As for the half-baked thoughts I'm referring to, they relate to my ongoing interest in the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, and some thoughts I have around creativity in general which are precipitated by my current interest in him.
But first, how about an update on my Burning Man project.
You may remember that the project is called "With Open Arms We Welcomed That Which Would Destroy Us," which is frankly a pretty cumbersome title. I'm usually referring to it simply as "With Open Arms," or WOA. There's a slight irony to the fact that the central figure in the sculpture is positioned with open arms (two sets of them, actually), and yet the "open arms" in the title have nothing whatsoever to do with that figure, but rather with "We" humans. We are the ones who have welcomed these technologies with open arms, and this technology (as embodied by the Robot God) is more than willing to welcome us back, or swallow us up. I'm sure this subtlety will be lost on many a viewer. But I digress.
I do love Burning Man, and I am grateful for their funding and vote of confidence this year, but those facts notwithstanding, I must say that their slow handling of the contracts (and funds distribution) this year has been very stressful. Despite the fact that, almost from day one, I have been politely requesting these things to be fast-tracked in light of the realities that I have a shorter build timeframe because of international shipping requirements (just as every funded artist living outside the USA), it was 6.5 weeks until my first check was sent out. There are additional delays associated with moving the money abroad, and I am probably still 10 days away from being able to actually buy metal with it. As such, I have had to wring the neck of my personal financial resources to get this project moving. Sitting back and waiting for the money simply wasn't an option if I want to get this ambitious thing built on time. It will all work out in the end, I'm sure, but it has been difficult.
The first four weeks of building have concentrated on the base of the sculpture, or the "throne," which is essentially done now.
Here I have used the overhead crane at BBK to place one element in mid-air, in a position advantageous for completing a certain set of welds, while Christina and I both weld.
Here is the base, largely completed... (a few things are missing still, including the "leaves" around the bottom, some decorative bands around the top, and of course the frieze)
Here the elements of the base have been disassembled with the crane...
And here I have installed the aforementioned decorative bands...
Meanwhile I've been simultaneously working over at KAOS to finish molding the faces. The silicone cured properly, thank the lord Jeeze, and I made the fiberglass jackets. Here is a picture just before beginning the fiberglass... after the final layer of silicone.
De-molding them is turning out the be really difficult, and it seems I will probably destroy the originals in the process. Oh well, it's the silicone molds that matter most now.
Hopefully this week I will be able to purchase a sheet or two of aluminum and begin work on the body of the central figure, the deity. I will let you know how it goes!
OK, Alexander McQueen... and my still nascent and unstructured musings on him...
At a certain point I imagined that I would begin my discussion of him by saying something like "Well there's nothing that I can say about Alexander McQueen that hasn't been said before," but... I think I've now read about him and thought about him enough to have had some of my own ideas, and perhaps not yet read so much that I've already read someone else elucidating these thoughts. So maybe they are actually original, or maybe I just haven't read them in someone else's voice yet.
Yes, he was a fashion designer, but anyone who dismisses him as "just" a fashion designer has not taken the time to look at what he was doing. My sense of him was that he was very interested in fashion and had a natural gift for making clothes, both of which factors led him naturally into the field of fashion, but once he had the venue of the catwalk available to him his proclivities as an artist came to the fore and were showcased in the only format in which he was well-versed, namely the catwalk. Like any (good) artist, his work became autobiographical. As a gay man who suffered sexual abuse and also saw his sister physically abused (both of them abused by the same man - her first husband), I believe he identified with women and made clothing intended to make them feel sexy and powerful, as well as protected and somewhat unreachable. He famously said "I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress. When you see a woman wearing McQueen, there's a certain hardness to the clothes that makes her look powerful. It kind of fends people off. It's almost like putting armor on a woman. It's a very psychological way of dressing."
The way I see it, he designed clothing seemingly on at least two different levels, or maybe three. The two* I've identified so far were the "ready-to-wear" clothes (ready-to-wear is a fashion industry term for clothing that can actually be sold in stores), and also what I call the "show-piece" clothes. These "show-pieces" were the really outrageous stuff, the things that in many cases bore more resemblance to sculpture than clothing, or at least bridged that gap. Insofar as he could be considered a sculptor, his "canvas" (if you will) was the human body, which is a wonderful and fascinating concept. These pieces were unwearable in any practical sense or setting; their purpose was to elucidate ideas and to shock viewers; and these are the items which interest me the most. I think that with his show-piece work he was really stretching the limits of fashion and reaching more towards theater or performance art, and his shows became, through these pieces as well as though other elements such as makeup and hair, stage sets, props, and production design, a way for him to tell stories. His shows told stories which illuminated political history, mental illness, and the culture of consumption that is the fashion industry, as well as many other themes. Of course the stories he tried to tell were limited in their narrative scope by the medium, and couldn't achieve the level of completeness that you might find in a Kubrick movie, or any real narrative art-form. But he was touching on themes which, the closer you look, appear more and more to be very personal.
*(The possible third level of clothing design he might have been engaged in as well was "haute-couture," or high fashion, meaning hand-made one-off garments for specific clients. I'm not well-enough versed yet in all of this to understand if his haute-couture work overlaps with, or is perhaps synonymous with, his show-pieces.)
It's not hard to find cranky voices proclaiming "Fashion is not art," often in direct response to McQueen. This strikes me as a facile argument which, again, shows a failure to actually look at his work, and also betrays a short-sighted over-reliance on categorization. It's like saying "french fries are not haute-cuisine." Sure, most of the time they are not, but closing yourself off to the possibility that, in the hands of a truly talented and adventurous chef, they could ever be shows nothing other than your own closed-mindedness.
McQueen was apparently widely recognized as a master pattern maker. Pattern making is the art of seeing how a piece of fabric needs to be cut in order to then be sewn to other adjoining pieces in the process of making a garment, and then making an actual pattern (usually from paper) from that shape so that the shape can be cut repeatedly. By all accounts McQueen was preternaturally skilled at this; he could cut pieces of fabric on the fly, without patterns and without even drawing on the fabric, all while simply looking at the woman for whom the garment was intended, and could achieve perfect results. This is no small task. What we are talking about is the ability to understand how a two-dimensional planar surface (which describes pretty much all fabric) can be manipulated into a three-dimensional volume.
This skill is just one of the various "bridges" I feel with McQueen. I tackle much the same problem of translating flat, planar surfaces (sheets of metal) into 3D volumes on a somewhat regular basis. Becoming Human was an exercise in this translation, and I am currently right in the middle of designing the patterns for the various parts of the figure in WOA.
I have also always been someone who sews, or "seamster" as I like to say. I learned to sew at a young age, used to make my own clothing somewhat regularly (and always made my own patterns), and wrote my college application essay about my love of sewing and its significance in my life. Also, McQueen's approach to his runway shows reminds me of the way I used to generate narratives for my robot performances; I would find a theme which inspired me and build a narrative around it. McQueen did much the same thing. And lastly, I resonate strongly with McQueen's explorations at the intersection of Formidable and Sexy. On some pre-conscious level, this is exactly the territory I find most compelling in the wide world of women, and depictions of them. But Jeeze, enough about me...
McQueen also placed a high value on shock. He wanted to provoke reactions and push boundaries, and in the process stimulate progress. These are values that I think every great artist espouses, and when people see that sort of courage they are drawn to it, they want to be a part of it. The magic he brought to the catwalk with his show-pieces rubbed off on his ready-to-wear stuff, and once he hit his stride suddenly everybody wanted some of that magic, some of that vision... and they could have it just by visiting a store and buying a McQueen. It was brilliant. He got very rich, very quickly.
(He liked birds)
As I think about McQueen and put him in the context of Stanley Kubrick, Björk, Damian Hirst, and other artists I admire, I can't help but try to formulate a sort of "recipe" for creativity. It's a monumental task and one which, insofar as it is intended to be universal, is pre-destined to fail, but there are a few key ingredients which do present themselves. I think some of the basics which we can see are
• Skill (which can be more-or-less natural, or "in-born")
• Commitment, or passion (which manifests as a willingness to devote hundreds or even thousands of hours to developing that skill)
• Vision (which I think can manifest in a variety of ways; either as a personal story to tell, or a willingness to tell stories with resonance, or even just a goal such as Beauty or Perfection.)
I'm so slammed for time these days that I've literally written most of this post while riding on the metro, to and from BBK.
It's the end of the workday, I'm on my way home to my lovely family, and I can't think of anything more to write.
So, until next time...
Oh... I thought of one more thing..
I tried yoga for the first time