Art & Design

The Ecstasy of Communication: Bernadette Corporation and the Poetry of Fashion

Art & Design

The Ecstasy of Communication: Bernadette Corporation and the Poetry of Fashion

Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation —
the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in
the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up

Chris Kraus tells me it’s how Susan Sontag got her start. “It’s fun! Like poetry. Naming things.” It’s September twenty-something which means I’m about halfway through the month of Fashion Week runway reporting I’d agreed to. In New York, that meant going to some of the shows. Overseas, I’m left only with images. All the better to consider the clothes, really— alone with an HD stream, no immediate mediation of the self to distract; have you noticed it’s not even “Can I take your picture?” anymore, it’s a gesture into a frame?

Every evening, I go through the shows (five, eight, twelve of them) on one half of my screen while Louie plays on the other; balance. Every morning, I wake up around six and try to find the words—

The Margiela house team reassured this season with familiar fabrics from the days when their anonymous leader once led and cocooning dresses that recalled the comforts of bed. From the house that brought us the duvet coat, comes the Snuggie gown: a gloved, floor-grazing cape dress in consciousness-calming pale blue…

Translating the language of fashion into word language is like poetry; it can make you feel nuts.

New York and London down. I’m into Milan and seeing things like never before. Garments are signs and they are everywhere. Dollar signs. Identity markers. Time stamps. In the language of fashion, information is compressed, communicated through texture, print, color, and cut; through brand, designer, and season; through each element’s relation to the body (whose body?) and juxtaposition with nearby referents. This information is dissociative. People are sloppy with their referents. But on the runway you should expect intentionality, you can unravel the signs and write… poetry.

I requested an interview with Chris Kraus because she is the most important. My profile on her is still to come. I have to finish her canon first. And fashion keeps getting in the way. It nevers stops. It’s Pre-fucking-Fall 2013 now.

Sarah Mower says that Grace Coddington is a storyteller and Joan Didion says that, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” I was making associations (“The Chanel pink of Marge Simpson’s discount rack Chanel suit. Barbie doll pink. The pink of my Kinklab bondage tape, which I only bought because they were out of the black, the shiny PVC black like the punk rock electrical tape that covered the Chanel/Barbie/Pepto pink gauze of Christopher Kane’s very pretty Clueless suit.”) that made me question: Am I reading too much into this? Telling myself stories in order to live through this? Am I crazy or am I speaking truth to beauty? Or maybe the line between delusion and fantasy is make believe? Kraus’ reply to my Fashion Week whine of semiotic exhaustion—her simple “it’s fun exclamation point”—was the poetic license I needed.

That September, Chris Kraus gave me two more invaluable pieces of advice: 1) Read Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl and 2) Go see the Bernadette Corporation retrospective 2000 Wasted Years at Artists Space in Soho, New York. Theory of the Young-Girl changed everything (i.e. fuck Empire, fuck more, laugh more). 2000 Wasted Years reinforced that everything.

You have less than one week left to go see Bernadette Corporation’s retrospective 2000 Wasted Years at Artists Space before it closes on December 16th. Go to fucking see Bernadette Corporation’s retrospective 2000 Wasted Years at Artists Space before it closes on December 16th. Please.

2012 BC

Bernadette Corporation was founded in 1994 on the premise that “behind the blank and anonymous corporate façade was wide-open space, a wilderness where anything goes.” Bernadette Corporation (BC) is, for lack of a better term, an artists collective but its communality has more in common with anonymous cohorts like Tiqqun (a faction of the post-Situationist militants of the Imaginary Party) than with art world collabs like the Guerilla Girls or General Idea; the latter two use collectivity to reflect back on the art world, to make art through activism, while BC uses collectivity to evade the depoliticization of the art world, to make activism through art.

The cast of Bernadette Corporation has shifted over the years with its most-quiet namesake, Bernadette Van-Huy, being the constant. In its present form, the form that put on 2000 Wasted Years, BC consists of Bernadette Van-Huy, Antek Walczak, and John Kelsey.

As Bernadette Corporation’s members have shifted, so has its practice. The origins of BC go back to Club USA and the early-to-mid ‘90s downtown New York party scene. They threw a party called “Fun.” Between 1995 and 1997, BC ran a women’s fashion line. Between 1999 and 2001, they turned to publishing, printing three issues of a fashion-art-music-critique magazine called Made in USA, named after “the worst movie Jean-Luc Godard ever made” (once untraceable, all three issues are now available in ebook form from Badlands Unlimited.) In the summer of 2001, the collective temporarily merged with Tiqqun. They turned to filmmaking. Their major release was Get Rid of Yourself (2003), a coming together of protest footage from the 2001 G8 summit Genoa rioting and peacenik anti-globalization action, also starring Chloë Sevigny. In 2004, BC published Reena Spaulings, a novel purportedly composed by up to 50 unnamed authors. Its title-subject is an underwear model. Its true subject is concurrent (post-9/11) New York. (Reena Spaulings is The Great Gatsby of our times.) Around the same time, BC moved into the art gallery setting. In 2004, they showed The Complete Poem (an epic poem plus a mock co-opted-youth fashion campaign, think ‘90s Calvin Klein or Ryan McgInley) at Greene Naftali Gallery. More recently, at the Galerie Neu in Berlin, they showed bathroom fixtures engraved with web comments on Rihanna and reviews from Amazon.

All of these phases are documented in 2000 Wasted Years. The show consists of artifacts from each phase (video reels, dressed mannequins, sink faucets) but the driving force—what takes up the most space and time—is a timeline, a museum-standard series of placards that guide you chronologically through the collective’s development and write its history. Bernadette Corporation is concretized here.