came out through drawing.”
It was only after she had graduated from Elam that Willemsen realised what lay ahead.
“Anna Bibby invited me to participate in a group show. I went away to London that summer and met up with Emily Wolfe, who I was going to be showing with in the coming February or March, and that’s when I actually understood what it was to be a real artist.”
Willemsen was invited by Roger to become a stable artist in November last year.
“Alexi had shown work in group exhibitions at Anna Bibby Gallery – the previous incarnation of Melanie Roger Gallery - so I was introduced to her work in that way. Anna and Gavin Hurley (a fellow artist) had seen her work at her end of year Elam show and enjoyed it there. I curated Alexi’s works into a show alongside Ruth Thomas Edmond and they were extremely well received by collectors and critics – they sold out! I very much enjoyed them, and working with Alexi, so I offered her representation and a solo exhibition,” explains Roger.
Alexi Willemsen’s image of light, adieu collection will be on public exhibit at the Melanie Roger Gallery, 226 Jervois Road, Herne Bay, Auckland, until October 27th. All works can be viewed online at www.melanierogergallery.com.
*Still from Erik Madigan Heck’s newest short film The End
Published on Garagemag.com September 4, 2012
Words by Sarah L. Clark
Erik Madigan Heck - In Conversation
Visionary photographer Erik Madigan Heck will host a screening of Seven Film Works – a selection of moving image projects featuring Ann Demeulemeester, A.F. Vandevorst and Arvo Part – at Soho’s The Avente/Garde Diaries in New York City this week.
Recently named the youngest photographer to shoot the famed Neiman Marcus Art of Fashion campaign - previously shot by Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz - this is one exhibition lovers of art, fashion and music will not want to miss.
Garage spoke to Heck, who is also the creator of limited-edition art fashion publication Nomenus, ahead of the opening. Here’s what he had to say:
GARAGE: Tell us why you have decided to show these Seven Film Works.
EMH: It’s time. They’ve been existing online and in small public displays for the past couple years and it just feels right to now show them all together. Especially with the new piece, “The End”, which I’ve finally just finished.
G: We find it interesting that your recent Neiman Marcus campaign is titled Art of Fashion. These three words could be a short synopsis on your work, which is often seen as photography bordering on art.
EMH: The title has been that for quite some time, since the 1990s. I believe Georgia Christensen, the Creative Director, came up with that title because she really wanted fashion photographers to use her platform as a place to create artful imagery, as opposed to standard catalog photographs.
G: When did you come to find this illustrative, painterly, quality to your work?
EMH: I think it’s been a long crescendo over the last couple years. Earlier on I was experimenting with different color approaches and techniques, and through different tests, I found a way to articulate what I’ve wanted out of my work for a while.
G: Old style black and white moving image and classical music are strong themes in your video work.
EMH: It’s not about nostalgia or a replication of a time period in cinema. It’s about trying to work with film, the physical and tangible film (super 8mm, 16mm) while it’s still around. I work a lot with a German composer named Marsen Jules, who creates epically beautiful sound pieces electronically, via sampling live musicians and expanding upon a single note over and over. And the motif is similar with the film, using a medium that’s been around for a very long time, but in a new way.
G: The Fratres fur A.F. Vandevorst film is a very conceptual piece of cinematography.
EMH: This film is quite different to the others. I filmed it in three cities - Paris, Florence, and New York - so it was a much bigger production than the other films. I really wanted to merge the idea of performance in music and performance in fashion. The focus became re-arranging this iconic piece of music and having the cellists performing it, wearing the collection of clothing while playing it, and then merging that footage with the runway performance. So you have the clothing co-existing in two performances simultaneously.
G: Your style is not typical of a fashion image-maker.
EMH: I work in fashion the way I do because it alleviates any sort of “art” responsibilities from my work. Meaning, I don’t have to adhere to the behaviors and constrictions of a system set forth by curators, gallerists, museum directors, and the whole hierarchy of the art world.
G: How did your relationship with Ann Demeulemeester come about?
EMH: I created a large body of work for her here in NYC without her immediate knowledge. I sent her 40 large c-prints rolled in a tube straight to Antwerp with a letter introducing myself. We became friends after that.
G: How do your relationships with composers Arvo Part and Marsen Jules work?
EMH: I’m very specific about what I want. With Marsen I’ll tell him a brief, he’ll send me something, I’ll offer feedback, and there will be a discussion (we’re currently working on a re-working of an Enya piece from her first album Watermark, which I realize sounds really odd, however it’s an amazing interpretation and the original track is also incredible). With Arvo Part I commissioned a re-arranging of Fratres for 4 cellos.
G: Can you name some artists who have helped shape your work?
EMH: Edourd Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, and Gustav Klimt for their use of colour; Arvo Part, Deathprod, and most recently Burial for their experimental interpretations on music; and Yves Klein, Gerhard Richter, Tacita Dean, and Anselm Kiefer for their masterful merging of conceptual and aesthetically beautiful artworks - where the “thing” itself was as beautiful as the idea behind it.
G: Tell me about Professor Arnold Klein.
EMH: He is the most amazing philosophical thinker I’ve ever met. His mind is like a perfectly crafted car that just runs at a different speed from others.
G: What do you most enjoy shooting?
EMH: Artists, I love to photograph other artists.
G: What is important to you when making art? Who are you making it for?
EMH: The women in my life: my mother, my girlfriend, my grandmother, the trifecto of photo directors: Kathy Ryan (NY Times), Kira Pollak (Time Magazine), and Jody Quon (NY Magazine).
Erik Madigan Heck will host an opening reception and screening of Seven Film Works on September 5th from 9pm at The Avante/Garde Diaries, 372 Broome Street, New York. The films will remain on view until September 12th.
To see the Fratres fur A.F. Vandevorst film click here.
Words by Sarah L Clark
Published on Garagemag.com September 3, 2012
Words and photography by Sarah L. Clark
18th Biennale of Sydney - Monika Gryzmala and Euraba Artists and Papermakers
German installation artist Monika Gryzmala has collaborated with the Euraba Artists and Papermakers, a group of Aboriginal women from the northern New South Wales town of Boggabilla, to create a striking installation for the 18th Biennale of Sydney titled The River.
The Biennale’s Aboriginal Emerging Curator, Emily McDaniel, says, “Monica works with connectivity and lines. Aboriginal people - we’re obsessed with connectedness. The idea of being the international artist when you’re in Bogabilla is largely forgotten. You’re just one of everyone. So what that leaves is an open slate for communication for collaboration. That’s the real beauty of how Monica came into this aboriginal community.”
Installed in an industrial ruin on Cockatoo Island the work reflects the body of water surrounding the island, the Parramatta River, and it sweeping through space in a wave system. The Euraba Artists and Papermakers contribution is of a paper with an almost pottery-like texture. The organically shaped discs are made using an environmentally conscious cotton-rag pulping technique they have devised employing cotton offcuts produced by the large cotton crops and clothing industry in the Bogabilla region.
These papers were then combined with Grzymala’s own, those with a more uniform and transparent appearance, and weaving material from the Boolarng Nangamai Aboriginal Art and Culture Studio to create the delicate, floating, structure.
McDaniel says, “This paper mill in Boggabilla, and it’s just a shack, and there are dogs running through it, it’s an absolute hub of cultural sharing. People come here with their stories, with their cups of tea, and share with the younger kids. So it became a really important thing. When the community realised they were going to be a part of the 18th Biennale of Sydney they created breakfast clubs so all the kids would come around in the morning and they’d watch the old Aunties making the paper.”
The group won the Parliament of NSW Aboriginal Art Prize in 2010 for their eight-panel work titled Murray Cod. A prize coveted by many indigenous artists.
“Looking at the idea of water through an indigenous lens, we see it not only as a commodity but as a life force in itself. There has been a lot of writing recently about the connections of women to rivers, particularly in aboriginal communities in central NSW, so it’s also quite a beautiful project in that way,” says McDaniel.
This will be the final installation in our ongoing series featuring artists in the 18th Biennale of Sydney.
Words by Sarah L. Clark